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Special Feature

The Afterlives of Cairenes: the Making of New Social Geographies from Elsewhere than Bulaq Abule’lla

Les au-delàs du Caire : la fabrique de nouvelles sociabilités géographiques hors de Bulaq Abule’lla
الحيوات المستقبلية لسكان القاهرة: صناعة الجغرافيا الاجتماعية في بولاق أبو العلا
Omnia Khalil
p. 27-43


Certains évènements changent la vie des gens, tandis que d’autres, quotidiens, en constituent la vie même. Dans cet article, j’examine « la vie d’après » des habitants du triangle de Maspero et de Ramlet Bulaq, où la population a été dépossédée et expulsée de force, par la négociation (Khalil 2019, 102), par des promesses non-tenues et de la violence discursive. Je montre comment les différentes formes de violence ainsi que les conflits immobiliers ont façonné l’état d’esprit de « la vie d’après », dans chaque détail du quotidien des habitants évincés de Bulaq Abule’lla. Cet article examine les mémoires qu’ont les habitants de leur ancien quartier, ainsi que leurs vies récentes dans les nouveaux quartiers et géographies. Pour cela, je propose quatre marches depuis Bulaq Abule’lla vers d’autres quartiers du Caire et de Giza, quatre excursions en compagnie de personnes différentes : deux collaborateurs du triangle de Maspero, et deux de Ramlet Bulaq. Les personnages principaux de cet article sont les habitants de Bulaq Abulle’lla qui ont été relogés dans de nouveaux quartiers.

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Texte intégral


“Not all people live the same Now” (Bloch 1977)

  • 1 This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted in the two years of 2019 and 202 (...)

1The event is some moment when people start referring to before and after it. Sometimes, it becomes a turning point. One collective event is the Egyptian revolution of 2011, as it includes the before and after for Egyptians, which may not be particularly significant to everyone. Egypt has changed, in terms of social, political, economic, and security conditions. The revolution of 2011 and its consequential waves constitute a societal continual processing including multiple realization (Williams 2003, Deleuze and Guattari 1987). For the collaborators of this paper1, some of them did identify the before and after of the revolution. Others defined the events as after their dispossession from Bulaq Abule’lla (bûlâq abû-l-‘ilâ). Where in the late case, there is an event that typically divide the lived reality that explains the geographical setting and the social life of the residents (Gluckman 1958, 2, 77). I argue that the two events, the revolution of 2011, and the dispossession, are related.

2There is an afterlife of the city related to the consequences of January 2011 revolution’s waves, including the 2013-coup d’état. During 2015, a new political urban economic agenda was initiated by the government since el-Sisi became Egypt’s president. The new agenda changed the geographical sphere, as well as the political one. I read the geography as a reflection of the political (Selim 2016, 43 and 258), as all recent urban transformation is a shift in the political life of Cairo. The new urban agenda included the dispossession of thousands of families who had been forcefully evicted from their neighborhoods. The government forcedly evict families in the name of improving their living standards, but what happened on the ground was far beyond any improvements. Families were exposed to different forms of violence, including physical and psychological violence, being homeless, beside the violence of uncertainties. Concurrently, the government had been actively improving their international image in order to prove that Cairo became a City Free of Slums. Tomba (2014, 354-357) described this dichotomy as a clash of temporalities which takes place between social classes. The ruling classes would reap the benefits, making use of them, extracting this from a temporality different from the underprivileged ones, who were left in another temporal time. 

3The before and after, thus, gives an idea of linear time, but also otherwise in my text, I use it to signify the temporalities in people’s life. It is not a mode of classifying, stratifying, or phasing. It is also not making chronological periods of their times. It is a reference to a period of time throughout their times. Building on David Scott (2014, 118), the past and history are not synonymous: history encompasses multiple pasts and temporalities. Revolutionaries lived multiplicities of moments in the Egyptian revolution. As they speak about it, they move in-between multiple temporalities that leave marks on their souls, whether with their victories or defeats. Remembrance unfolds with varying temporalities of many pasts. This also was brought to my conversations with former residents of Bulaq Abule’lla as they start to remember, individually or collectively, their times at Bulaq Abule’lla comparing it to their new geographies. The similarity in both situations were in the common sentiments between residents of having to be forced to leave a place and a status of being that they did not necessarily yearn to change, and not in terms of romanticizing the nonexistence of temporal times.

