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Remaking the Modern

Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo

Farha Ghannam (Author)


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In an effort to restyle Cairo into a global capital that would meet the demands of tourists and investors and to achieve President Anwar Sadat's goal to modernize the housing conditions of the urban poor, the Egyptian government relocated residents from what was deemed valuable real estate in downtown Cairo to public housing on the outskirts of the city. Based on more than two years of ethnographic fieldwork among five thousand working-class families in the neighborhood of al-Zawyia al-Hamra, this study explores how these displaced residents have dealt with the stigma of public housing, the loss of their established community networks, and the diversity of the population in the new location.

Until now, few anthropologists have delivered detailed case studies on this recent phenomenon. Ghannam fills this gap in scholarship with an illuminating analysis of urban engineering of populations in Cairo. Drawing on theories of practice, the study traces the various tactics and strategies employed by members of the relocated group to appropriate and transform the state's understanding of "modernity" and hegemonic construction of space. Informed by recent theories of globalization, Ghannam also shows how the growing importance of religious identity is but one of many contradictory ways that global trajectories mold the identities of the relocated residents. Remaking the Modern is a revealing ethnography of a working class community's struggle to appropriate modern facilities and confront the alienation and the dislocation brought on by national policies and the quest to globalize Cairo.
List of Illustrations

Introduction: Researching "Modern" Cairo
1. Relocation and the Creation of a Global City
2. Relocation and the Daily Use of "Modern" Spaces
3. Old Places, New Identities
4. Gender and the Struggle over Public Spaces
5. Religion in a Global Era
6. Roads to Prosperity
Conclusion: Homes, Mosques, and the Making of a Global Cairo

Farha Ghannam is Visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Honorable Mention for Albert Hourani Book Award, 2003, Middle East Studies Association


Researching "Modern" Cairo

  If you manage to find a taxi driver who will agree to drive you from the center of Cairo to al-Zawiya al-Hamra,1 the trip may take only thirty minutes. Most taxi drivers, however, are not willing to go to this neighborhood, located in the northern part of the city. One driver explains that the road is "very bad" and that his car will be damaged if he drives there. Another insists on determining the fare before you get into the cab and then charges more than for similar rides to other parts of city. Other drivers simply do not "feel comfortable" going to al-Zawiya. It is cheaper to take the state-operated city bus (otobis). But to do that you have to be skillful and know how to use it. You need to know how to jump when it slows down as it nears your station. You also have to know how to jump into the bus before it speeds up and joins the flow of traffic. But above all, you need to learn how to fit your body among the masses on board while paying close attention to your belongings. In addition, you need to acquire the skill not only of quickly grabbing any vacant seat but also of sharing it with young children and older people. A good way to avoid the hassle of either the relatively expensive taxi or the overcrowded cheap city bus is to take the metro to Hadayiq al-Qubba and then get into one of the small privately owned buses. These seat around fifteen passengers, and you can usually manage to find a spot. But many people in al-Zawiya put up with the annoying city bus because it is cheaper. While the trip in the city bus (otobis) costs ten piasters (around three cents), the trip by the metro and the "micro-bus" (as people call it) costs around fifty-five piasters. To ride the micro-buses, you need to learn at least two skills. First, you need to learn how to find the doorknob. Most often the inner knob is broken and you have to stick your hand out the window to the outer handle to open the door quickly. Second, you need to know how and when to ask the driver to stop: "next to the mosque ya usta," "at the corner of the street," or "in front of Ragab" (a local restaurant). You have to call upon the driver in a voice that is higher than the loud music and at the right time—that is, before you reach your stop but not too early so that you do not irritate him or end up walking to your destination.

My daily trips from al-Tahrir Square to al-Zawiya al-Hamra (see Figure 1) over more than two years usually combined these different means of transportation. I often took the metro in the morning, when I knew that it was impossible for me to get inside the city bus. I preferred to take the latter at night, however, because it was less crowded and took me directly to al-Tahrir Square. During the first nineteen months that I spent studying al-Zawiya, learning how to use these different vehicles was an important achievement. I became confident not only about finding the doorknob and talking back to the screaming driver but also about collecting the fare from the rest of the passengers and passing the money to the usta. Interestingly, it is learning such skills that gave me a sense of familiarity and knowledge of life in al-Zawiya al-Hamra and the daily struggles of its inhabitants.

Al-Zawiya al-Hamra attracted my attention when I planned to study how modern discourses are articulated in the production of urban space. This neighborhood seemed the right choice because it housed part of the five thousand Egyptian working-class families who, during 1979-1981, were moved from Bulaq (in the center of Cairo) to public housing in al-Zawiya al-Hamra and {ayn}Ain Shams. The relocation project was one of President Sadat's attempts to rehabilitate the city center and "modernize" the housing conditions of Cairo's poor as well as to build a global metropolis that would meet the demands of tourists and foreign investors. My review of the state public discourse circulated in national newspapers revealed an intriguing utilization of modern images and discourses in justifying the relocation project. Notions such as hadith (new or modern), {ayn}asri (contemporary or modern), and madani (civilized or refined) were widely used to justify the project. Moving the urban poor to "modern" housing, the state discourse promised, would transform them into more productive agents who would be active in the making of their country. To further legitimize this project of "modernity," state officials depicted members of the group as drug dealers, criminals, and troublemakers and viewed relocation as crucial for disciplining, normalizing, and integrating them into the nation. Theoretically and methodologically, al-Zawiya seemed the right place to examine how state planners have translated notions of modernity into physical forms and how ordinary men and women appropriate and physically transform these forms.

I focus on this relocation project as one concrete example of how global forces (such as investments and tourism) are articulated in national policies and people's daily practices in the making of urban spaces. Studies on resettlement in different parts of the world have documented the socioeconomic consequences of relocation (see, for example, Perlman 1982; Hansen and Oliver-Smith 1982; Cernea and Guggenheim 1993; Shami 1994). As suggested by such studies, the project reordered relationships among the relocated population and rearranged their links with the city. Their economic insecurity was exacerbated by the disappearance of old neighborhood relations and the assurances provided by direct and long-lasting personal bonds. Those who depended on close personal relationships in their business were hit hard by relocation. For example, women who used to buy cheap fabric and clothes from local markets and sell them to their neighbors for a small profit lost this source of income when some of their customers were moved to {ayn}Ain Shams, some were dispersed in the new housing project, and the rest remained in Bulaq.2 This book, however, is not about the economic consequences of relocation. Rather, it examines the spatial practices of the relocated population and the cultural identities that they are constructing for themselves and that are being attached to them by other residents in al-Zawiya.

