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Potty Politics: Toilets for the People?
The lack of public toilets in Cairo has made the ability to relieve oneself a challenge while navigating or working in the city, especially for those who work on the street. This has led to a growing issue of public urination. Rather than build public toilets to meet these infrastructural challenges, the state has focused on social cleansing and securitization of the urban environment through community-coordinated surveillance and shaming strategies, punitive criminality measures, and by linking hygiene and urination etiquette to one’s religious and moral duty to maintain a clean body and environment. This research examines how measures and discourses of criminality, deviance, hygiene, and morality replace state infrastructural responsibility in the pursuit of the modern urban international city. The infrastructural neglect of public toilets has been co-opted and reworked as a productive tool for the state through a human security discourse, used to justify increased securitization of the city under the guise of an urban physical and social cleansing for the public good, paving the way for capitalist urban development. Through this research, I set out to map the public toilets of Cairo based on their reported locations in media reports, press releases, and through social media posts. I posted inquiries in Cairo housing groups, women’s neighborhood groups, and expatriate groups on Facebook, looking for local suggestions and recommendations as to where people relieve themselves while navigating the city and, in particular, if they had come across or heard of any public toilets. Additionally, I use government press releases, newspaper articles, and government issued Friday sermons to depict popular state discourses around sanitation and deviancy. Through this research, I argue that the state pathologizes and criminalizes behaviors rooted in poverty and a dearth of public services, rather than filling systemic infrastructural gaps. The state mobilizes community endorsement and participation in social cleansing efforts and criminality measures by linking hygiene and cleanliness to a moral, religious, and civic duty. Additionally, I argue that the impetus to build public toilets in Cairo has been linked to the desire to host international mega sports events such as the Olympics, African Cup, and World Cup. Particularly after the “Sifr el Mondial” scandal of 2004, where Egypt received zero votes to host the World Cup due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure, being awarded bids to host these events projects a modern and international image of the nation, cultivating nationalism.
Architecture & Urban Planning
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