4Temporality for some is living the time and recalling it in the Now social time, and it is a repetitive tragedy (Scott 2014, 3), as people recall memories relevant to saddening temporal experiences. For some other groups, temporalities constitute moments that produce new social time with alternative settings of social life (Ross 2015, 14). To remember history that was out of history, in terms of the Now, recreates new emancipatory life. These people, the residents of Bulaq Abule’lla, revolt against the oppression in which they live in the Now, in addition to having their own different imagination of another temporal status. I cannot presume to have only met one kind of these groups in my fieldwork. I met with people that vary in both their status of being and in their relationships to differing temporalities. These differing temporalities also signify different ways in which people recall and use them. Temporality was offered by the way my collaborators put the event, and afterlives in conversation following Kristin Ross argument of how generations reformulate their experiences in an afterlife of practice (2002) which I am going to explain in the next sections.

5The collaborators were not exactly “activists” or participants of the Egyptian revolution of January 2011. Yet, I argue that the defeat of the dispossession is correlated politically and economically to the political defeat. The defeat of the revolution is personal for me, as a participant, an activist, and a scholar. The activism interweaved with the professionalism is linked to the passion to work with informal settlement residents who faces some violence from the state-security in 2012, as part of forced eviction, which made me involved in their everyday live and mobilize with them (Khalil 2015a and 2015b). This explains how the personal is political (Hanisch 2006), and how public life happenings affect the personal. 

Walk One … Within Bulaq Abule’lla

6Maspero Triangle and Ramlet Bulaq are two neighborhoods in the district of Bulaq Abule’lla in Cairo. Informal Settlement Development Fund classified both neighborhoods as informal neighborhoods. In 2016, their populations (5000 and 600 households respectively) were evicted of their dwellings in preparation for a mega-project developmental scheme on the Nile Waterfront and in line with the state strategy for a Cairo Free of Slums. Earlier in 2014, the State announced the Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 (SDS) in alignment with an earlier document titled, “Cairo 2050 vision” produced in 2008. Both agendas aim to transform Greater Cairo Region into a touristic-heritage-commercial agglomeration, with implications for existing neighborhoods, and real estate values, that will result in changing urban subjectivities. Maspero Triangle and Ramlet Bulaq have different histories and stories include how residents left and/or relocated outside of Bulaq Abule’lla. Concurrently, the resident’s relationship to their new neighborhood is taking different shapes.

7Bulaq Abule’lla is a district in the heart of Cairo, located on the North of Tahrir Square, and east of the River Nile. Maspero Triangle is directly located to the South of the district’s administrative boundaries that is Abdel-Moniem Riad Square. However, Ramlet Bulaq is located in the far north of the district, on the boundary of Rod El-Farag district, and the railways that connect Cairo with Upper Egypt down to Aswan (Figure 1). The lively dynamics of the two neighborhoods changed over time. The changes related to urban re-development through sequences of structural neoliberal adjustments of privatization lands, then buildings towers that serve recreational and touristic purposes. Moreover, since the 1980s, Gulf and Egyptian companies started, for investments, to buy many residential plots, where the families got little price for their lands. By time, the leaving of these residents to the neighborhood created some kind of a relationship to their past in the neighborhood, which I am looking to as their afterlives.

