Like many who have lived in Cairo, I remain obsessed with the city -- its squandered potential, its exhausting dysfunction, its liveliness and its charm. I've written something for the excellent Places Journal about the Egyptian government's proposal to move the country's capital to a new administrative city in the desert 45 Kilometers outside Cairo. I'm still not sure how seriously to take the fantastical announcements and graphic renderings of this future city (the authorities in Egypt are not exactly reliable, and the project seems preposterous) but something is already definitely being built. I analyzed the plans for the city as a key to understanding how the Sisi regime views the real, existing capital and public space. I also took a look back at Cairo's history and at the few years after Mubarak's ouster when activists, urbanists and citizens shared so many initiatives and proposals to make Cairo the city it should be.
Mada Masr has just published my review of two new books about Cairo that focus on the relationship between political upheaval and the urban environment. CLUSTER's book Archiving The City in Flux is an excellent, eloquent introduction to informality -- the many ways that Cairenes use public spaces despite, or outside, government regulation -- in the city.
Nagati and Stryker argue that what happened in January 2011 was the result of “decades of the urbanization of injustice.” What happened after the uprising was the temporary breakdown of the state’s heavy-handed presence, for better and for worse. One informal neighborhood took the unprecedented step of connecting itself to Cairo’s ring road by building its own access ramp. Others have taken advantage of the chaos to engage in less civic behavior, from petty crime to riding motorcycles on sidewalks.
The proliferation of street vendors in downtown Cairo — where they occupy growing swaths of the sidewalk and the street, poach business from shops and blast music from speakers — is one of the case studies included in “Archiving the City in Flux.” It is a hugely contentious issue and a litmus test for people’s political attitudes and their class prejudices. For some, street vendors represent a much-dreaded lower-class chaos (interestingly, they attract a level of disapprobation that triple-parked Mercedes don’t seem to). For others, they are “the people,” struggling to make a living and challenging the authority of the state.
The CLUSTER team’s work exposes the unfair stigmatization of lower-class informality while not romanticizing every example of people laying claim to a bit of this crowded, competitive city as an act of admirable political subversion. Their approach is empathetic yet empirical. They measured what percentage of sidewalk in downtown Cairo is occupied by street vendors (64 percent). They created a map showing where marches to Tahrir originated from, and they catalogued the changing products sold there (from cotton candy to gas masks to, during extended sit-ins, pillows). They used time-lapse photography to document how sidewalk stalls evolve throughout the day. They drove along the ring road charting where microbus stops, tea stalls, mechanics and staircases have been created by the local communities that were originally encircled but not served by the freeway.
You can see the full text of both Archiving the City in Flux and Learning from Cairo online here.
Avantcaire finds map of ring roads around the world, Cairo's (pop: 16m) is about the same size as Brussels (pop: 1m). Also, bonus fun ring road fact: apparently when Mubarak dies the standing plan is the for the army to secure the ring road and its main exits, while interior ministry will control everything inside the ring road.
Automatically posted links for January 29th through February 3rd:
- Qatar reports new damage to Gulf undersea cables - Fourth time in a week - I think there's a conspiracy afoot
- Libya Sovereign Wealth Fund to Shun U.S., Ghanem Says - Qadhafi puts his country's money elsewhere
- Ezzedine Choukri: "?? ???? ????? ?? ????? ???? ??? ?" - Rafah episode shows current situation is losing one for all
- The path of centrist political Islam by Khalil Al-Anani - Al-Anani says MB hopeless, Wasat way forward
- Robert Fisk: The curious case of the forged biography - Fisk, hagiographer of Saddam Hussein
- Making a Great Arab City - I like this Rami Khouri piece on Dubai even though I am skeptical, because it praises the tradition of Arab cosmopolitan urbanism
- Arab Media Watch Arab Media Watch > Home - UK outfit combats anti-Arab bias in press
- Hamas explodes a giant hole in Egypt's political cover - Op-ed takes Egypt's hypocrisy on Palestine to task
- It's time to herald the Arabic science that prefigured Darwin and Newton - Faraday prize winner defends historic Arab scholarship
- For sale: West?s deadly nuclear secrets - Whistleblower says top US officials sold nuke secrets to Pakistan (the person is not named in the article, but others say it's Marc Grossman)
- Al-Jazeera Journalist Arrested in Egypt - Howeida Taha arrested, again
- AFP: Egypt censors book fair - Mohammed Choukri, Milan Kundera, Elias Khoury, Hanan al-Sheikh censored from Cairo Book Fair.