  A View of al-Zawiya

[Al-Zawiya al-Hamra] is one of the bleakest landscapes in Cairo as few roads, amenities, or services interrupt tract after tract of apartment buildings. Public housing suffers from all the unfortunate aspects of contemporary, inexpensive "modern" architecture where identical cubicle-like buildings rise out of the dusty roads and lack any influence from indigenous architecture. —Diane Singerman, Avenues of Participation

Although the trip from the city center to al-Zawiya is relatively short, the social distance that separates it from upper- and middle-class areas is huge. Not only for taxi drivers, but also for many other Egyptians, Al-Zawiya al-Hamra is constructed as "the Other." It is often perceived as remotely located, and its people are viewed as drug dealers, criminals, troublemakers, and, most recently, fundamentalists and terrorists. For many, it is a reminder of the 1981 sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians (discussed in chapter 5), which, as indicated by one young man, placed the neighborhood "on the map."3 Middle- and upper-class people perceived my work there with mixed feelings, usually of surprise and uneasiness, expressed by describing me teasingly as "ra{ayn}na" (headstrong, but also with a touch of foolishness), as a well-known Egyptian sociologist once did.

Al-Zawiya is not attractive to tourists, and you rarely see it on Cairo's maps,4 for it lacks the "authenticity" of Old Cairo and the luxury of upper-class quarters. It is not attractive to researchers either. While baladi5 neighborhoods such as Bulaq, Bab al-Sha{ayn}riyah, al-Gamaliyya, and al-Musky have attracted the attention of researchers (El-Messiri 1978; Rugh 1984; Campo 1991; Early 1993; Singerman 1995), newer neighborhoods like al-Zawiya are often considered by researchers to be "less authentic" and thus outside the scope of academic interest. The concepts and perceptions of baladi people are depicted as the "most representative of the post-colonial Egyptian Muslim Identity" (Campo 1991: 96).6 In the words of an Egyptian writer, "the old alleys" are "the real Cairo" where one finds the "authentic Egyptian life . . . the Egyptian whose attributes did not change over thousands of years" (Muharram 1989: 5). These groups are considered the holders of the "present and the future of Egyptian society, as well as its definition of what Islam is and will be" (Campo 1991: 97). In contrast, neighborhoods such as al-Zawiya, which are located on the outskirts of Cairo, are considered to be outside the urban landscape and are viewed as part of the "rifi subculture," which is based on "attachment to local custom, family honor and solidarity, and the land" (Campo 1991: 90).

This construction of al-Zawiya and similar neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city is largely based on their recent history. Al-Zawiya, currently a densely populated area, was mainly agricultural land until the early 1960s. The oldest inhabitants were agricultural workers. They cultivated corn, rice, and vegetables and lived in clusters of mud-brick houses. The situation changed drastically after the 1952 revolution. Land was redistributed to many of the families who used to work as agricultural laborers. At the same time, the state began constructing roads, and the area was soon connected with the rest of Cairo via a tramway. Many new immigrants (Muslims and Christians) who came from Upper and Lower Egypt found cheap housing in al-Zawiya. They constructed or rented rooms in red-brick houses that are called biyuut ahali (private houses). In the early 1960s, the neighborhood expanded rapidly with the establishment of the first public housing project (el-masaakin el-qadima). This project was part of Nasser's policy that aimed to provide housing for low-income groups. It is located to the west of the main street. Many of those who moved to this project could not afford housing in the center of the city, had lost their housing units through urban clearance, or were immigrants from other cities and villages. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the second or the new housing project (el-masaakin el-gidida) was established on the east side of the main street at some distance from the old project. El-masaakin el-gidida houses part of the population moved from Bulaq, the main focus of this book. The project also houses families who moved from the city center seeking cheaper housing or who were moved by the state from other parts of Cairo.

The social and physical distinctions between public and private housing are significant in this neighborhood. Private and public housing differ in many aspects, such as size, color, architectural design, division of the unit, and use of space. Although their residents have similar socioeconomic backgrounds, differences between private and public housing are highlighted and invested with many social meanings. These differences are signaled, for instance, in the labels used to refer to these two areas. Masaakin sha{ayn}biyya, usually translated as "public housing" or "housing for the people," is the full expression that formally refers to the housing project. Currently, the word sha{ayn}biyya, with its positive connotations (as discussed further in chapter 3), has been dropped from the name. Only the word masaakin, which simply refers to the housing structures, is used to refer to public housing. In contrast, biyuut ahali is the full expression used to refer to privately constructed houses. The word biyuut, or "houses," is dropped, and ahali, or "people," which has positive connotations related to life there, is used to refer to the private housing. Following the people's usage, I use the word masaakin to refer to the public housing project and ahali to refer to private housing.

Life in both el-masaakin and el-ahali is diverse. This diversity is manifested first in the activities that people are engaged in. There are petty traders, vendors, plumbers, metal and construction workers, shoemakers, factory laborers, craftsmen, mechanics, drivers, waiters, low-level government employees, teachers, and owners of small businesses (such as a barbershop or an iron shop). There are families with relatively high income, especially those with members who are skilled workers or who work in oil-producing countries, and there are unskilled workers with little income who can hardly sustain their families. Many men work more than one job to meet the needs of their families. A man may, for example, work during the day as a teacher in a professional school where he earns around one hundred Egyptian pounds per month and work in the evening as a house painter, which earns him more than two hundred pounds.7 Young women are usually factory workers, sales people in local shops (especially clothing), or secretaries (inside or outside al-Zawiya). But they tend to quit after securing enough money for their trousseau. Most stop working outside the home after marriage, but many become engaged in various economic activities around the housing unit.

The population in al-Zawiya al-Hamra consists of groups who migrated from various areas at different time periods. There are migrants from villages in Lower and Upper Egypt, from other cities, and from various neighborhoods in Cairo. While most of its residents are Muslims, it is estimated that 12 percent of the population is Christian (Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics 1986: 343).8 The diversity of the residents not only has implications for the generalizations that can be made about al-Zawiya. More importantly, as discussed in chapters 3 and 4, it contextualizes and shapes how the relocated population views al-Zawiya compared to other areas in general and Bulaq in particular.

