By Elisabeth Jaquette
The Literary Atlas of Cairo: One Hundred Years on the Streets of the City edited by Samia Mehrez. Cairo. The American University in Cairo Press. 2010.
“His heart had been snatched from him… where to? … He wanted to find someone to warm this small part of his chest, that little cage between the ribs, a small part that needed to be filled with tenderness. But can tenderness be had from Cairo, the ogress?” (36)
So wonders the narrator in Ismail Wali al-Din’s Hammam al-Malatili, one of the excerpts from Samia Mehrez’s collection The Literary Atlas of Cairo: One Hundred Years on the Streets of the City. Mehrez is a professor of Modern Arabic Literature and founding Director of the Center for Translation Studies at the American University in Cairo, and edited, introduced and partially translated the two-volume Atlas. “Each and every text that I included in the atlas imparts one impression of the city, one level of its energy, one aspect of its life, of being in it, moving in it, but also reading it, discovering it, and imagining it,” she said in an interview with World Literature Today.
Mehrez’s book paints a richly dense portrait of Cairo in all of its multiplicities. The excerpts travel across history, neighborhoods, social classes, and even language itself. From the early days of the Fatmid period to the dystopic future in Ahmed Khaled Tawfik’s Utopia, from the garbage-collector’s slum in Moqattam to the gardens of the early twentieth century Shubra Palace, and from Naguib Mahfouz’s flowing prose to Ahmed Alaidy’s coarse, choppy slang, the collection is vast. It is the diversity in language that lends richness to the collection: “from the Babel-like linguistic world of the palaces, to the chic francophone of the beginning of the century, to the Anglicizations of the sixties, to the Islamization/globalization of the eighties and nineties,” (214) the language within the texts is dense and varied.
Even within a single excerpt, national history blends with a community’s oral history mixed with a dosage of humor, as in Ibrahim Aslan’s The Heron. A voice is caught on the mosque’s speakers in midan Kit Kat recalling the neighborhood’s claim to fame during French occupation: “It was even established in history books that when the French army came from Umm Dinar to set up camp nearby and do battle with Murad Pasha of Murad Street fame, they ate the local cantaloupe. And it’s written somewhere that when Napoleon saw his army afflicted with diarrhea, he ordered them not to eat the local melons. They could eat cantaloupe from anywhere but Imbaba,” (113) the voice chuckles, before discovering that his voice had been broadcast across the entire quarter.
A sense of nostalgia is often present, whether the narrator is reminiscing about a childhood in Belle Époque downtown or amongst the villas of Garden City. Even inanimate objects long for the golden days of the past: the narrator of Muhammad al-Fakharani’s An Interval for Bewilderment is the statue of Ramsis, nostalgic for his place in front of Misr Railway station after being relocated to the Grand Egyptian Museum in one of Cairo’s satellite cities. Mehrez herself can likely relate to the statue’s plight; one of the impetuses for creating the collection was the American University in Cairo’s relocation to the satellite city of New Cairo.
At times, the collection is as sprawling as the city itself. Readers familiar with the city will be rewarded with authors’ visions of known locations—from landmarks like al-Azhar Mosque to well trodden street corners and back alleys. Yet it is difficult to imagine that readers unfamiliar with the geography or history of the city could make much sense of the collection, or emerge with even a vague idea of what distinguishes one area or time period from another.
In the end, perhaps the true value of the collection is that it creates not only a map of the city but also a map of the writers themselves. Mehrez writes that “geography is ideology: as each one of the writers records the present and past of a given neighborhood or area, his or her economic, social, political, and aesthetic biases are written into the map they each produce” (27). Ultimately, this creates a literary layering effect, where writers’ fictional worlds become the foundation for the next generation of authors. “This is the police station that Naguib Mahfouz described in his Cairo Trilogy,” (44) says a character in Mahmoud al-Wardani’s Heads Ripe for Plucking, while the narrator in Ahmed Mourad’s Vertigo is characterized by “very weak eyesight that would have won the complete sympathy of Taha Hussein himself” (201). The collection’s success is truly based on that layered tradition: contemporary Egyptian fiction is very often set against the backdrop of Cairo, and it is hard to imagine this project being as compelling elsewhere.
