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Governing Cairo’s Urban Waters: Tracing Informality, Inequality and Citizenships in poor and elite areas

Authors: Noura Wahby*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Middle East
Keywords: water, inequality, Middle East, Egypt, governance, informality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 11:50 AM / 1:05 PM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Water governance in the Middle East is traditionally viewed from the vantage point of scarcity promoted by international development agencies. In particular, national governments and international donors provide apolitical water security explanations to infrastructural failures in cities in Egypt like Cairo, but remain silent on systemic inequalities. In contrast, my study examines the politics of urban water as a site of negotiation, and exclusion, in Cairo’s North Eastern elite and unplanned areas districts.

In recent years, water shortages in Cairo have indiscriminately affected communities in elite and informal communities. These moments illustrate how dialectic processes of state-society negotiations and claim-making, configure and are re-configured by urban infrastructures. My study explores these types of transformations and questions how water security is negotiated and implemented crossing formal-informal boundaries .

In this paper, I contend that water rights and hydraulic citizenships are won and lost based on informal practices, state connections, and local mediators. Within and across marginalized and elite areas of Cairo, access to water provision creates contested ‘grey waterscapes’ of fluctuating hydraulic citizenships and socio-political power relationships, which dictate conditions of urban water security. Based on a qualitative study, I analyse informal community water practices of access and maintenance to trace the ways in which service provision inequality is systematized, experienced, and contested. In poor neighbourhoods, I trace decades of community-constructed water projects circumventing the state. While in elite settlements, I trace privatised hydraulic governance shaped by ‘networks of privilege’ of the state, and real estate developers.

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