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Checkpoints: Negotiating Gender in the Shadow of the Border
Siwa is located at two frontiers – it is the eastern-most outpost of the Amazigh community that extends across North Africa, and it is Egypt’s western-most oasis, located at the territorial and linguistic margins of the Nile-based and predominantly Arabic-speaking Egyptian nation. In the post-2011 era, the Egyptian regime has heavily securitized this border area, including via aerial surveillance and spatial lockdown. Movement to and from the oasis is subject to military regulation, requiring passage through up to six military checkpoints. Using data from 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork and the documentation of 201 checkpoint interactions, I take checkpoints as sites of ethnographic analysis. I ask, what do interactions at checkpoints reveal about the bordering practices that take place within national territory, and across the scales of state- and community-sanctioned norms for regulating mobility? I demonstrate how checkpoints interpolate Siwans as subjects of a broader national body, while at the same time producing and sustaining a host of distinctions—ethnic, gendered, classed. Specifically, I examine the unwritten patriarchal pact between Egyptian soldiers and Siwan men that stipulates soldiers not address Siwan women but speak only with their male guardians. In doing so, I show how in addition to manifesting the territorial reach of the state, checkpoints also function as sites of encounter and negotiation, wherein a host of actors are involved in generating and sustaining bordering practices, including as they pertain to appropriately gendered behaviors. This work has broader implications for how we understand projects of (uneven) territorialization within nation-state territory. Considering such checkpoints as analytical sites centers the day-to-day experiences of those forced to navigate them, while foregrounding internal and scalar dynamics shaping life in the shadow of the border.
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