Many representations of Egypt created just before the 2011 revolution seem trapped in a particular moment, obsolete shortly after being released. The second volume of the collection, The Literary Life of Cairo: One Hundred Years in the Heart of the City, was published in March 2011, just a month after the January 25th uprising that transported images of Cairo’s downtown onto television screens worldwide. Within the pages of The Literary Atlas a cab driver complains about corruption as he passes Central Security Forces trucks in midan al-Tahrir; Miral al-Tahawy recounts exchanging volleys of rocks with the Central Security Forces and falling in love with a poet penning protest chants. The collection serves as a backdrop to both the past and events to come. As history continues to be written on the streets of Cairo and recorded by its authors, The Literary Atlas proves a compelling and enduring collection.
Elisabeth Jaquette is a graduate student in Anthropology at Columbia University and a 2012-2013 CASA (Center for Arabic Study Abroad) fellow at the American University in Cairo. She has been based in Cairo since 2007 and tweets at @lissiejaquette.
By Samah Selim
Mara Naaman, Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature: Portraits of Cairo. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
In January and February of 2011, Egyptians descended upon public squares throughout the country to bring an end to the thirty-year regime of Husni Mubarak. For those eighteen days—and on many other occasions throughout the following year—the people of Egypt wrested control of public space from the physical and discursive grip of Mubarak’s police state and reconfigured the material and symbolic spaces of their cities to express a revolutionary vision of subjectivity, community, and citizenship. Cairo’s Tahrir square—and its downtown environs—was of course the most visible and most symbolically charged center of these insurgent acts of occupation and celebration, and the whole world watched in wonder and trepidation as Egyptians struggled to forge a new and radical language of being-in-the-world.
Mara Naaman’s timely book, Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature: Portraits of Cairo, was published during that heady year (and includes a brief postscript referring to the events of the revolution). The book addresses the production of urban space in the modern Egyptian literary imagination and offers the reader an erudite and engaging analysis of four acclaimed novels that all take Cairo’s downtown as their main setting. Naaman’s exploration of the sometimes utopian, sometimes brutal and bloody history of dreams, desires, and struggles that have shaped this seminal space in modern fiction and architectural practice subtly and persistently evokes the ghost of a future become the present. The book is thus important reading for anyone seeking to understand the affective power of “Liberation Square” within the context of modern Egyptian history and cultural production.
The book includes a preface, introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The preface, introduction, and chapter one set out the main conceptual and historical framework within which Naaman situates her literary readings. Chapters two through five each deal with a contemporary novel by a leading Egyptian author—Radwa ‘Ashur’s A Piece of Europe (2003), Khayri Shalabi’s Salih Hisa (2000), Idris ‘Ali’s Poor (2005), and Alaa al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building (2002)—while the conclusion, “Wust al-Balad as Neo-Bohemia: Writing in Defense of a Vanishing Public Sphere,” raises some very interesting questions about location and the relevance of national narratives to the contemporary political imagination.
In the preface, Naaman takes note of the political impetus underlying modern Arab fiction as a whole, tying this impetus to the framing and contestation of real and imagined spaces: “Contemporary Arab authors,” she writes, “have used fiction as a way of responding to crucial, and often traumatic, historical moments…where questions of political authority and power are largely enacted through struggles over public space” (xx). She then sets out the framework for her reading of her chosen novels against the background of a broad range of disciplinary and theoretical interests and concerns—urban and postcolonial studies, architecture and art history, and globalization theory:
I hope to show the way in which the notion of the modern Egyptian subject has evolved in direct relationship to the changes manifest in the space of the downtown….Ultimately I hope to show how the contested nature of the downtown—as a spectacular imitation of European modernity, as Egyptian public sphere, as a site for staging revolution, and as a modernist ruin—was and continues to be central to the notion of what it means to be Egyptian. (xxi)
Naaman goes on to reflect on Cairo as an “oscillating landscape” whose neighborhoods are situated as “allegorical spaces through which we can read the history of the nation” (xxv). Through the accumulated passage of time and the imprints of generations, streets and neighborhoods take on the phantom nature of the palimpsest; “home” is constantly rewritten as part of an uncertain yet imperative project of liberation. The downtown, she writes in a poignant assessment, “remains a contingent space, marked by traces of the past and spaces of familiarity, but never offering a sense of a secure present” (xxv).
