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Spend Your Day in Khalifa: Ephemeral Place-Making as Politics in Post-Revolution Cairo

Authors: Claire Panetta*, Pace University
Topics: Middle East
Keywords: urban rehabilitation, post-politics, Middle East, Arab Spring
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

After the January 25th Revolution of 2011, Cairo witnessed an unexpected fluorescence of locally-based urban revitalization initiatives. Although these projects took myriad forms, many–such as street festivals, walking tours, or small-scale rehabilitation projects–were temporary in nature. In spite of this ephemerality, these interventions offered novel opportunities for Cairenes for inter-class collaboration, community participation, and active civic engagement. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Cairo from 2014-2016 to explore the political implications of one such activity: “Spend Your Day in Khalifa,” an annual event hosted by an Egyptian NGO known as Megawra. Since its founding, Megawra has focused on cultural heritage management and urban revitalization along Shari’a al-Khalifa, a street located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Historic Cairo. As part of its mission to raise awareness of the area, “Spend Your Day in Khalifa” offers activities targeting non-residents: guided walking tours, sketching and photography workshops, film screenings, etc. Through an analysis of its third iteration, I show how the event brings together a cross-section of Cairenes, offering them a chance to connect across class lines. I argue that by facilitating such interactions, “Spend Your Day in Khalifa” represents a momentary “site of politics” in which an alternative socio-political arrangement is staged and enacted. In the current political climate–in which a resurgent authoritarianism has brutally suppressed both protests and civil society–such short term, episodic events offer one of the only domains in which to pursue the political and ideological aims expressed during the 2011 uprising.

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