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Childrenʼs Incarceration in Modern Egypt

Panel VII-17, sponsored byAssociation of Middle East Children and Youth Studies (AMECYS), 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
This panel employs children and juvenile incarceration as a lens to examine governmentality in modern Egypt since the late nineteenth century and throughout colonial and post-colonial periods. The starting point of the papers and the panel collectively is that the treatment of children and dependents in Egyptian criminal justice provides an important intervention to study state-society relations and the evolution of the modern legal system as a gendered and classed structure wherein different social forces have played crucial roles. Thus, examining the actual experiences of children’s incarceration and the discourses around it allows us to deepen our understanding of the often-overlooked agency of those who have been perceived as powerless; the children. Through meticulous readings of unpublished archival sources, legal codes, published periodicals, and memoirs, in addition to ethnographic research, papers of the panel raise sets of questions concerning who is a child in modern Egypt and what privileges or disadvantages a person might have due to their age, in addition to their other social intersectional positionality. Starting with the legal codes that emerged following the British occupation in the 1880s, the first paper addresses the confusion and inconsistency around juveniles as a legal age group. The second paper traces the legal discourses and institutions that aimed at erecting the state as parens patriae whose responsibility was to discipline delinquent children. The third paper reveals a historical incident in which state forces arrested children loitering in working-class neighborhoods of Cairo and Alexandria in the mid-1930s and sent them to labor camps to convert their perceived threatening energy into free labor in the service of the state. The fourth paper examines the incarceration experiences of minor girls in contemporary Egypt in special facilities based on the outcome of virginity tests. The last paper illuminates how the state deliberately penalized women political activists by separating them from their children. The paper sheds light on the experiences of children of female political prisoners and how they were raised in atypical, if not non-normative, households while their mothers were in detention centers and prisons. The five papers complement one another in illuminating how the modern Egyptian state has fortified its incarceration apparatus to impose its understanding of a moral gender regime and public order by locking up vulnerable children and dissenting mothers.
  • Dr. Heidi Morrison -- Discussant
  • Dr. Hanan H. Hammad -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Dr. Dylan Baun -- Chair
  • Ms. Samar Nour -- Presenter
  • Maryam Fouad -- Presenter
  • Dr. Hanan H. Hammad
    In February 1938, the governor of Cairo’ Abd al-Salam al-Shazli Pasha, launched a project establishing agricultural farms to provide youth with opportunities for vocational training. Two months later, he announced his intention to use those farms to house Awlad al-Shawari ‘, “delinquent homeless children” in the capital city. The governor was responding to intensive press reports about the Awlad al-Shawari ‘, a newly minted term expressing a panic about the presence of poor children roaming streets and hanging out around cafes, theaters, and other urban spaces in the capital city. For one week between the 11th and 18th of July that year, police forces in Cairo randomly arrested children roaming urban streets without adult companionship. Without properly investigating each child case, authorities labeled those children as homeless, delinquent, and potentially threatening public order. Thus, the police sent them to those agricultural labor camps to house and teach them “useful vocations.” When overcrowded farms or labor camps failed to absorb many arrested children, authorities sent them to odd places such as adult disabled orphanages. According to a contemporary observant, neither labor camps nor orphanages provided social services to children traumatized by the incarceration and facing different forms of abuse. Eventually, the governor formed committees of social workers to review children’s cases and decide how to release authorities from their burdening problem. The committees found out that most children had lived with their families, i.e., not homeless, and had committed any wrongdoing except they were poor. Eventually, the committees recommended reuniting children with their families. My presentation offers a micro-history of this incident as part of a larger project of the social history of childhood in modern Egypt: 1883-1995. Through this episode of incarcerating children in labor camps in 1938, which authorities also repeated in 1944, I study how the state used children’s incarceration as a tool in managing poverty, urbanization, and public order. I examine how state officials criminalized the poor as a way to face the acute problem of widespread poverty caused by changes in the economic structure, concentration of wealth, intensive immigration from rural to urban areas, and wartime socioeconomic hardship. I argue that the state approached poor children as a potential threat and also as a promising opportunity for free labor. The paper employs various sources, including government documents, memoirs, and periodicals.
  • Ms. Samar Nour
    Starting in the late 19th century and reaching an apex in the 1930s and 1940s, a new full-fledged conceptual and discursive construction of childhood prevailed in Egypt, that did not only view the child as the responsibility of his family, but rather the moral and ethical responsibility of society as a whole and, perhaps more importantly, the legal responsibility of the state. The visibility of vagrant, mendicant, and other varying categories of “deviant” children in the streets of Egypt’s big cities, mainly Cairo and Alexandria, created a heterotopia that was perceived by Egyptian nationalists and professional experts as undermining Egypt’s image in the eyes of foreigners and colonial officials and did not only pose a threat to public health, order, and security but also to Egypt’s international image and reputation. This non-conforming child while seen as worthy of sympathy and rescuing was also perceived as a potential physical and moral threat, a social pariah deemed in need of care and restraint (in both physical and moral sense). For that purpose, such children had to be removed from the public eyes and space and receive the necessary reform. This presentation attempts to trace the laws promulgated and the institutions designed to discipline, incarcerate, educate, and rehabilitate various categories of deviant or deprived children – reformatories and juvenile colonies; industrial schools; homes for wayward girls; orphanages, etc.- that formed the core, between 1883- 1950, of what Michele Foucault referred to as the “carceral archipelago.” Placing the child at the center of state policies, reflected the shift in the raison d’état of the Egyptian state in dealing with children, and acting as parens patriae.
  • Maryam Fouad
    This paper questions how the state sets a moral code on the bodies of minor girls by incarcerating those who divert away from the constructed ethical body image. The paper unravels the hidden world of an underage, all girls, governmental, close-door shelter in Cairo, which only “shelters,” or as I argue “confines,” girls who have been proven to be non-virgins. This is done through a mandatory virginity test conducted at their entry to the shelter. In this paper, I combine ethnographic encounters with girls at the shelter, unstructured interviews, and archival research of legal cases, detailing the daily routine of minor girls in confinement. The shelter operates as the spatial technology in the legal prosecution of the incarcerated girls. The girls, ranging between 11- and 18-years old, are held in the shelter under the public prosecutor’s orders for incitement of immorality, sexual perversion, prostitution, underage marriage, and rape/abuse. The paper argues that the incarcerated bodies of minor girls in the Kasserat shelter reveal the depth of the state’s construction of a certain moral and righteous body image, and how those who do not fit the criteria are confined, punished, and “fixed”. Informed by the intersection of theories about the gendered body, punishment, and incarceration, I narrate the stories of the girls tracing how they endure incarceration, and how they position themselves vis a vis their bodies and the confinement space. In this paper I ask: How could bodies of minors that are constructed as immoral for their lack of virginity, become entangled in webs of meaning making , first from the view of, the girls who lack the capacity to physically see their bodies (due to the lack of mirrors in the shelter), the shelter management which needs to maintain the moral social order, and the state which mandates which bodies are deemed unruly if lacking of virginity? Through this research, I look at the more systematic ways female bodies are monitored and disciplined starting from the young age of minors. The paper looks at the modes of disciplining and the mechanisms of violence that are used in maintaining women’s bodies as moral and desirable. Focusing particularly on the inculcation of these norms from a young age and the various modes of governmentality used, the paper highlights the visceral and interconnected ways female bodies are deemed immoral in Egypt and the moral codes reinforced by the state.