Naaman uses the Arabic term “Wust al-Balad” (center city; downtown) throughout the book rather than an English translation to signal the iconic status of this particular space in modern fiction as well as national history. She weaves a careful account of the area’s dramatic architectural and political history into her literary analysis of the way in which the four novels inscribe questions of agency, identity, language, critique, and nostalgia in spatial terms. The famous history of Khedive Isma‘il’s new city, Isma‘iliyya, or “Paris on the Nile,” and the great Cairo Fire of 1952 (during which furious crowds burnt a large chunk of this new city to the ground) are thus both major leitmotifs that recur at key points in the book. Naaman’s description of the process by which the novels’ characters engage in revisionist “mappings” of these histories in space is thus also an apt description of her own critical method (7). The bulk of this critical method is presented in the book’s introduction, “The Urban as Critical Frame,” and covers a broad cross-section of works and authors: the Cairo School of Urban Studies; Gwendolyn Wright’s work on French colonial design; Chicano border studies; and the work of Timothy Mitchell, Arjun Appadurai, and Sabry Hafez on (respectively) colonial modernity, global flows, and the “new novel” in Egypt.
At times, Naaman’s theoretical framing sits uneasily with her evocative and subtle readings of the novels themselves. Naaman closely follows a certain strand of postcolonial studies that proposes a spectacular, Western-authored (colonial) modernity as the presumed antithesis of a kind of authentic or antediluvian local identity and where points of contact or relationship are somehow inevitably defined by suspicion, corruption, or violation. Isma‘il’s new city is offered as “a spectacular imitation of European modernity,” a place that has “internalize[ed] the gaze of the West” (xxi, 1). In such a place, the circulation of capital takes the primary form of staged spectacles of consumption and public entertainment (the lavish department stores, clubs, and cafés of Cairo’s rich). Modernity then becomes an ontology: a fixed and external object (of desire or refusal) rather than a social habitus shot through with contradiction and struggle. The notion that “Egyptians [were] mere spectators in the staging of their own modernity” leads Naaman at times to problematic culturalist readings of political events (Timothy Mitchell quoted in Naaman, 12). For example, the Cairo Fire of 1952 becomes “a debate over what it meant to be modern” rather than a violent rejection of the political and economic structures of a collapsing colonial regime (16). She further argues that “the ‘Urabi rebellion of 1881-2, the revolution of 1919, the workers’ protest in 1946, and the fires and subsequent revolution in July 1952” were all a result of “the Khedive’s complete indifference to the older districts of Cairo (in terms of their architectural and infrastructural neglect)”—or more simply put, to “colonial modernity” (23, 32).
Naaman’s capable and sensitive close readings, however, point to the limits—if not the inadequacy—of this theoretical staging to describe and elicit the rich and complex texture of the novels themselves in their reflections on agency, identity, and loss in the modern Egyptian context. In chapters one and two (“Specter of Paris: The Staging of Cairo’s Modern City Center” and “Reconstructing a National Past: Radwa ‘Ashur’s Revisionist History of Downtown”), Naaman beautifully captures the way in which both the urban-architectural and the textual function as narrative acts that produce legibility and meaning for subjects and readers alike. She further builds on this insight in the next chapter, “The Indigenous Modernism of Khayri Shalabi: Popular Intellectuals and the Neighborhood Ghurza,” by elaborating on Michel de Certeau’s poetics of walking as a form of pedestrian enunciation and Jonathon Shannon’s exploration of modernity and musical improvisation in Syria. In her reading, the palimpsest of the city—the downtown and its “shadow thoroughfare[s]” (77)—is metaphorically composed by the active handling or use of its material structures (‘Ashur’s narrator, The Gazer, “re-members” the downtown by walking its streets and visually summoning its ghostly monuments) or by the continual crossing and re-crossing of porous, shadow borders inscribed into the urban landscape (Salih Hisa’s celebration of multiple social identities and languages; The Yacoubian Building’s crumbling vertical hierarchies). Ultimately, the book’s greatest strength lies here: in its compelling, engaged, and almost tender attention to the materiality of urban space as a lens that brings a whole history of collective desire, aspiration, and struggle into focus through the medium of fiction.
Toward the end of the book’s final chapter, “The Nation Recast through a National Bestseller: Alaa al-Aswany’s Ode to Downtown Cairo,” Naaman tentatively suggests the possibility of claiming this history-in-fiction as a living portrait of the imagined nation—“a master-narrative” as she puts it, “for the Egyptian experience” (167). Meanwhile, the resurgent “neo-bohemian” public sphere of the downtown that she describes in the book’s conclusion has once again metamorphosed into a fully insurgent space of struggle and contestation (169). In this moment of exhilarating and dizzyingly unreadable futures, Urban Space in Contemporary Egyptian Literature does an admirable job of underlining the ways in which “a reworking of the past vis-à-vis our cities is an important part of the process in determining who we are (and want to be) in the present” (176).