Figure 1. The location of Ramlet Bulaq and Maspero Triangle within Bulaq Abule’lla

Figure 1. The location of Ramlet Bulaq and Maspero Triangle within Bulaq Abule’lla

Developed by the author

8I unpack afterlives as a concept and status of being. I look at the afterlives of a major political event, (Ross 2002, 213-216; Gluckman 1958; Deleuze 2004) January 2011 Egyptian revolution. In addition, I look at the afterlives of dispossession in the geographies of Cairo. Here, I ask how people got haunted in places and times (Gordon 2008, 8) after the political event, and after the social and geographical transformation they witnessed at their neighborhoods. Additionally, the everyday life changes due to the social geography’s changes. In this regard, one difficulty I had in writing this paper was relevant to the tenses: I wondered if I should use the present or past tense. I unpack the temporalities of the times of people who used to reside at Bulaq Abule’lla, then moved to other geographies. The residents felt obligated to give me tours around their new neighborhoods to give me a sense of these locales, but also to enable me to develop a comparative sensibility to Bulaq Abule’lla. They started to introduce all the services that were useful for them. Most of them were telling me how much they were still connected to Bulaq, reminiscing over how transportation eased their commutes to Bulaq whether to Maspero Triangle or Ramlet Bulaq.

Walk Two … From Maspero to Le’ba

  • 2 The names used in this paper are all pseudonyms for the security of the collaborators.

9I was riding my scooter motorbike to visit Wael2, one of the main collaborators in this research, in his new neighborhood. The neighborhood was somewhere I was not familiar with. Wael explained to me the landmarks of where he lives. I searched on google maps, marking any familiar landmarks that can help lead me closer to his description. I entered the wide crowded streets of Mohandessin. Its crowdedness is not only because of its high resident population but also because it is the gate to the eastern part of Greater Cairo, namely Giza, particularly to Bulaq al-Dakrour, where hundreds of thousands live. Driving through Mohandessin was smooth for me, as I was a new driver to the motorbike. I put my phone on its holder as I set the GPS as per Wael’s description. I passed a bridge, finding myself somewhere on a scary highway with a two-wheel small motorbike. It was dark, and I was hesitant about where to go. I found a service road and a small kiosk for cigarettes and sweets appearing before my eyes, so I swiftly leaned closer into the service road and stopped at the kiosk. I asked them if I was on the right track. The kiosk man was surprised that I am a woman driving a scooter. He, then, said: “Yes, continue as you are, to your right, you will find a tunnel. Take it and by then, you would have arrived at Le’ba”.

10The tunnel was a bit crowded. Microbuses started to appear all around me. Microbuses are the one vital transportation vehicle in Cairo. As the tunnel came to an end, I found myself in the middle of a sha‘bî (popular) neighborhood. The entrance was filled with public buses in a main station. There were about seven or eight blue buses waiting to leave. Just after the bus station, to my right, there were two or three story red brick buildings. In between these buildings, I saw a ten-meters wide street. It seemed to be the main vein to enter the neighborhood, where its streets are one lane for each direction. As I entered the street, I found vegetables and fruits sellers all around me. It is basically an unregulated market in the main yet small street. This was a common yet vital characteristic of each of the sha‘bî neighborhoods, that had middle and lower classes (Ghannam 2002, 19; Ismail 2006, 60). I took the street to the end, then I took a right where the market also continued to my right. To my left, there were numerous schools and other governmental buildings, but none that were residential. To my right, there was a train railway segregating residential area to its back. To my side of the railways, there were only governmental buildings and some coffee shops. I had to stop twice, to take off my helmet and call Wael to make sure where exactly to meet him. Our meeting point was a bakery shop. Once I found it and parked the scooter, we sat at a coffee shop just across from the bakery, and Wael started to tell me about his relocation from Maspero Triangle. 

11The same scenario that has happened with Wael was reiterated with Samira (Om Ahmed), Nahed, and Samer. All of them are previous residents in Bulaq Abule’lla. Each of them kept explaining to me how to navigate their neighborhoods, while giving me descriptions in addition to numbers of landmarks. The neighborhoods were all to the other side of the Nile, east of the River Nile where Giza governorate is. This is with the exception of the people who took an apartment in al-Asmarat social housing project in the eastern side of Cairo. Wael is one, among thousands in the Maspero Triangle who had to leave the neighborhood. The residents of the Maspero residents moved to three different geographical areas, that reflected the social ties between the neighbors of making similar choices. They advised one other of which neighborhoods would be more affordable to their incomes. The group who moved to the governmental social housing al-Asmarat were gathered anyway by the government into a building cluster, where the apartments were beside each other. 