  I Was There

In my experience, fieldwork is, above all else, surprising. —Candace Slater, "Four Moments"

This book is based on more than two years of fieldwork. Most of the research was conducted during 1993-1994 and 1997. I also visited the area during 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Letters, cards, and occasional phone calls still connect me with my close informants. My data are derived from diverse sources: participant observation, interviews with people in and out of al-Zawiya, novels, newspapers, and television serials. Participant observation, in particular, was very valuable in acquiring intimate knowledge of people's feelings and reactions to the project, their current dreams, and future aspirations. It was during activities such as stuffing cabbage or sorting rice in the living room or frying fish in the kitchen that women shared with me their memories of relocation, life in Bulaq, the first days in al-Zawiya, and their feelings about other residents in the area. It was, however, unexpected encounters such as a ride in the city bus, a letter or tape from a relative in Kuwait, a song in a wedding or engagement party, or a weekly lesson in a local mosque that often enriched, in ways that I had not anticipated beforehand, my understanding of daily practices and struggles. For example, transnational connections became central to my research when women asked me to write to sons and husbands who worked in the Gulf. This task directed my attention to the significance of flows of money, information, and goods from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Libya in shaping life in the neighborhood. As illustrated in chapter 6, through an exchange of letters, audiotapes, and phone calls, male labor migrants in oil-producing countries are kept connected with their families. Despite their physical absence, migrant workers maintain an active role in making important decisions such as arranging the marriage of a sibling or adding a new room or balcony to the housing unit in al-Zawiya.

  Studying the City

Fieldwork cannot appear primarily as a cumulative process of gathering "experience" or of cultural "learning" by an autonomous subject. It must rather be seen as a historically contingent, unruly dialogical encounter involving to some degree both conflict and collaboration in the production of texts. —James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture

I arrived in Cairo in early 1993 with promises from Egyptian friends to introduce me to some families in al-Zawiya al-Hamra. The first families that I met were not part of the relocated population and did not live in el-masaakin. Over a short time, I found myself part of a wide network of relationships with people living in el-ahali. Although I toured the housing project (where the group was relocated), I did not want to just walk into one of the apartments and introduce myself as a Palestinian-Jordanian graduate student at an American university who was doing research, especially after the recent Gulf War and the increasing suspicion of outsider involvement in armed attacks in different parts of Egypt. What struck me early on was the resistance and hesitation of my new acquaintances to introduce me to "such people." This resistance was based on a genuine concern for my safety. Informants residing in el-ahali strongly believed that the resettled group consisted of drug dealers, criminals, and troublemakers. One informant suggested that I only go with her son, a policeman, something that I, of course, rejected. It was not until I went to a wedding with a friend in el-ahali that I met two sisters from the relocated group. I realized how lucky I was, since weddings attended by residents of both el-ahali and el-masaakin are rare. In this particular case, the two young women had worked with the bride in the same sewing workshop for more than two years, first outside and later inside al-Zawiya. Through these two sisters, I managed to establish a separate network with the relocated group. This was facilitated by the physical separation between el-ahali and el-masaakin, which allowed me to visit one part of the area without being monitored by members from the other. This invisibility was important so that I could maintain relationships with both parties and avoid pressures, mainly by informants from el-ahali, to control my mobility. Although my relationship with the two groups was based on a continuous negotiation of various selves rather than a fixed identity, I believe that my interaction with people in al-Zawiya al-Hamra was shaped primarily by my gender and marital status on the one hand and by my religious identity on the other.

  Arousa in the Field

Like several other female anthropologists in the Middle East (see, for example, Shami 1988; Joseph 1988), I found that being a woman facilitated my work in that it allowed me access to private and public spaces and provided direct contact with males and females. I joined women when they attended mosques, clinics, and local markets, as well as when they visited their relatives and friends in different neighborhoods. They invited me to participate in social functions such as weddings and birthday celebrations. I also helped in cooking, taking care of children, and helping some students with their homework.

My marital status shaped to a large extent my interaction with men and women and access to information. Because I was newly married ({ayn}arousa) when I started my fieldwork, women felt a certain kind of responsibility for introducing me to married life. They shared with me information about sexuality, procreation, and childbirth. Pregnancy became especially important in our discussions. Women were expecting me to get pregnant during the first few months and expressed their sorrow each time I said no. For all my informants, children are central to married life. As reported by other female anthropologists (Joseph 1988; Inhorn 1994), women repeatedly pressured me about having a baby and often emphasized its priority over education and professional objectives. They discouraged me from using contraception, especially the pill, which all women believe causes infertility. Then they tried to convince me to see a doctor to make sure that I was capable of conceiving children and continuously prayed to God to grant me a baby. Many told me stories about themselves or relatives who did not have children for a while but then through medical treatment or "traditional" methods had several.

The many questions that were asked (both by men and women) about my husband and his background made me quickly realize the central role of the husband in a woman's life. I learned that, as a good wife, I should present my husband as a source of authority in my life. I discovered how strange it sounded when I agreed to participate in various activities without first consulting with him. I also learned the advantage of having the husband as an authority in the life of a woman and how that can be actively used to achieve certain purposes and avoid undesirable social obligations. Men and women rarely argued when the decision was presented as being made by the husband. Occasionally, I used my husband's authority in the same way. So it was sufficient to tell my friends that he did not allow me to do this or that when I did not want to take responsibility for rejecting a proposal to participate in some activities.

In al-Zawiya, unlike some other communities in the Middle East (see, for example, Altorki 1988; L. Abu-Lughod 1986, 1988), there was, except in a few cases of extreme religiosity, very little sex segregation in daily life. Men and women interacted with each other at home and outside it. My being married meant that I did not threaten women; many felt very comfortable having me around and tried to promote conversations with their husbands and male relatives. Men were eager to "advise" me about how to conduct fieldwork, what I should ask and whom. However, many of them were working most of the week. Thus, my interviews with men, except for those with unemployed or part-time workers, were limited to evening sessions, holidays, group trips, and social occasions. I played cards, chess, and dominoes and watched television and videotapes with them. We discussed various topics that ranged from politics, terrorism, and soccer games to resettlement and intergroup relationships. Still, my gender limited my participation in other men's activities such as drinking beer, smoking hashish, and socializing in coffee shops. My information on such activities is based mainly on limited observations and men's accounts.