Samah Selim is assistant professor of Arabic literature at Rutgers University and the author of The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt 1880-1985 (Routledge, 2004).
[This review was originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of Arab Studies Journal. For more information on the issue, or to subscribe to ASJ, click here. This review was also published in Jadaliyya]
The author of Architecture for the Dead, Galila El Kadi’s new book on Cairo’s central area and its development since the 19th century is a much needed addition to the literature on the city. The bi-lingual book, in French and English, combines disciplinary approaches such as history, social history, urban geography, architectural history and urban morphology. The Cairo central area “is composed of the medieval city, the modern city established in the mid-19th century, and the new district extensions dating back to the middle of the past century, which have received activities migrating from the original sectors as well as recent innovative technological activities. The CCA (Cairo Central Area) is the product of fusion of diverse areas that were separate cities in the past but have become central districts of today’s metropolis.” (14)
The area covered in El Kadi’s book is what David Sims referred to as the formal/historic core. It includes 1000 year old streets as well as more recent development dating from the 1970s. Districts included in this core are: Boulaq, Azbakeya, Ismailia (downtown), Daher, Old Town (a large area with several historic districts known as the medieval city, known touristicly as “Islamic Cairo”), Mounira, Garden City, Roda, Zamalek, Doqqi, Giza, and Mohandessine.
[Limits of the Cairo Central Area, according to El Kadi, p.15]
The book is divided into three well illustrated chapters each looking at the central area of Cairo with a different set of tools. The first addresses Cairo’s centrality within the national and regional contexts. The second provides an analytical approach to the city’s anatomical development over two centuries with particular attention to issues of urban form, pattern, landmarks, distribution of functions, and evolution of residential areas. The final chapter zooms in on a neighborhood, a square and a street to reveal further details about the layers of the city and its anatomy. In this final chapter architectural typology takes a leading position as the scale of analysis shifts from the urban to accommodate the architectural scale. Questions pertaining to urban morphology and fabric string the three chapters together.
[Ramses Street, an architectural catalogue, p. 157]
The third chapter is particularly interesting. The author identifies parts of the urban anatomy then follows three approaches in analyzing such parts to “grasp these spaces in their material and intangible dimensions.” The first approach is historical and aims to “grasp the initial moment of the urban project’s conception and its evolution.” The second approach is morphological and it “inspects the elements of urban make-up and analyses the interrelations between the hierarchy of thoroughfares, the forms of land division and the constructions.” And the third approach is what the author calls “sensitive” which “reflects on perceptions, impressions and illustrates the memories linked to specific place and imparts a new meaning to it.”
Galila El Kadi’s Cairo is a much needed, well researched, clearly written, and richly illustrated addition to the literature on Cairo. The book makes some significant departures from previous works on Cairo by demarcating the Cairo Central Area as a unit of analysis rather the conventional approach of focusing on parts of this central area (downtown, or the medieval city) severed from their context. The book also provides a wealth of new information regarding urban transformation of various districts over time. For example the district of Garden City is rendered in four maps on page 228 which show the development of this zone from 1930 to 2006. Such maps, and diagrams in addition to photographs provide an easy to read wealth of information that shows change over time rather than the conventional snapshot view of a particular location during a particular time. This is a book about Cairo as a changing and moving city.
The book concludes by suggesting that a close reading of the city’s development over the past several decades reveals the resilience of the central area as a focus of the city despite decentralization plans by the government. Perhaps this study will attract the attention of policymakers, and consultants who have mislead previous governments that moving away from the center is a worthwhile endeavor. It is time to reconsider plans to escape Cairo and to focus development and regeneration plans back to the center where the spirit of Cairo lives on.
In 2009 the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale in Cairo published a two-volume book by Istvan Ormos on the life and career of an important figure in modern Egyptian history and Cairo’s history: Max Herz Pasha.
Max Herz “was born in Hungary, studied in Hungary and Austria, spent his active life in Egypt, died in Switzerland and is buried in Italy.” Ormos’ extensive research pieces together the life and career of this exceptional personality so central to the study, conservation and documentation of Islamic and Coptic architectural heritage in Cairo following his first visit to Egypt in 1880.
In 1881 Herz was employed as a draftsman by Franz Pasha, the director of the Technical Office of the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Waqf) and was later appointed as engineer. Herz subsequently held several positions including director of the Arab Museum in 1892 (Islamic Art Museum) and in 1901 became director of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe. Throughout his career in Egyptian civil service Herz developed a reputation that led him to being honored with the title Bey in 1895 and later Pasha in 1912.
