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Cairo Cosmopolitan

Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East

Diane Singerman
Paul Amar
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 564
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  • Book Info
    Cairo Cosmopolitan
    Book Description:

    Bringing together a distinguished interdisciplinary group of scholars, this volume explores what happens when new forms of privatization meet collectivist pasts, public space is sold off to satisfy investor needs and tourist gazes, and the state plans for Egypt’s future in desert cities while stigmatizing and neglecting Cairo’s popular neighborhoods. These dynamics produce surprising contradictions and juxtapositions that are coming to define today’s Middle East. The original publication of this volume launched the Cairo School of Urban Studies, committed to fusing political-economy and ethnographic methods and sensitive to ambivalence and contingency, to reveal the new contours and patterns of modern power emerging in the urban frame. Contributors: Mona Abaza, Nezar AlSayyad, Paul Amar, Walter Armbrust, Vincent Battesti, Fanny Colonna, Eric Denis, Dalila ElKerdany, Yasser Elsheshtawy, Farha Ghannam, Galila El Kadi, Anouk de Koning, Petra Kuppinger, Anna Madoeuf, Catherine Miller, Nicolas Puig, Said Sadek, Omnia El Shakry, Diane Singerman, Elizabeth A. Smith, Leïla Vignal, Caroline Williams.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-390-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Population Studies, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. Introduction Contesting Myths, Critiquing Cosmopolitanism, and Creating the New Cairo School of Urban Studies
    (pp. 1-44)
    Diane Singerman and Paul Amar

    During the tumultuous spring and summer of 2005, the streets of Egypt’s capital became a theater for challenging authoritarianism and saying “Enough!” to the crony forms of neo-liberalism that had come to define the contradictions of a new, globalized Cairo. Rising up to shape their own city and re-make their own history, the women and men of this densely populated metropolis organized themselves through community, university, union, syndicate, religious, human rights, feminist, and prisoner-advocacy groups. These mobilizations seized public space and demanded an end to the politics of brutality and hypocrisy that had suffocated local and regional politics for a...

  7. Cairo:: The City Cosmopolitan

    • 1 Cairo as Neo-Liberal Capital? From Walled City to Gated Communities
      (pp. 47-72)
      Eric Denis

      Ahmed Ashraf al-Mansuri will not be slowed down too much by traffic this evening.¹ His chauffeur is without equal for sinuously extricating him from the agitation of the inner city. Blowing the horn and winking to the police, the driver climbs up the on-ramp and merges onto the new elevated beltway. He dashes quickly westward, toward the new gated city in the once-revolutionary Sixth of October settlement. Without so much as a glance, Mr. al-Mansuri has skimmed over that unknown world where peasants are packed into an inextricable universe of bricks, refuse, self-made tenements, and old state housing projects. When...

    • 2 Cairo as Capital of Socialist Revolution?
      (pp. 73-98)
      Omnia El Shakry

      It is not difficult to imagine the scene in Tahrir Province, thedefinitivelandreclamation project inaugurated under Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, upon the arrival of a high-profile visitor—such as the January 1957 visit of the Yugoslavian ambassador or the September 1957 visits from the representatives of the newly formed National Assembly (“al-Safir al-Yugoslavi yaqul …” 1957; “Ma‘a al-nuwwab …” 1957). Former peasants appeared now as citizens: men dressed in gingham shirts and overalls, and women dressed in white shirts, black skirts, and printed headscarves, looking quite ‘picturesque’ for the cameras. Early-morning visitors would no doubt witness the call to attention,...

    • 3 Cairo as Regional/Global Economic Capital?
      (pp. 99-152)
      Leïla Vignal and Eric Denis

      In less than ten years, Cairo has doubled its surface area. A new kind of unified and extensive city has come to surround and graft itself onto one of the world’s densest agglomerations, leading to a bifurcation of urban development patterns. This bifurcation is linked to neoliberalization and global processes of recomposition, including the new international division of labor, the volatility and intensification of flows of information and capital, the conjunction of markets, and the emergence of a distinct, if limited, global-city role.

