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Remaking the Modern

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

Farha Ghannam
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Remaking the Modern
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93601-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Researching “Modern” Cairo
    (pp. 1-24)

    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...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Relocation and the Creation of a Global City
    (pp. 25-42)

    The phraseUmm al-Dunya(Mother of the World) is used by Egyptians and Arabs to refer to Cairo. The mixture of actions, buildings, people, and activities gives the impression that the entire world is represented in Cairo and that it represents the world. The diversity of its neighborhoods, old quarters and new Western-style areas, high-rise buildings around the Nile, satellite dishes, foreign fast-food chains (such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt), the World Trade Center, the crowded streets, the walls that are covered with advertisements for many international companies (such as Sony and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Relocation and the Daily Use of “Modern” Spaces
    (pp. 43-66)

    One day in 1994, Amal, a five-year-old girl, sat on my lap to tell me a story. “Praise the Prophet. Once upon a time, there was an old woman who used to live in an apartment that was as small as that tiny table [Amal was pointing to a small table in their living room]. Each time the old woman swept the floor, she found either one pound or fifty piasters that she kept hidden in a place in her window.¹ The old woman was saving to buy a larger apartment. But one day, a thief stole all the money...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Old Places, New Identities
    (pp. 67-87)

    A favorite topic for Abu Hosni, a driver in his mid-fifties, is the changes that have been transforming both his village of origin, Cairo, and Egypt at large. Women in the village are becoming “lazy,” he complains. “They do not even bake bread at home any more.” Television, he continues “is absorbing everybody’s time. People do not visit each other, and farmers go late to their fields because they spend most of the night watching soap operas and movies.” Women and their practices are always central to Abu Hosni’s accounts. “Look at women here in Cairo. They imitateel-mooda[fashion]...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Gender and the Struggle over Public Spaces
    (pp. 88-115)

    Karima is a sixteen-year-old woman. She is the youngest daughter of eight children. Karima, an older single sister, and two of her unmarried brothers live with their mother. Since the father is dead, Karima’s movements are monitored by her mother, the two brothers, and, to a lesser degree, by her unmarried sister. Sami, the youngest brother, feels that it is his duty and right to closely monitor Karima’s movements. In fact, because he is the youngest son, he cannot exercise any real power over his mother or older siblings. Hence, Karima seems to be the only member in the family...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Religion in a Global Era
    (pp. 116-140)

    My fieldwork in Cairo required me to be a frequent rider of the city buses that connect different quarters with the center of the capital. The bus was very crowded late one night when I returned from al-Zawiya al-Hamra to al-Tahrir Square. But this time, unlike other times, there was a strong male voice reciting the Quran. A young bearded man, dressed in a white T-shirt and white pants, proceeded to talk about religion and what it meant to be a “good Muslim.” And in this instance, unlike encounters in the mosque, a dialogue ensued between the bearded man and...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Roads to Prosperity
    (pp. 141-166)

    Hisham, a thirty-year-old worker in a leather factory, was growing more and more frustrated with his inability to find an affordable apartment in Cairo, a social requirement for the consummation of his marriage. Although he had been working hard and had tried to save as much as possible since he had gotten engaged five years ago, Hisham had not been able to save enough to pay the key money¹ demanded by the owners. Two years ago, Hisham and his family tried to put an end to his long waiting by adding a new unit to his parents’ two-bedroom apartment, which...

  12. CONCLUSION: Homes, Mosques, and the Making of a Global Cairo
    (pp. 167-182)

    “Conquering the Beast” was the title of a recent article about Cairo in the Egyptian newspaperAl-Ahram Weekly(December 2–8, 1999: 6), an interview with the governor of Cairo, Abdel-Rehim Shehata. In the interview, Shehata states, “Cairo is the city of problems,” although he is also quick to declare that “our strategy is an all-out attack on those problems.” The governor describes the comprehensive plan formulated by the governorate to deal with Cairo’s infrastructure, cleanliness, traffic, water and air pollution, and cultural and human development, and he emphasizes that “the most dangerous obstacle we are up against is people’s...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 183-194)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-214)