When I arrived in Cairo, I was totally convinced that I should live in al-Zawiya. My attempts, however, were quickly frustrated. Housing options were limited, and the apartments of my close informants were often too small for their own family members. Another important reason for not living there was that, while it was easy for people to understand my interest in researching life in al-Zawiya and participating in their daily activities, it was hard for them to understand why I was ready to live there and leave my husband alone in Garden City (where he was close to his workplace at the American University). Being a good wife demanded that I stay with my husband, but being a good student demanded that I spend a lot of time in al-Zawiya. So I visited almost every day, and at times, when my husband was out of town or when there was a special occasion, I stayed up to two weeks with my close informants.

At first, I felt very uneasy about this arrangement because a good anthropologist, the rules say, stays twenty-four hours a day in the field to observe and participate in "every activity." However, I soon discovered the advantages of such an arrangement. Over a short period, I managed to form relationships that allowed me to spend several nights when I wanted with families, both in el-ahali and in el-masaakin. When my husband was outside Cairo, my close informants insisted on having me with them, sometimes for up to two weeks. Due to the limited interaction between residents of el-ahali and el-masaakin, I would have been more restricted had I chosen to live in a specific part of the area. Coming from outside allowed me more freedom to visit various families in different parts of the neighborhood. My regular trips to the area also continuously reminded me that al-Zawiya is connected with the rest of Cairo and that the practices of its residents shape the city in various ways. Many men and women make similar daily trips to go to workplaces and shopping centers or to visit relatives and friends. Stories in the city bus, encounters with taxi drivers, and events on the metro became important in analyzing life in the area and its connections with other parts of the city. At the same time, they disrupted the sense of familiarity that was emerging over time. Trips to upper-class areas, for example, continued to defamiliarize life in al-Zawiya. Not only were the visual signs and organization of streets very different in Madinat Nasir and Zamalek, but each time I visited the large apartments in Zamalek and Garden City, I was reminded of the shock that I had felt the first time I sat in a tiny living room in the old masaakin. In contrast to upper-class neighborhoods, space in al-Zawiya is always limited. In some cases, the kitchen in a fancy apartment in Zamalek was as big as a one-bedroom apartment that housed five to seven family members. I also came to learn different things about al-Zawiya by being outside it. Moving between al-Zawiya and upper- and middle-class areas felt like "tacking between cultural spaces" (Scott, quoted in Clifford 1997: 214). Reactions of upper- and middle-class Egyptians to my work became part of my analysis, especially the location of al-Zawiya in the social space and in the imagination of other groups in Cairo.

  "Praying Like a Frog": Religion and the Anthropological Encounter

In addition to my gender and marital status, being Arab but not Egyptian shaped my interaction with people. First, I was not associated in any way with the Egyptian government. People were not hesitant to express antigovernment feelings and discuss various "illegal" issues such as drugs, gangs, and prostitution. Second, I was really surprised to see people who had spent between twenty and thirty years in Cairo identifying with me because "we are all strangers in this city." Third, questions asked by informants about Jordan and how life there compared with certain aspects of life in Egypt taught me a lot about what informants regarded as important and unique to life in Cairo. They repeatedly brought up marriage, the housing shortage, and the transportation system in discussions with me and my relatives when asking about life in Jordan.9 Still, being non-Egyptian left me vulnerable to political changes. With the increasing number of armed attacks and the attempts to blame outsiders for these attacks, I often felt insecure about how people would react to my presence. Religion, however, was of greater importance than nationalism in shaping my relationships with many people in al-Zawiya.

When I planned my fieldwork, religion was not one of the topics that interested me. But I realized its significance as soon as I arrived in al-Zawiya. The emphasis on praying and performing religious duties, wall and car decorations, the importance of the mosque in bringing people together, the role of Muslim activists in providing various services, and the tension between Muslims and Christians were all signs that signaled the significance of religion in daily life. One of the first questions people always asked was about my religion and if my husband and I performed our religious duties. Each time I answered that I was a Muslim, Muslims expressed relief and repeated "al-hamdu lillah" (thanks be to God). I was politely asked by my first informants to wear a scarf to be able to "blend" into the community, especially when going with women to local markets and mosques. This was particularly important because I was married and the scarf was needed to distinguish me from Christian women. The fact that I was strongly identified as a Muslim allowed me to go to the mosque and facilitated my interaction with Muslims. However, it restricted my relationship with Christians. Although I did interact with some Christian families, my relationship with them continued to be superficial and was structured by the limited daily interaction between Muslims and Christians.

Even though people tolerated not praying, it was totally unacceptable not to fast. Like the others, I fasted during Ramadan and prayed throughout the month. I also occasionally attended the Friday prayer as well as weekly lessons in local mosques. Being a "Muslim" in al-Zawiya, however, was not an easy task. I soon discovered that there were many subtle differences between what I had learned as a child in Jordan and what people practiced in al-Zawiya. Although I used to pray on a regular basis while growing up, it was in al-Zawiya that I attended the mosque for the first time in my life. I was not sure what I was supposed to do. At first, I thought that it was sufficient, as the informant who invited me to go with her to perform the Friday prayer suggested, to imitate other people who were praying, but soon I realized that there were other things that I needed to take into consideration. On a couple of occasions, I felt very embarrassed because other women praying corrected the way I bent my knees and stretched my hands. That embarrassed me because it happened in front of other people and because I thought that "I knew the right way" to pray. One of the sources of my pride when I was ten years old was the fact that my teacher used me as a "model" to teach other students how to pray. Because I was one of the few students who had learned to pray at an early age, the religion teacher used to call me to her various classes to pray on the table in front of the whole class. To my astonishment, in al-Zawiya, my way of praying was not "correct." One woman even said that I "prayed like a frog" because my hands where separated when I was bowing down (sujoud). On another occasion, a woman scolded me because I did not move quickly to secure a space for another worshiper who was trying to fit in the line with us. For me, there was no space, and the line behind us was totally empty. In the mosque, I learned later, we should stand as close to each other as possible to prevent the devil from entering among us and dividing our unity. These incidents brought to my attention the important role of religion in disciplining bodies and souls and in constructing collective identities and reinforcing gender inequalities. Discourses circulating in the mosque also informed people's attempts to appropriate modern discourses and objects and their discussions of mundane issues such as wearing wedding bands, watching TV, and obeying one's husband. Religion thus became central to my research and understanding of people's daily struggles.