      This chapter discusses the radical transformation of economic and social metropolitan topographies in Cairo that have recently...

    • 4 Cairo as Global/Regional Cultural Capital?
      (pp. 153-190)
      Said Sadek

      “Cairo writes, Beirut prints, Baghdad reads.” Is this old saying about the cultural division of labor among the regional capitals of the Arab Middle East still true today? Cairo during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s was the undisputed cultural—and political, social, and religious—capital of the Arab Middle East. As the hub of President Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser’s revolutionary anticolonial Arab nationalist government, and core of an industrializing outward-looking progressive metropolis, Cairo during that era produced glorious films that stirred the hearts and remade the identities of the whole Arab world, penned the novels and essays of the Arab literary...

  8. Cairo Consumer and Investor Geographies

    • 5 Egyptianizing the American Dream: Nasr Cityʹs Shopping Malls, Public Order, and the Privatized Military
      (pp. 193-220)
      Mona Abaza

      This is the opening page of the much-celebrated short novel written by Ahmed Alaidy,Being Abbas El Abd.¹ The novel sold out its first publication run within three months after its appearance in Arabic in 2004. The writer, born in 1977 and barely in his late twenties, is representative of the younger generation of Egyptian writers. When reviewing the book, Yusif Rakha identified the work as defying any type of categorization, which was certainly accurate (2003). It is hard to follow the outline of the story. The technique is postmodern; there is in fact no consistent story, no beginning, no...

    • 6 Café Latte and Caesar Salad: Cosmopolitan Belonging in Cairoʹs Coffee Shops
      (pp. 221-234)
      Anouk de Koning

      On an ordinary weekday in summer 2004, I am meeting Dina and Maysa at the Retro Café in Muhandisin for an interview about coffee shops.² In the course of my research, I had become thoroughly familiar with up-market coffee shops like Retro, which have become an essential part of the daily routines of almost all my upper-middle-class friends and acquaintances.³ Upscale coffee shops like Retro have changed the urban fabric of affluent neighborhoods; enjoying a café latte or a ceasar salad in one of these coffee shops has become part of the semidaily routine of many young and relatively affluent...

    • 7 From Dubai to Cairo: Competing Global Cities, Models, and Shifting Centers of Influence?
      (pp. 235-250)
      Yasser Elsheshtawy

      A prominentNew York Timesjournalist recently argued that the direction of influence in the Arab world has shifted from the traditional centers of Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus to states in the periphery. According to the author these states—those in the Arab Gulf among them—are the most innovative and forward looking. A variety of events and projects are cited as evidence. While the political motives behind such proclamations are questionable it nevertheless raises interesting questions: do these new ‘post-traditional’ environments exert an influence on the traditional centers of the Middle East? What are the urban and spatial manifestations...

    • 8 Keeping Him Connected: Globalization and the Production of Locality in Urban Egypt
      (pp. 251-266)
      Farha Ghannam

      In the early 1990s, while working on my dissertation, I came to know a family in al-Zawya al-Hamra well. Yet, despite the central role of one of the sons in this family’s life, I never met Magdi until years after concluding my fieldwork. A young man in his late twenties, Magdi had been working in Kuwait since 1992 and had only visited Cairo twice over the period of six years. Still, I felt that I knew him despite our lack of face-to-face contact. He was often the subject of discussions between his family members and their neighbors. His mother always...

  9. Cairo Heritage and Touristic Globalization

    • 9 Reconstructing Islamic Cairo: Forces at Work
      (pp. 269-294)
      Caroline Williams

      Cairo’s historic and architectural center—its Islamic heart and soul—is currently the target of the Egyptian government’s reconstruction and transformation. Manifestly this rehabilitation is an update to bring this historic area of traditional values into the global cosmopolitan track that is the itinerary of the modern tourist. In the larger context, however, the rapid timeline of this venture (combined with questionable conservation practices), and the threat posed to the fabric of society, engender a debate as to how to use this initiative as an economic transfusion for an ailing national economy, how to conserve a valuable cultural heritage, and...