From the middle of the 19th century Cairo was undergoing mass modernization efforts and the Ministry of Public Works sought to improve the hygiene and safety of the city. In some cases this called for the demolition of historic buildings and monuments because they were structurally unstable (and therefore posed a safety threat to communities). What is important to remember here, and this is something the author explains at some length, is that the decision to demolish buildings that posed a threat even if they are several hundred years old, reveals a different conception of urban memory. The concept of “monument,” the author tells us, was a recent European conception where buildings were seen as carriers of memory. There are ancient monuments in Egypt that belong to past civilization and which were not part of daily life in the 19th century, such as the ancient temples or pyramids for example. However, in Cairo antique buildings, from the medieval period for example, were lived and used in daily life, unlike monuments of a more distant past. Therefore the concept of preserving buildings that may be posing a threat or are no longer fulfilling their functions, or are in the way of modernizing urban projects was relatively new. Hence the significance of Herz Pasha in saving many of Cairo’s ailing historic buildings by restoring and rebuilding, in addition to documenting and studying buildings that would have been erased by turn-of-the-century modernizers (as happened in many European capitals earlier).
[Left: The central court of the Maridani mosque after restoration; Right: same space before restoration]
[Left: Aqmar mosque facade in 1901; Right: Aqmar mosque facade after restoration]
Take for example the minarets above the famous Bab Zuwayla. What we see today is in fact the product of restoration and rebuilding supervised by Herz Pasha. Until the 1890s the tops of the minarets had been destroyed. Another example is the Aqmar Mosque (1125) which was reconstructed with particular attention given to the facade, which was later replicated in the Coptic Museum. St Mercury’s church (known as Abu l-Sayfayn), St Sergius (Abu Sarga), St Barbara (Sitt Burbara) are among the Coptic monuments restored under his supervision. The Maridani Mosque (1340) was in ruins before the Comité team arrived and rebuilt it. Sultan Barquq complex, Al-Azhar and many other mosques around the city were restored under the helm of Herz but his most significant work was on the Sultan Hassan Mosque (1356), Cairo’s iconic Mamluk monument for which he produced a monograph in 1899. Furthermore, many buildings lining the historic and now popular Muiz Street were missing domes, minarets or were near collapse due to the rise of the water table under that part of the city, however what we see today is in fact largely due to the works of restoration carried out a century ago by Max Herz. In addition to works of restoration Herz also designed several buildings and completed the architectural design of the Refai Mosque, Cairo’s royal mosque, after work had been interrupted for several decades and its original architect, Husayn Pasha Fahmi, had died.
[Left: Bab Zuwayla with minarets of al-Muayyad mosque in 1892. Sometime between 1860 and 1890 the tops of the minarets collapsed. Restoration of the mosque had already begun long before Herz appeared on the scene; Right: minarets after rebuilding as seen in a 1920s postcard. The minarets were rebuilt while Herz was in charge of the project.]
[Left: Rifai mosque before the resumption of work in 1906, Right: Rifai mosque in the 1930s with new minarets and dome designed by Herz.]
Herz was spending the summer of 1914 in Europe when WWI broke out. The British occupying forces in Egypt expelled all officials of Austro-Hungarian origins. Upon his return to Egypt in October 1914, British officials forced him into retirement and demanded he leave the country. The European war had direct repercussions on Egypt as the British interfered directly into Egyptian affairs and even deposed Egypt’s ruler Abbas Helmi who was in Istanbul on official visit and was not allowed to return. Herz Pasha left Egypt before the end of 1914, his family awaited him in Italy but in 1919 he went to Zürich for treatment and died during an operation. He is buried in Milan at the Cimitero Monumentale.
Arguably after Herz Pasha’s sudden departure the Comité and by extension the preservation of Islamic and Coptic monuments, which as a field developed almost entirely under his helm, were no longer the same. Although the Comité was not disbanded immediately, its budget was severely cut and no head architect comparable to Herz Pasha’s expertise headed the organization thereafter until it was officially inactive in 1953.
Much of the literature about Cairo or Egyptian architecture in general is produced in Western academia for Western academia. Although some of these books have become classics among English or French reading audiences, they remain unknown to a wider Egyptian audience. Although many Egyptian university students are capable of reading second languages, classic works dealing with Cairo’s architecture and urban history must be made available in Arabic and thus readable to an audience that inhabits the very spaces these books describe and analyze.