  "Being Here": Returning to Academia

It is Being Here, a scholar among scholars, that gets your anthropology read . . . , published, reviewed, cited, taught. —Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives

In August of 1994, one day before going back to the States to start writing my Ph.D. dissertation, I visited one of my first and key informants. Over the two years that I spent doing my fieldwork, Abu Hosni, a man in his mid-fifties, took the role of directing my research and providing me with tips about various issues that ranged from interacting with others and using the city bus to my personal life and how I should treat my husband. During my last visit, he interrogated me about the chapters that I intended to write. I tried to avoid the discussion because I could not provide answers to his questions at that time. In fact, I did not want even to think about how I was going to organize the dissertation and what I was going to include in each chapter. As usual, Abu Hosni insisted on giving me some tips, in this case about how to write a "good dissertation." His work as a driver and his relationships with Americans and middle-class Egyptians provided him with access to information not available to others, which he referred to when discussing various topics with his wife, children, and neighbors. He recounted his most recent experience when he had attended the defense of a master's thesis of the wife of one of his supervisors. He described how tough the committee had been on the "poor" woman and analyzed the situation, linking it to previous conflicts between the committee members. Then he shifted to discuss my committee and how tough I expected them to be. The key, he suggested, was my supervisor, whom I used several times as an authority figure to justify the need to work hard in the field or to leave my husband in Cairo while going back to the United States to write my dissertation.

He asked about my advisor's religion. I was puzzled and surprised by the question and did not really know the answer. After a few seconds of silence I picked my thoughts and decided to say with hesitation: "I think he is Christian." I was sure that saying that he was Christian would be much better than trying to explain the complexity of the situation and what role religion might play in the life of Bob Fernea. Abu Hosni did not like the answer. "You think? What do you mean by 'I think?'" Knowing my supervisor's religion, he proceeded to explain, was central to my success. "You should know his sect also." He advised me to learn about these issues as soon as I returned to Austin, but in a subtle way. He said, "Look around in his office for clues and indirectly ask the secretary about his religion." Then, Abu Hosni suggested, I should choose some parts from the Bible, especially those that my supervisor might like, and quote them in the introduction. This, he emphasized, would be sufficient to "soften" his heart and make him read the dissertation with sympathy. For Abu Hosni, the key to success was not only my "good work," accurate description of life in al-Zawiya, or the professional training of Bob Fernea and the rest of the committee. It was also my ability to write what would appeal to them. Abu Hosni reminded me that we always write for a specific audience. Not only do we need to provide details of "Being There," but we also need to impress and please the reader. Above all, we strategically use other texts to construct our authority as writers and to support or legitimize what we write.

Given that Abu Hosni is a good Muslim, one might be surprised by his willingness to deal with the situation through what could be considered a "compromising" of my religious identity. But through his advice, Abu Hosni was pointing to a central feature of the daily life and the importance of the "tactics" (de Certeau 1988) that enable the weak to gain victory over the powerful. A tactic is "a clever trick" that depends on time and involves waiting to manipulate emerging opportunities and "cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary power" (37). By quoting the Bible, I was not compromising my religion as much as I was "tricking" my supervisor into being more sympathetic while reading my dissertation. Working on the feelings of the other and making him or her supportive of your causes and demands is one of the main tactics that people employ in al-Zawiya al-Hamra when dealing with the powerful, especially state officials.

"Tricking" the powerful is done in various ways. People always tell stories that show their ability to trick parents, husbands, older siblings, merchants, teachers, employers, drivers, and policemen. Showing respect, "sweet talking," pleading, making fun of others, and conning those in power are all skills celebrated by people in al-Zawiya al-Hamra. These skills signal courage and resourcefulness in responding to emerging challenges and crises. For instance, Huda had to find a way to locate her fiancé, Ahmed, who had disappeared after one of their frequent quarrels. Since they had become engaged two years earlier, Huda and Ahmed had been facing many problems. After one of their big fights, Ahmed threatened to leave Huda and allegedly stole el-qayma, the list that documents all the articles and household equipment that would belong to Huda in case of divorce.10 Huda tried to find him and visited his family in Bulaq, but they claimed that they did not know where he was. With the support of her neighbors, some of whom posed as witnesses, Huda went to the police station and claimed that along with el-qayma, Ahmed had stolen £E 500. She had to claim that, as she explained, because there was a need to motivate the police to take more interest in her case. When the police located Ahmed, she dropped the charges and they wrote a new list. Not one of her neighbors saw Huda's claim as "a lie"; instead, they viewed it as a legitimate way to motivate the police to search for Ahmed and to force him to listen to her demands. Huda simply employed one of the many clever tricks that people use in their daily life to encourage the police to find Ahmed because she could not do that by herself.

This book traces similar tactics and examines their impact on the housing project and Cairo at large. It also examines some more formalized strategies that people use to transform social and physical realities. The study focuses on these strategies and tactics to illustrate how the city is made and remade through social actors who articulate the discourses and policies of the state and various global forces with their daily needs and cultural dispositions. I aim to go beyond the usual tendency to link the construction of Middle Eastern cities in general and Cairo in particular to planners and political figures. The focus is usually on the "series of grand political designs" (S.E. Ibrahim 1987: 87) that produce "the City" (with a capital C). We read about the strategies of the powerful and the role of {ayn}Umar Ibn al-{ayn}Aas, Ahmed Ibn Tulun, Nasser, Sadat, and other rulers in the construction of Cairo (J. Abu-Lughod 1971; S.E. Ibrahim 1987). We continue to see the palaces, castles, opera houses, and grand mosques that preserve and remind others of the efforts of these leaders. We also hear about grand plans, economic systems, the international division of labor, global corporations, political processes, and colonial powers that have produced certain cities (Gottdiener 1985; Mitchell 1988; Rabinow 1989; J. Abu-Lughod 1990). In contrast, little attention is devoted to the "the ordinary practitioners of the city" (de Certeau 1988: 93). While we often hear about the great achievements of the dominant group, the role of Cairo's dwellers is usually brought up only when discussing disorder and urban problems such as crowding, squatting, housing shortage, and informality (A. Nadim et al. 1980; Rageh 1984; Al-Safty 1983; Oldham et al. 1987; Shorter 1989). In such studies, the city is often viewed as a mere container for the practices of its residents, and such studies continue to be in the city rather than of the city. For example, women's practices are often viewed in the city. We read about the networks that women form (Singerman 1995) and about women's daily activities (Early 1993). But we rarely read about how these practices shape the city and the specificity of urban life in producing and shaping the activities and relationships forged by women.

