Forms of Refusal and Reshaping the Urban in Middle Eastern Cities
Panel IV-22, 2023 Annual Meeting
On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am
This panel engages with what constitutes the “urban” with its multiple forms of political subjectivities. From land struggles, labor movements, ordinary contestations and squatting at the periphery, how do people extend their livelihoods and pick the fragments of everyday life to make sense of the un-sensible. Building on the work of Donna Harroway’s Staying with the Trouble (2016) in exploring unexpected collaborations and combinations where people require each other, the panel probes issues of land tenure, securitization and mobility of how people navigate the pieces and reproduce them in new conundrums of extendibility. It centers questions of agency by asking what postcolonial subjectivity looks like in today’s social movements and how they reciprocally reshape our experience of the urban. Here, the “urban” is not used as a spatial signifier and geographical status marker of rural versus urban, core versus periphery but rather through the embodied characteristics of agency and emancipation at a time of uncertainty.
The panel invites participants who are engaged with the sense of fugitivity when stranded in the midst of power structures beyond one’s capacity to shape any sort of reason. We look at the “urban” from the micro-lens of spatial operation embedded in the slums, factory, hospital, university, town halls and gated communities. Forms of refusal that unsettle the stagnant typologies of functions and land use to restitute new relationships at the edges of space. These relationships at the edge, the border and the periphery reproduce a new urban grammar, an emancipatory politics beyond the imagination of the state. It is the power to conceive of possibilities within the negotiations of postcoloniality and its racial, gendered and class projects in making sense of the “urban”.
The massive urbanization of Cairo’s periphery proceeds by the re-production of power relationships and new dispatches of globalized conundrums that contradict realities on the ground for what constitutes urban life at the periphery. The New Administrative Capital mobilizes resources, financial debts and infrastructure from China, Emirates and Saudi investments with the conviction that the city will lead a role in Africa’s and Middle East’s near future. However, ordinary citizens previously inhabiting the nearby haunted settlements around the location of the new capital feel obliged to engage with a new arrangement of urban livelihood where the everyday reality surpasses reason. In such conditions of vulnerability --crushed at the middle, people opt to develop surviving practices to stay afloat, retool the spaces enforced on them and remake whatever possibilities out of this situation. Based on fieldwork during 2021 and 2022, and semi-structured interviews for the desert’s inhabitants around the new capital -- yet to become, the paper investigates the desert’s surroundings as a new space of urbanized operations rather than a dislocated peripheral edge of prestige, power and state. Here, it is a mega-space of peripheral centrality. It is not a (sub) of an urban that is subsumed to some sort of a center, or a prefix to an urban structure, where the edge is secondary and a sub to the original, always described as an adverb to already existing urban processes, a mere extension to ongoing urbanization. On the opposite, the desert periphery refuses to be an urban mirror of organized, controlled and state-led planning of gated communities and engineered social housing. The desert edge provokes a condition of cityness that is neither urban or suburban, planned or unplanned, utopia or dystopia; it is dynamically evolving with the assembling of pieces that do not come together in normative conditions. As such, the paper poses the surrounds as a spatial scaffolding for new modes of possibilities and ways of inhabitation, where agency plays a vital role in the assemblage of new urban life. Scaffolding at the haunted desert settlements is represented in two senses: firstly, movable platforms made of bits and pieces assembled and aggregated in non-aesthetic configuration with the objective of facilitating workers and people to function, operate and perform, and secondly, temporality where scaffolds are signs of time and politics of waiting in anticipation of a new betterment of life as a result of the New Administrative Capital.
Post-coloniality, an Unfinished Project: Labor, Class and the Reshaping of the Urban in a Steel Town in Cairo
Company–towns, which are towns built around large industrial projects to accommodate their labor force, often invoke a sense of dream-making, futurity and a homogeneity of space. The images that circulate of these towns show a steady labor force settled in middle-class-like housing with community centers, schools and social clubs in the vicinity, alluding to the good life the inhabitants enjoy. Despite this backdrop image of stability, the reality of life in one company town built around the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (EISCO) in Cario was starkly different. Life in EISCO’s company town was marked by constant negotiations of power, acts of refusal and a refashioning of different groups’ agency in the face uncertainty with its spatio-temporal manifestations.
EISCO was Egypt’s largest and oldest steel factory built in 1956 and liquidated in 2021. The contestation over land, housing and the very meaning of work that marked the company town and its labor are often considered part of the increasing precarization of labor under neoliberalism. However, this paper argues that this very fragmentation of labor and its precarization, with its manifestation around mobilities and urban struggles, invoke the ghost of the very unfinished business of post-coloniality. The paper considers the land grab that was at the basis of building the steel plant in 1956 and its continious ripples that shaped labor and urban politics fifty years later. The paper explores the ensuing antagonism that shaped much of the lived experience in the company town- between the autochtones al-tababna who lost their land but continued to live in the vicinity of the plant and the new labor force of steel workers. I look at their divergent claims around land use, access to housing and access to jobs in light of the acts of refusal that al-tababna engaged in during the revolution of 2011. The paper thus traces the ghosts of labor and the unfinished project of post-coloniality and shows how they continued to shape urban politics and people’s sense of fugivity in recent decades in Egypt.
How to rethink the power relations in the post-colonial concepts in relation to different modes of sovereignties? This paper tackle Bedouin sovereignties and politics in terms on water access beyond state structures. Basically, using the desert margins around the cities in south Sinai Egypt to gain extra territorial movements beyond the state roads and depending underground water sources that doesn’t only allow them another source of water beyond the state but also another form of movement and survival.
This paper hypothesize that specialist Bedouin knowledge of underground waterways exposes the fragility of the state’s sovereignty, not necessary in direct opposition, but rather bypassing, negotiating and diverting state power and economic control over Sinai Sea waterways (Red Sea, Mediterranean, and Suez Canal). Despite the state’s attempts to marginalize and coopt the Bedouins, they possess a subaltern sovereignty in the form of unique access to and knowledge about underground waterways that enables them to survive and smuggle people and goods, living somewhat independently of state oversight. This access stems from their technical and embodied nomadic knowledge of the Sinai mountains. The Bedouins, as a political power, have always been in a dialectical relationship with the post-colonial state projects.
This paper mainly Asks can we think of these practices as subaltern sovereignty practices? What are the conflicts and the openings in name it that way? Why remaking this term."sovereignty" and reusing it in counter context in our understanding of power , refusal and resistance relationships between the central urban power and the marginal groups and spaces?