  • 3 An independent group of architects and planners who advocate for slums upgrading with participator (...)

12During my first conversations in 2015 with Wael, he was telling me how one building collapsed in 2008. This pushed residents to form a committee that aimed to defend the existence of their neighborhoods. They increased their activity after the collapse of additional two houses in 2011, which has caused the death of some residents. The Triangle residents mobilized to work against the collapse of their neighborhood, asking the government to upgrade the urban landscape of their neighborhood. This was because they did not want to leave or change their life. Wael among others in the neighborhood realized how they had a unique geographical spot in Cairo. This is because of its central location, in addition to the land’s worth. “We always knew that we are weaker than both the State and the investors. We cannot fight any of them” said Wael. Forming a committee called Rabtet Maspero (Maspero Committee) was one way of having residents’ representatives to move. They first met with architects in order to give them their vision of how the neighborhood should be upgraded. They then met with the Cairo governorate office, which is the highest rank among the municipalities. But all these meetings prior to the revolution did not bring any change. However, when January revolution 2011 started and the houses collapsed, Maspero Committee resumed their activity again. Yet, nothing happened. Everyone was concerned with the revolution’s events, but not the residents nor their demands. In March 2013, on the watch of Mohamed Morsi-the former Egyptian president, a vision of the State was issued claiming that 64 towers will be built at Maspero Triangle. The residents demonstrated against this decision. Human rights lawyers that were involved in the neighborhood’s residents through Maspero Committee decided to connect with activists who can have a vision of how to upgrade the neighborhood. This ended up getting MADD3 platform involved to work with the residents into an upgrading vision.

13The Ministry of Urban Renewal and Informal Settlement (MURIS) adopted the vision of MADD platform to upgrade the neighborhood. A year later, MURIS closed its doors, and the government changed parts of the agreement that were relevant to the rental amounts which residents can pay after the upgrade. This pushed the majority to get financial compensation or opt to receive a substitute to get an apartment in al-Asmarat social housing project. This decision made the residents had no options but to leave. This is what I previously described as negotiated evictions (Khalil 2019, 102-105). Residents drowned in increasing uncertainties starting mid-2014 when meetings officially started with the government. The fear of buildings collapsing over their heads was equal to being in the hands of the government and being threatened of forced evictions at any time. The violence of future uncertainties was exemplified in everyday violence, where the residents' existence was threatened.

Walk Three … From Ramlet Bulaq to Warraq

“It is not only violence experienced on one’s body in these cases but also the sense that one’s access to context is lost that constitutes a sense of being violated.” (Das 2006)

14There is a moment when we, as human beings, realize the defeat. There are moments in our life when we think that defeat means death or the end of the world. It takes time to realize that defeat is part of making its history (Scott 2014, 118-126). It is the big dreams, the public ones, where the political will may get defeated. The realization of the defeat is essential so that one can continue, to live with it. The two defeats, I elaborated earlier, intersect the social being of the residents of Bulaq Abule’lla.

15Since my very first day in Ramlet Bulaq, I sensed the violence in the stories of everyone I met with. In September 2012, I visited the neighborhood a few weeks after a bloody clash that took place between the residents and the security forces of the Nile Towers side by side with the police. These clashes left one person dead, and two persons severely shot, and 52 men sentenced to prison between 3 to 25 years in prison. People in the neighborhood felt defeated, as they were severely assaulted by the security forces of Bulaq Abule’lla police station. Most of them were beaten by the security, and tear gases were thrown at their houses and in their streets for three days. Anyone I met was only telling me about what happened to him or her personally. They were not seeking my help, rather, they were in shock, traumatized of what they have lived through. It took them up until March 2013, when some of them started to change their stories that they shared with me. Their narrations started delving beyond their personal narratives, discussing the history of the neighborhood, and how a businessman came in the late 1990s deciding to demolish factories and the workshops on the Nile. These, then, created what we now know of as the Nile City Towers. The towers are about two huge towers located by the River Nile, overlooking Zamalek with a Nile view. These towers comprised an office building, in addition to a hotel, mall, and a night club. 