    • 10 Urban Transformations: Social Control at al-Rifaʹi Mosque and Sultan Hasan Square
      (pp. 295-312)
      Yasser Elsheshtawy

      In 1984 an area located between the Sultan Hasan Madrasa (a fourteenth-century religious school) and al-Rifa‘i Mosque (dating from the nineteenth century) was closed to traffic and converted to pedestrian use. The subsequent use of the space (and its apparent success) by neighborhood residents was unusual for Cairo, where such projects are rare. Is it really possible for the government to forsake commercial and political interests and create a setting aimed at Cairo’s poor within a prime tourist site? I decided to investigate this further and in 1994 began a one-year research study aimed at studying this space. One of...

    • 11 Pyramids and Alleys: Global Dynamics and Local Strategies in Giza
      (pp. 313-344)
      Petra Kuppinger

      Giza is a vibrant city with more than two million residents. This is no news to insiders, yet seen from the international scale Giza is all too frequently reduced to the few square kilometers surrounding the Pyramids. No similar discrepancy in perception exists with regard to Giza’s larger sister across the Nile, Cairo. Insiders and outsiders alike recognize Cairo as a prominent global center of the twenty-first century, as much as it has been a world and regional center for a millennium. Giza exists in the shadow of Cairo. Indeed, Giza, on the west bank of the Nile just across...

    • 12 Belle-époque Cairo: The Politics of Refurbishing the Downtown Business District
      (pp. 345-372)
      Galila El Kadi and Dalila ElKerdany

      It may seem surprising the degree to which a proudly nationalistic Arab state like Egypt takes interest in and dedicates scarce resources to architectural and urban legacies inside its territory which date back to an era of foreign hegemony—of British colonialism and Turko-Circassian monarchy. Nevertheless, in Egypt since the 1980s and more urgently since the 1992 earthquake, state officials and assertive home-grown intellectuals have expanded efforts to conserve threatened late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings and sites. They have articulated and marketed a wholly new kind of heritage campaign aiming at the local and global media, and publicizing the...

  10. Cairo Subcultures and Media Contestation

    • 13 Upper Egyptian Regionally Based Communities in Cairo: Traditional or Modern Forms of Urbanization?
      (pp. 375-398)
      Catherine Miller

      Chasing Away Upper Egyptians from Cairo Streets. al-Kadiri 2002.

      Upper Egyptians are Indignant at the Governor’s Plan to Forbid Them from Entering Cairo. ‘Abd al-Jawad and Sha‘ira 2002.

      Does the Governor Plot to Expel the Shaykh of al-Azhar and Pope Shenouda?al-Salimi 2002.

      During a three-week period in July 2002 these headlines, among many others, filled some Egyptian newspapers. They were part of a media campaign involving mainly opposition newspapers against the alleged decision of the governor of Cairo to regulate and limit rural migration to Cairo to preserve urban stability. From what was reported in the press, the governor...

    • 14 Place, Class, and Race in the Barabra Café: Nubians in Egyptian Media
      (pp. 399-414)
      Elizabeth A. Smith

      At the Arminna Village Association in the ‘Abdin neighborhood of Cairo, Mr. ‘Ali Salim, a retired accountant nearing eighty who spoke Greek, French, and English, in addition to Arabic and his native Fadicca language, presided over the Fadicca language class to teach native speakers of the oral language to write using the medieval Nubian alphabet.¹ When I arrived at the association for class one evening about a week before the end of Ramadan in December 2001, Mr. ‘Ali was asking Fu’ad, also a retired accountant and student in the Fadicca class, if he could open the office of the Nubian...