In this book, I draw attention to people's spatial practices and analyze how they transform the state's efforts to construct a modern capital. I provide "thick contextualization" (see Ortner 1995) to explore the shifting meanings and multiple consequences of these practices. This contextualization entails examining how social agents articulate local values, national policies, and global forces in their daily struggles. To this end, I use a mixture of tactics and strategies that I learned in al-Zawiya to try to convey some of the mechanisms that structure daily practices and construct cultural identities. I provide stories, quotes from Abu Hosni and his neighbors, pictures, clips from local newspapers, plans of apartments, and analysis of different practices and processes. My purpose is to understand the logic of these practices (Bourdieu 1990) and to examine their transformative power in various contexts.

This is therefore a study of Cairo but from a very particular angle. It takes us, I hope, beyond the classical reductionist obsession with the role of religion in the production of urban space and the constitution of the "Islamic city" (Grunebaum 1955; Hourani and Stern 1970; Serjeant 1980; Hakim 1986).11 It does not, however, try to present a "holistic" view of the city (Basham 1978: 27). Nor does it try to convey the city as a pregiven bounded entity. It aims to draw attention to the role of social actors (such as Abu Hosni, Huda, a five-year-old girl, a young factory worker, and a labor migrant in Kuwait) in the creation of modern Cairo and the attachment of meanings to urban space. What are the structures that constrain and enable their participation in the production of their neighborhood and Cairo at large? How do they transform Cairo's private and public spaces? How do they invest these spaces with memories, dreams, and aspirations? How do they create and recreate homes and localities in a constantly changing world?

  Globalization beyond Westernization

The city becomes the dominant theme in political legends, but it is no longer a field of programmed and regulated operations. —Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

Of course, Egypt was never isolated from the rest of the world. Trade, travel, diplomacy, and pilgrimage connected Cairo with other cities. The Geniza documents revealed a cosmopolitan Cairo that, since the tenth century, had been connected (especially through trade) with different parts of the globe, from Tunisia and Morocco to Aden, Samarkand, Andalusia, and India. (For more on this topic, see Rodenbeck 1998; Ghosh 1992.) There has been, however, a remarkable increase in Cairo's connectedness with the rest of the world over the past fifty years. Modern means of communication and transportation in particular have had a profound impact on expanding and intensifying connections between the Egyptian capital and other Arab, African, and Western cities. In particular, Sadat's policies, starting from 1974, as will be discussed in the next chapter, marked the beginning of a strong orientation toward the outside (especially the United States), an emphasis on economic liberalization, and a boom in construction and consumption. The relocation project examined in this book was one of his attempts to enhance these policies and create a modern city that would satisfy the demands of tourists and investors.

In addition to the spatial transition from Bulaq to al-Zawiya, the study traces a temporal transition from the late 1970s into the 1990s. It shows how these two transitions contextualize memories of the past, uses of space, desires of consumption, dreams of travel, and constructions of identity. Abu Hosni and his neighbors are not fax users, e-mail receivers, jumbo jet travelers, or satellite owners. They are part of Cairo's low-income groups whose experience of globalization is structured by their economic resources and position in social space. They, especially men, experience global discourses and images through their movement in the city, their interaction with foreigners (as employers and tourists), and their work in oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya. Working in one of these countries is often seen as the only hope for young men to secure an apartment, a necessary requirement for marriage, and various consumer goods, which are rapidly becoming signs of distinction. Many of them come back from abroad with color televisions, VCRs, tape recorders, carpets, and Moulinex blenders. Families without relatives working abroad participate in saving associations (gam{ayn}iyyat) to secure money to buy such goods. Above all, many of Abu Hosni's neighbors experienced the forces of globalization in their displacement from their neighborhood in the center of the city. Their houses were demolished to be replaced by buildings and facilities that catered to upper-class Egyptians, international tourists, and the transnational community. Relocation, therefore, is one concrete example of the structured globalization of Cairo that I discuss in this book. It is important to emphasize here that relocation is only one force, albeit a very important one, that shapes people's current identities, practices, and memories of the past.

Recent theoretical developments in anthropology and cultural studies have demonstrated that the growing flow of information, capital, and labor between different parts of the globe is not producing one unified culture (Lash and Urry 1994; Featherstone 1995; Appadurai 1996). Rather, global processes and practices are being juxtaposed in complex ways in "local" contexts (S. Hall 1991a, 1993). Thus, contrary to the old conceptualization of the world as becoming a "global village," local differences and identities are not eradicated but are being supported in many cases by global forces and processes (S. Hall 1991b, 1993; Ray 1993; Massey 1994). My ethnography aims to highlight the significance of grounding our theorization of globalization and locality in concrete experiences and precise enactments. This grounding is essential to account for the multiple flows that shape social imagination and cultural practices in different contexts. If we are to recognize that social agents in different parts of the globe are doing more than simply rejecting or passively absorbing global discourses, images, and goods, we need ethnographies and rich contextualization that capture how global trajectories operate, the contradictory desires they stimulate, the competing identifications they generate, and the structures of feeling that they facilitate. It is important, I aim to show, to go beyond the current explicit or implicit division of the globe into the West and the Rest. There is much talk about "compression of the world" (Robertson 1995), "time-space compression" (Harvey 1990; Massey 1994), transnational connections (Hannerz 1996), and global flows (Appadurai 1996). In spite of this, however, globalization is still viewed as essentially flows between the West (or the rich North) and the Rest (or the poor South). This view has been taken for granted in previous attempts that have aimed to show that the globe is being "homogenized" or "Westernized,"and it is still largely present in recent studies that aim to show the complexity of the articulation between global forces and local contexts (see, for example, S. Hall 1991a; Hannerz 1996; Featherstone 1995; Sassen 1996). Such a view excludes a major part of the complex flows that are central to the growing connectedness between different parts of the world and weakens the analytical potentials of the concept of globalization. The problems with such a view are clearly seen in how globalization is frequently reduced to notions such as "neocolonialism," "McDonaldization," "cultural imperalism," "Americanization," "clash of civilizations," or even "Jihad versus McWorld" (Barber 1995; Ritzer 1996; Huntington 1993; Waters 1995).