16Ramlet Bulaq residents who used to work at the factories lost their jobs (Khalil 2014 and 2015). In 2001, these houses were transformed to become the back of the towers, with only one street separating their houses from the towers. They started to feel humiliated and unwanted when the administration of the towers decided to start buying their houses. Although this was a peaceful process for some years, the situation has changed when the government issued a decree deeming some houses as illegal. These six meters was clearly taken by the towers; yet the government took it as a chance to demolish the houses of Ramlet Bulaq residents. Nessma, a young woman, who had her commercial kiosk within these six meters, decided to sue the government along with the towers. She was hit by a car coming out of the towers’ parking and died instantly. The residents took it as an explicit message that they should not confront the towers and/or think that they were peers, leaving them defeated.

17Few months prior to the August 2012 clashes, the towers refused to give water to the residents in order to put off a fire triggered in one house, which has also extended to other houses. The result was the burning to death of a toddler, Ammar, in one of the burnt down houses, and the houses had to be completely renovated. Amr El-Bony was shot and died instantly at the entrance of the towers, by a police officer. The clashes erupted between both sides. On the one side were the private security forces with the police officers against the residents of Ramlet Bulaq. 

18Nessma, Amr, and Ammar died in Ramlet Bulaq because of the towers. In addition to the arrests and the loss of jobs, police officers of Bulaq Abule’lla station arrested randomly young men. As they were beaten by the policy, they were instructed to leave the neighborhood. They were also accused of taking drugs which was a felony done to imprison these men, increasing their families' suffering. “I just want to leave this neighborhood, definitely it is going to be better outside of here”, said one of my interlocutors (Interviews). I heard sentences such as the aforementioned from numerous people in Ramlet Bulaq. They needed to escape for their real cruel life. Where is the “on another side”.

19This violence was a temporal action within the lives of the people of Ramlet Bulaq. It varied between material violence of death and/or being beaten and the psychological violence imposed off the tower’s security and administrates (who were later recruited by the intelligence). In addition to, there was a gender-based violence against women imposed by the police and low-ranking officers (Das 2006, Merry 2006). These officers constantly roam around the neighborhood in order to imprison teenagers and young men with drug possession felonies. 

20When I visited Samer in his new house at Warraq al-Hadar, he and his family were quite happy with their move. They all shared an upgrading sensibility that was both social and economic. I asked his wife whether where they moved was better or whether she preferred Ramlet Bulaq. She responded: “How dare you ask me a question like this. It is obvious that this is better. Ramlet Bulaq was a nightmare, a disaster for us. I was afraid everyday that something horrible would happen to my children, I was afraid to find them killed and/or imprisoned”. She was bold and strong in her statement. I felt that she also hated that I was around. I was a person who was associated to the problem of Ramlet Bulaq. She was entitled to feel happy not to be reminded of any precarious situation. Samer and Mona, his daughter, took me on a tour within their building. They bought a building that is 4 floors, one apartment on each floor. The bought the building with the money they got of selling their house at Ramlet Bulaq. They lived in one floor, reserving the other three apartments for each of their other sons’ future marriages.

21I took a taxi that dropped me off at the entrance of their neighborhood. I walked into the wide main street that was a transportation hub, shops, and had a vegetable market. It was hard to walk because of all the tok-toks (three-wheel drive cars) that roam as a mode of transportation, within the streets of the neighborhood. The fabric of the streets follows agricultural lands, as the neighborhood was urbanized over those agricultural remnants. The streets were so narrow between the buildings, with a width of about four to six meters. The buildings were in red bricks that were facing one another. The only wide street that would be 20 meters was the main one that had the market, with two lanes and tens of tok-toks everywhere (Figure 2).