    • 15 When the Lights Go Down in Cairo: Cinema as Global Crossroads and Space of Playful Resistance
      (pp. 415-444)
      Walter Armbrust

      The image of teenagers necking in the back row of a dark movie theater is a staple for Americans. For them, making out in theaters is semisanctioned behavior that occurs in the margin of privacy created by darkness, which enables the audience to cross over into the world on the screen. This basic ‘stage’ on which film spectatorship occurs can be found throughout much of the world. But the dark semiprivate space created everywhere by the technical demands of film exhibition to mass audiences is also structured by specific social and political geographies. Filmgoing in downtown Cairo—the subject of...

    • 16 A Round Trip to Ismaʹiliya: Cairoʹs Media Exiles, Television Innovation, and Provincial Citizenship
      (pp. 445-462)
      Fanny Colonna

      The aim of this chapter is to explore a new trend in the Arab world—provincial intellectuals abandoning the capital city to return to their rural origins (see Colonna 2004). Why are media innovators and cultural elites now striving to exercise certain professional and social roles ‘at home’ that previous generations would have cultivated only in the capital? Does this trend signal the emergence of a decentralization dynamic that will forever alter Cairo’s metropolitan role? Does the emergence of alternative provincial cultural nodes indicate a liberalization or pluralization of cultural production, or merely a phase of exile and marginalization? How...

  11. Cairo Celebratory Spaces and Vernacular World-Crossing

    • 17 Mulids of Cairo: Sufi Guilds, Popular Celebrations, and the ʹRoller-Coaster Landscapeʹ of the Resignified City
      (pp. 465-488)
      Anna Madoeuf

      In Cairo as the month of Rabi‘ al-Thani begins, each person knows that themulidor festival of Husayn is imminent.¹ Thismulidcommemorates the birthday of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Fixed on the Islamic lunar calendar, the date of the celebration moves forward approximately ten days each year within the global solar calendar. Organized around the Cairo mosque that is dedicated to the man who is considered a saint by Sufis, this festive celebration brings together residents and pilgrims from the entire country, animating the whole quarter that bears Husayn’s name according to rituals of the...

    • 18 The Giza Zoo: Re-Appropriating Public Spaces, Re-Imagining Urban Beauty
      (pp. 489-512)
      Vincent Battesti

      The crowd is dense, circulating around the exhibits, eddying between the monkey cages and the barriers that protect the patches of lawn. It is the second day of post-Ramadan holidays at the Giza Zoo. Hundreds of picnicking families and romantic couples get up from off lawn that is technically ‘closed to the public.’ Using a thick black hose, a zoo gardener inundates the area with a spray of water. “Move out! Stay outside!” But hardly has he turned his back to pick up some trash, when visitors again cross the border of this little island of green, walking with precaution...

    • 19 Egyptʹs Pop-Music Clashes and the ʹWorld-Crossingʹ Destinies of Muhammad ʹAli Street Musicians
      (pp. 513-536)
      Nicolas Puig

      It is the first night of the feast following the holy month of Ramadan (‘Id al-Fitr), in Sa’ad as-Sawa’ Café on Muhammad ‘Ali Street and the musicians feel nervous. Only some of them have worked in the last weeks. Because there are no street weddings during the month of Ramadan, opportunities to play and perform are few and far between. Usually, there are numerous weddings during the ‘Id so everyone can expect to go back home with some money in his pocket (between $5 and $30 according to the instrument played and to the circumstances).¹ But now, it is six...

  12. Afterword Whose Cairo?
    (pp. 539-542)
    Nezar AlSayyad

    Whose Cairo? This collection of essays by scholars of contemporary Cairo raises this important question. Which Cairo do we talk about and in whose name? As this volume indicates there are many Cairos, and many other Cairos in metropolitan Cairo itself. Indeed, there is Cairo, the city of migrant workers; Cairo, the city of informals, who occupy much of its space; Cairo, the city of unique urban pockets whose residents feel that they live elsewhere; Cairo, the city of gated communities and exclusive urban malls that transport their visitors to another world; and Cairo, the city of expatriates and experts...