While the "American conception of the world" (S. Hall 1991a: 28) may be hegemonic in various contexts, people experience the influence of a multiplicity of other discourses and images. People in al-Zawiya al-Hamra not only experience the American culture that is transmitted to them in movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (known, especially among young people, as "Arnold") but also experience global images and discourses through oil-producing countries where their children and male relatives work as well as through the mixture of people who visit and work in Cairo from different Arab countries. For example, women use oil for their hair that comes from India via their sons who work in Saudi Arabia, and they collect their wedding trousseau from clothes, sheets, and blankets brought by brothers from Kuwait. Although many of the consumer goods are produced in the West, their meanings are given to them by their active users in al-Zawiya al-Hamra. For many, consumer goods, especially VCRs, are investments that can be exchanged for cash when needed. Several families use their refrigerators to cool water during the summer but turn them into closets during the winter to store household appliances.

Globalization, especially through the media, is introducing new forms of identification among the subjects of its processes. People in al-Zawiya al-Hamra, for instance, enjoy watching television, especially global sports events such as the World Cup in soccer. Young men and women follow these games very closely; they know the names of the Brazilian, German, and Italian players. While they are watching these games, different identities compete for priority: the audience shifts from supporting African and Arab teams to cheering for any team from the third world when they play against Europeans (Brazil against Germany, for example). The 1998 championship, which took place while I was visiting al-Zawiya, was of special significance because it revealed another dimension of the growing complexity of identification in the context of increasing movement of people and images between different parts of the globe. On the basis of my observation of the 1994 championship, I expected that most people would support the Brazilian team in the final match. In 1998, however, there was strong support for the French team. Many felt that the Brazilian team was arrogant and careless, especially after they lost to Norway, which caused an early end to the participation of the Moroccan team. Most, however, supported the French team because it had several African players, including, most important, the Algerian Zineddine Zidane. The joy of victory was tremendous when Zidane scored two goals and secured the championship for France. Many supported Zidane because he was "Arab"12 and Muslim. This exemplifies how people do not experience globalization as a coherent set of discourses and processes that is transmitted from the West to the rest of the world but rather experience fragments and contradictory pieces filtered through multiple centers that do not present a unified "conception of the world."

Central to the globalization of Cairo is the circulation, largely facilitated by the development in media and communication systems, of discourses and images of "modernity." Men and women in al-Zawiya al-Hamra are not outside the discourses and processes of modernity. They struggle daily with various aspects of what they perceive to be "modern." Notions of "modernity" are embedded in various aspects of the daily life of the people, even though they rarely reduce it to a single bounded definition. Only when I started asking them about how they understand modernity did they try to present a definition. Most often, however, they ended up providing concrete examples of what it means to be modern, which are referred to in the following chapters. For now, it is sufficient to emphasize that rather than assuming that except in the cases of Europe and Japan, "modernization occurred under dependent conditions, which led to distorted, inauthentic modernity" (Sharabi 1988: 22), this book examines modernity as a set of discourses and processes that emerged in Europe (Giddens 1990; Berman 1988) but have been widely circulated and selectively appropriated by various social groups in different parts of the world. Rather than searching for an essence that defines "modernity" or assuming that there are multiple alternative modernities (Miller 1995; Watts 1996), this book examines concrete struggles that illustrate how notions of the "modern" are contested, made, and remade in Cairo. In short, I want to focus on "the politics of selection." What makes modernity unique in a country like Egypt is people's view that it is not a master narrative that should be taken or rejected as a whole. Instead, there is a general feeling that one should be selective about what to appropriate and what to discard. Thus, the next chapters address questions such as: Who appeals to "modernity," and what defines a discourse, an object, an image, a space, or a practice as modern? How are various discourses and images that are viewed as "modern" appropriated and reworked to empower and/or to control certain groups as well as to construct and transform specific identities?

  Multiple Spaces

Space is central to this book.13 A growing number of studies focus on the production of space and how it shapes and is being shaped by power relationships, practices, identities, and subjectivities (Bourdieu 1977; Foucault 1979; Lefebvre 1991). Foucault (1984), for example, emphasized that space is central not only to communal life but also to any exercise of power. He showed in his study of the history of the penal system that discipline of bodies and souls "proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space" (Foucault 1979: 141).14

Most of the studies that have been trying to present a complex theorization of the relationship between space and time tend to focus more on the production of space (mainly by dominant groups) and pay less attention to how spaces are actively used and reconstructed by social actors who are not the original makers of these spaces. Thus, the focus has been on colonial attempts to redefine local spaces (Mitchell 1988; Rabinow 1989), governmental endeavors to restructure urban space (Massey 1994), and efforts to discipline bodies and souls through spatial orders (Foucault 1979). The following chapters aim to direct the attention to the fact that spatial forms and arrangements are never totalized and that urban space is always a contested domain. I focus on the "spatial practices of the ordinary practitioners of the city" (de Certeau 1988: 93) to show that the dominant image of the city is contested and struggled over. As active users, men and women reshape the city through their daily practices. The analysis shows how power relationships are embedded and manifested in the struggle over space and how various groups strategically use and manipulate space to evade attempts to discipline them and regulate their relationships and activities. As will be discussed in the following chapters, the relocation project examined here is but one form of this contestation. Each chapter discusses space as the locus of a struggle that is central to the construction of collectivities and the representation of the self in everyday life. Family members, genders, and religious groups struggle over space and negotiate how it should be used and represented.