Figure 2. In the Main Street that led to the house

Figure 2. In the Main Street that led to the house

Photo by the author

22After they took me on a tour inside the building, Samer took me on another tour in the neighborhood when I was on my way to leave their house. He walked me outside until he was certain that I was securing the right transportation vehicle. Not only that, but he insisted on paying the driver fees. He showed me all the available services around the house, and especially pointed out particular houses of others who moved from Ramlet Bulaq. How everything is affordable was something really important for them. The wife was showing off that she does not talk to anyone in the neighborhood. This was a sign and attitude of typical middle-class families (Ghannam 2002). Being modern entailed not to speak to neighbors. In contrast, Ramlet Bulaq still carries out the sha‘bî lifestyle where everyone knew each other, and women would sit together in front of their houses. Om Mohamed expressed the same feeling as Samer’s wife that she saved the lives of her family. She moved a few kilometers away from Samer, moving a year before him. They both expressed having an afterlife, that came after the aftermath of what they lived with 2012’s Amr El-Boni’s killing. Their own temporalities -and their pasts were tragically dramatic (Scott 2014). They did not see their Now as something unfolding from older temporalities, but as starting something new One which was separate, in both time and geography. 

Walk Four … Within al-Asmarat

23In another geography and time, I was scared to visit Nahed who inhabits al-Asmarat. I had only read about the place, and compound-like it was, one that is nearby to where I myself live. I took my scooter and parked by the nearest point. I could not enter with it, partially because scooters are not allowed to enter, and partially because it would have attracted much attention to me. The social housing is a compound, with one entrance, that is a checking point, rather an entrance, asking people who they are and the reason for their presence. The first time I went, I discovered that I can only go inside by walking, or by renting a car from these old private cars waiting outside the entrance. You pay for the full fee of the car if you are only one individual; however, if there are others to share the car ride, you only pay an individual fee. The payment is in return for driving you inside the compound.

24On my first time, I decided to walk as I needed to get a sense of things, while getting my time to observe the landscape. I was lucky that no one asked me where I was going, so I kept walking inside those wide streets that were surrounded by buildings that are brand new. I felt as if I was walking inside an architectural model that is not real. Though everything looked new, we, as human beings, looked old. We did not fit the designer’s urban architectural imagination. The women were wearing their black dresses, walking in the streets, trying to find any spot in the shade to protect them off the sun. Men, in their casual clothing, looked strange by contrast. Everyone looked like a guest, rather than resident. This was not only because of their clothing, but also mirrored in how they dealt with the streets and the buildings. Everyone was afraid. Mothers were shouting at their children to behave, as though they were visiting some other families who they do not know. None of the children were playing in the streets or gardens. The garden is fenced, with a high metal fence that you can see through, yet empty from inside. The football fields were empty as well and no one was playing. 

25I was estranged. I would never imagine that this was the situation of al-Asmarat. If someone else would try to describe it to me, it would have been hard for me to imagine. In my second visit, I did exactly what Nahed asked me to do. I arrived at the entrance and asked one of the private cars to take me inside to the church, as it was exactly in front of the building where Nahed lived. The driver initiated the conversation with me by saying: “you do not seem to be living here?” I answered “yes, I am a visitor. I am coming to see some good friends of mine”. He told me that he was forcefully evicted from Katameya, from a social housing apartment called al-Mohtala, which residents occupied after the 2011 revolution. The man was excessively thin, wearing torn clothing in different parts. He looked poor, barely living. He added that he would never live here. I asked, “What is wrong with here?”. He said: “they take all the time”. He was referring to the police, who keeps arresting him every now and then. He expressed how this is humiliating, living within all the surveillance including being asked to constantly give information about his own life. This would agitate the residents as they understood that they were always being watched and never free to do whatever they wanted with their own life. 

