Urban protest camps in Egypt: the occupation, (re)creation and destruction of alternative political worlds

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Abstract

In contemporary Egypt, collective political mobilization has often taken the form of urban protest camps. However, while the iconic occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising has had vast transnational resonance, the history of most of Egypt’s camps remains less well known. This chapter examines the urban geographies and material politics of three protest camps: Tahrir Square itself, in 2011, Mustapha Mahmoud, held by Sudanese refugees in Cairo in 2005, and the occupation of Raba’a al Adawiya, in 2013. Involving different actors and unfolding within different political contexts, the three camps are nevertheless characterized by common elements: the reversal of designated usage of public space through ‘occupations’, especially of squares, the practices of care and social reproduction that informed everyday life in the encampments, and the inherent fragility of the camps’ material politics, exposed by their violent evictions. Drawing on recent literature on protest camps and biopolitics, we argue that the politics of Egypt’s urban protest camps are not only marked by spatial and temporal ‘exceptionality’. Rather, we show, in the three cases examined it was the camps’ interconnections with the broader urban infrastructural and social fabric that allowed protesters’ experiences of autonomy and liberation. These infrastructural and structural connections, we argue, are the most significant and contradictory element of urban protest camps, one that exposes both the potential and the limitations of this spatial tactic of political mobilization.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Camps Revisited: Multifaceted Spatialities of a Modern Political Technology
EditorsIrit Katz, Diana Martin, Claudio Minca
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2018