The relocation project examined here was part of Sadat's attempts to modernize Cairo and its residents. Chapter 1 provides a brief historical background of modern Cairo and situates the project within the broader context of Sadat's open-door policy (infitah). It presents a textual analysis of the state public discourse used to justify the project and examines how this discourse used modern images and appealed to global demands and models to legitimize the relocation project. Modernity was to be objectified in visible forms that could be gazed at by visitors and upper-class Egyptians. I pay particular attention to how the relocated group was represented in the state public discourse and how government officials defined "modern" housing. The new apartments, local newspapers emphasized, promised to transform people's daily life and to create modern subjects who would be able to contribute to the construction of the nation. These new apartments are examined in chapter 2 as structured spaces that manifest the state's understanding of modernity. Drawing on the writings of Bourdieu and de Certeau, I explore the "tactics" and "strategies" employed by the relocated population to articulate this understanding and the state's hegemonic construction of space with their cultural dispositions, religious beliefs, and daily needs. People not only have utilized the new spaces in ways that were not intended by state planners but also have physically transformed these spaces. I examine the logic of these changes and analyze how they are shaped by the continuous flow of images circulated through different channels, especially state-controlled media.

Chapter 3 investigates how relocation, together with other global forces and discourses, is shaping identities in al-Zawiya al-Hamra. It pays particular attention to how the state discourse, which stigmatized the group before and during relocation, has informed the views of other residents and shaped how the newcomers have been situated in al-Zawiya. The housing project brought different groups from Cairo to live in the same location, attend the same coffeehouses, and shop at the same markets. This mixing of people and the growing globalization of culture are introducing new identifications and uncertainties that have to be negotiated in people's daily life. In chapter 4, I examine how these uncertainties have been shaping social views of public spaces such as the vegetable market and the coffee shop. Such spaces, which bring members of the different groups together, are often viewed in negative terms. After exploring the shifting meanings of privacy and publicness and how these meanings are linked to gender inequalities, I focus on the coffee shop and the workplace to examine how the access of young men and women to these spaces is restricted by their families and government officials. Rather than limiting the restrictions on women's access to public spaces to the need to control their sexuality, I aim to broaden the discussion to examine how these restrictions aim to control the knowledge acquired by young men and women.

Chapter 5 shows how the mosque, unlike the negatively constructed coffee shop and the vegetable market, is perceived as a "safe" place that brings people together as a collectivity. Residents of el-masaakin and el-ahali, old inhabitants and newcomers, the better off and the needy are all being brought together by Islam and the mosque. This chapter examines the relationships between Muslims and Christians, especially in light of the 1981 clashes, to show how religion has been used to mobilize the two groups. It also maps notions of modernity in al-Zawiya and argues that the growing hegemony of religious identity is closely linked to people's daily struggles to appropriate what they view as positive aspects of modernity and avoid what they see as negative. I show that this struggle is situated between the efforts of the Egyptian government to duplicate Western modernity and the attempts of some Muslim extremists to restrict access to and utilization of modern objects and discourses.

In addition to religious identity, men and women situate themselves in al-Zawiya through their active role in its making. Chapter 6 focuses on how locality is produced and reproduced. As a structure of feeling, a material reality, and an attachment to a situated community (Appadurai 1996), locality has to be created and recreated over time. This becomes a challenging process with the increasing flow of people, capital, and goods between Cairo and other Arab and Western cities. Focusing on male migrants in oil-producing countries, this chapter examines how young men are kept connected with their families through the flow of information, ideas, and money and through the construction of homes in Cairo. I first analyze these flows and the apartments constructed in al-Zawiya as techniques for the production of locality. Then I place them within a wider spatial and historical context to show that even when these spatial practices primarily intend to satisfy some immediate need of the family, their unintended consequences transform the project and the neighborhood at large. They play a significant role in situating the group in the new location and in objectifying to themselves and to others their active role in the making of the neighborhood. The transformative power of these practices, I argue in the conclusion, goes beyond individual units and the project itself and extends to reshape the image of Cairo that the state tries to control and beautify. Looking at newly constructed homes and mosques, I argue that the city is not merely a ready-made container for the practices of its residents but a flexible entity that is made and remade through these practices. Religion along with the new apartments inscribes the presence of the group and displays the active role of its members in the making of Cairo at large. I also examine recent global and national transformations that have been shaping the neighborhood and how these transformations privilege and challenge the role of religion in shaping identities and practices in al-Zawiya al-Hamra.


1The name of the neighborhood is pronounced "iz-Zawiya el-Hamra." It is written in different ways in the literature. To avoid confusion, I use the classical transliteration throughout this book. People usually drop "el-Hamra" and refer to the area as iz-Zawiya.

2See Singerman (1995) for a detailed analysis of informal networks in Cairo's old quarters and the political significance of these networks.

3The literature also often refers to al-Zawiya only in the context of these clashes (Ansari 1984; Kepel 1993; Hanna 1997 ).

4See, for example, Cairo's map in Seton-Williams and Stocks (1988).

5Baladi, which is discussed further in chapter 3, is a complex concept that signifies a sense of authenticity and originality. It is derived from the word balad, which refers to different units such as a village, a city, or a country. Baladi in this context refers to the areas and residents of old popular quarters in Cairo.

6These neighborhoods have also attracted the attention of writers such as Naguib Mahfouz, whose wonderful novels document various aspects of life in old Cairo.

7At that time, an Egyptian pound was equivalent to around thirty-four American cents.

8The published data from the 1996 census do not disaggregate the population by religion.

9Relationships became familylike with some informants. So when members of my family visited from Jordan, it was necessary to exchange visits with close informants.

10Huda and Ahmed have enacted the marriage contract, which means that legally they are married. Socially, however, they are not married (i.e., they are not supposed to have sexual relations) until Ahmed secures an apartment and they have a wedding party.

11For a critique of these studies, see Lapidus (1979), Abu-Lughod (1987), and Eickelman (1989).

12Because Zidane was Algerian and Muslim, people assumed that he was also Arab. No one in the neighborhood mentioned his Berber origin.

13Until recently, social theories tended to treat space as "the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile," while time was seen "richness, fecundity, life, dialectic" (Foucault 1980b: 70). This approach has been criticized by several authors who emphasize that space is not a mere container for social activities: "space is socially constructed" and "the social is spatially constructed" (Massey 1994: 70).

14In this work, Foucault shows how prisoners who are distributed in space so that they can be observed without being able to see their observers internalize the feeling that they are under the gaze of power and become reproducers of their own subjugation.

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