26The surveillance translated differently when I arrived at Nahed’s apartment. While we were talking together with her husband and her daughter, someone knocked on the door. She opened, to find an employee from the municipalities of al-Asmarat, who gave her a piece of paper telling her that it was a notification that she needs to always clean the front of her apartment. She kept asking him and reiterating her question for almost 10 minutes for clarification of what her responsibilities’ boundaries are since there were a few apartments. He responded saying that they would pay a fine any time the space between the staircase and her apartment door is not clean. It was unclear. She closed the door, showing me the piece of paper, which was neither a notification nor an announcement, but a warning. A warning stating that the next time they will have to pay a fine. Nahed and her husband kept narrating all the (don’t) they had to remember. These include not being allowed to use the elevator in transporting heaving materials such as gas containers or water containers. They are not allowed to bring in any furniture, nor to change any piece of furniture that exists in the apartment. They are not allowed to paint the walls inside the apartment. They are also not allowed to change the furniture arrangement, noting there was also no space to do so. They are not allowed to enter with a three-wheel drive (tok-tok) inside Al-Asmarat. Any wrongdoings committed would lead to a fine and possibly eviction. 

27Neither Nahed nor her husband could read or write. Nahed brought all the paperwork she had to read it to her. She wanted to make sure that she understands everything correctly. She brought all the receipts she had in terms of the monthly rental payment of 300 EGP, in addition to the gas and electricity which entailed a 4000 EGP deposit. Some maintenance fees were also required monthly. The only thing that Nahed felt happy with was that she started to work in a hypermarket as a cleaner. She was working 10 hours per day and had only one day vacation per week. Nahed felt that she can control the house more than before, because now she brings in money and can afford paying for things. Nahed, her husband, and their children were confused about what to feel about al-Asmarat. They liked some things but were suffering from others. They complained a lot from the district (the hayy of Asmarat) and how they receive notices all the time about issues they cannot really understand. They were bothered by the idea that they can change nothing inside the apartment. 

Figure 3. Al-Asmarat Housing Project

Figure 3. Al-Asmarat Housing Project

January 2020, photo by the author


28The Manchester School theorized the social processes in terms of the events that constitutes the social situations, which unpack the social structure (Gluckman 1958, 70 and 77). The events I analyzed in this paper, associate with memories that we recall as unique moments in societal lifetime. These moments are the one I defined as temporalities of events defined earlier based on Kristin Ross understanding of temporalities (2005). I argue against the definition of Scott of the aftermath (2015) in terms of understanding events, and ally with Ross in offering the afterlives (2002) as to understand the events that make the life of residents I worked with.

29May 2019, I went to Ramlet Bulaq not only to continue my fieldwork, but I had a personal yearning to sustain my connection with the families. I see them as my extended family. Many of them, once they saw me, including men, have hugged me, as if I was their daughter. A man hugging a nonfamilial member is not common to the conservative Egyptian society. Once I crossed the entrance of Ramlet Bulaq, I stopped, frozen in place. I was not able to recognize where I was. I was certain that I passed the same entrance hundreds of times, since 2012. I slipped into the untimely memories that were unforgettable, but unforgettable only to me (Tomba 2014, 364; Williams 2003, 206; Ross 2015, 65) the afterlives of wounds that are intersectional. All together, they shape my experience in various places and of different times (Harvey 1989, 170; Das 2006, 101; Ross 2002, 207). April 2013, I stood by this very entrance, amongst hundreds of residents. They marched to Maspero radio and television building to demand the government to upgrade the neighborhood and not get evicted. Women were wearing their black dresses as they went outside of their neighborhood. Men were shouting to get everyone to organize. I was busy writing banners and signs with the slogans that were created in a collaboration between activists and the residents. In another temporality, one month later when employees from the municipalities came to count the families, I was observing them work, in order to create our own parallel count of the resident families. It was done in the case of the government changing the actual numbers; thus, we always had our own surveys. Women called on me to ask about the updates, every now and then.

30Back to 2019’s moment, I entered to find a number of cement walls erected in front of me. I did not recognize all the faces. I felt as though I was in a maze and tried to find my way. Suddenly, I saw a woman who I knew. She hugged me, and I asked her: “What happened?”. She said, “Yeah, everyone sold their houses and left. The Nile City Towers built walls surrounding their lands. So, as you can see, it turned into this”. I asked her about all the strange men in their neighborhood, and she explained that they were the security guards of the Nile City Towers lands. They were afraid that people would come to the neighborhood and build houses over their lands in order to force the Towers to pay them to leave. I had to ask her how to reach a particular person’s house. She tried to explain how I can navigate the walls, stating that this family sold their house and left by the end of the year. I visited them in their new house in January 2020. It was Samer’s. I was literally shocked and felt that I was suffering off some kind of a panic attack. I wanted to leave Ramlet Bulaq as soon as I could. I could not stay for more than two hours, and so I left trying to find another geography that I know by heart. One that did not change. 

Figure 4. Ramlet Bulaq after Nile City Towers build concrete walls surrounding their lands

Figure 4. Ramlet Bulaq after Nile City Towers build concrete walls surrounding their lands

January 2020, photo by the author

31The residents of Ramlet Bulaq who decided to leave their neighborhood were partially out of a decision to have a new start, ending the old neighborhood’s violence with all of its struggles. They saw hope outside of the neighborhood, unlike the residents of Maspero Triangle who actually had the opportunity to “choose” how to make use of their situation and the land. I am quoting “choose” here, because I wonder if it was really a choice. They took what the government gave them. Most of the people I met felt so sorry to leave the neighborhood. I would argue that this simulates and relates to the idea of people fleeing outside of Egypt, after the coup, in order to have a semblance of an afterlife and escape the constant fear of death, jail, or turning into ghosts.

32Some other groups of the Egyptian society are stuck in an aftermath, an aftermath to the revolution, its events, and traumas. These hardly avoid the dark temporalities of memories as it leads them to drowning into the black hole. The blackhole as I argue is some temporal aftermath of the Now that turns it into a continued reproduction of tragedies unlike the people who were able in one way or another to make decisions to create a new Now. A new Now that can somewhat emancipate them from the pasts’ stuckness. This emancipation is not necessarily a full one, at the very least, it is one that emancipates their imagination, recreating a Now for the sake of producing new temporalities. 

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1 This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted in the two years of 2019 and 2020, and preliminary fieldwork in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, I have been involved with the residents since September 2012. I use the expression collaborators to refer to the interlocutors who participated in this ethnographic study in Bulaq Abule’lla district.

2 The names used in this paper are all pseudonyms for the security of the collaborators.

3 An independent group of architects and planners who advocate for slums upgrading with participatory philosophy.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The location of Ramlet Bulaq and Maspero Triangle within Bulaq Abule’lla
Crédits Developed by the author
Fichier image/jpeg, 807k
Titre Figure 2. In the Main Street that led to the house
Crédits Photo by the author
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,1M
Titre Figure 3. Al-Asmarat Housing Project
Crédits January 2020, photo by the author
Fichier image/jpeg, 458k
Titre Figure 4. Ramlet Bulaq after Nile City Towers build concrete walls surrounding their lands
Crédits January 2020, photo by the author
Fichier image/jpeg, 498k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Omnia Khalil, « The Afterlives of Cairenes: the Making of New Social Geographies from Elsewhere than Bulaq Abule’lla »Égypte/Monde arabe, 23 | 2021, 27-43.

Référence électronique

Omnia Khalil, « The Afterlives of Cairenes: the Making of New Social Geographies from Elsewhere than Bulaq Abule’lla »Égypte/Monde arabe [En ligne], 23 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2024, consulté le 27 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Omnia Khalil

Omnia Khalil is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her research titled Shadow Security Network: Urban Geographies of Violence in Post-revolutionary Cairo focuses on gentrification and securitization of Bulaq Abule’lla where thousands of families were dispossessed in addition to different roles during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. She has number of publication whether for the public at Khatt30, MadaMasr and Assafir Alarabi, and academic publications in different journals. Her research interests focus on violence, urban geography, political economy, securitization, and revolution and counterrevolution.

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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