1. Janet Abu-Lughod’s Cairo:1001 years of the city victorious (Princeton University Press, 1971). Forty-one years have lapsed since Abu-Lughod’s book was published, yet it remains the classic source for the history of Cairo’s urban development from the city’s founding until the middle of the twentieth century. No other book has narrated and analyzed Cairo’s urban and sociological history across the time span covered in this book as well as Abu-Lughod has done. It is inexcusable that the prime biography of the city has not been translated into Arabic and made available to Cairo’s residents four decades after it has been published.
2. Mercedes Volait’s Architectes et Architectures de l’Egypte moderne (1830-1950) (Maisonneuve et Larose, 2005) is the best and most comprehensive history of Egypt’s modern architects and their architecture. Volait is truly a trailblazer in the field of Egyptian architectural history as she set the course for future research projects that aim to highlight Egypt’s architecture from the modern period, which has been ignored in scholarship until recently. Egypt’s rich architectural past prior to the 19th century has monopolized academic scholarship leaving behind a rich and illustrative period from the early 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. Volait uncovers architects, projects and plans that are unknown to Western and Egyptian audiences and places Egypt in the context of evolving modern architecture in Europe and the region. The book is not available in English nor Arabic. Egyptian audiences need to have access to this book in Arabic, which sheds light on a fast disappearing heritage from the modern period.
3. David Sims’ Understanding Cairo: The logic of a city out of control (AUC Press, 2011). Forwarded by Janet Abu-Lughod, this book reads like the missing final chapter from her own 1971 work, above. In a time when many Egyptians are beginning to understand the physical environment in which they live and its political and economic dimensions, few books are available that paint an up-to-date and easy to read explanation of the current situation. The book focuses on the most dramatic period in Cairo’s urban transformation in modern history, the 1950s to the present. Unobstructed by academic jargon and free of romantic narratives, Sims’ book paints a matter-of-fact image of contemporary Cairo and highlights the key issues, players, and policies that shape the city today. Egyptians have been kept in the dark about the very policies and political decisions that affect their daily lives in Cairo. A translated version of this book made available to a wider audience has the potential to dramatically transform the future of urban policy in Egypt as Egyptians realize that what they took for granted as a reflection of their disjointed society is actually the product of carefully orchestrated ill-intentioned urban policies and deeply rooted corruption.
Farha Ghannam. Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Reviewed by Amy Mills (Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin)
Published on H-Gender-MidEast (June, 2003)
Building the Urban Landscape with the Gendered Spatial Practices of Everyday Life
This rich ethnography examines the forces shaping Cairo’s landscape from the perspective of its poor. Al-Zawiya al-Hamra is a housing development built for a population relocated from Bulaq during Sadat’s efforts to redesign Cairo according to his idea of a modern city. Farha Ghannam’s work on the daily practices of its residents contributes to the literature on Cairo’s urban development with a new perspective. Her work also treats some of the most important elements conditioning life throughout the region: the articulation of state discourse in urban development, the emergence of Islam as a unifying factor for a poor population of mixed origins, and the role of globalization in spreading desires and creating new economic realities. The study focuses on the ways in which people have altered the visible forms and uses of the spaces allotted to them by the government when they were relocated to al-Zawiya. The book describes the “tactics” and “strategies” employed by people in efforts to realize their visions as individuals and as families. These actions are explored as negotiations with which people selectively appropriate or reinterpret the various powerful forces that condition the context in which they take place. State, global, or religious discourses are not top-down influences to be dichotomously rejected or accepted by the poor. This study challenges the idea of modernity, particularly as it is discussed in relation to Muslim societies. For Ghannam, modernity is not a Western-defined ideal to be more or less successfully emulated by “other” societies, particularly in regard to the emphasis on secularization. Rather, residents of al-Zawiya are modern in that they are both attracted to a religious identity and to the desires and expectations stimulated by globalization, and deal with both in articulating identity and producing neighborhood space. Farha Ghannam’s steeped experience in the field and her careful methodology give her subtle analysis an unshakeable credibility. Her theoretical framework and her own identity as a woman place the hands and visions of women at the heart of her ethnography, as they are in the landscape of her analysis.
Remaking the Modern is structured in six chapters that begin with an introduction to the fieldwork site by describing the state discourse surrounding the relocation project and its population. The relocation articulated state desires to improve the city by removing “less desirable” (p. 29) parts of central Cairo in line with its vision for a modern city ripe for expanded tourism and foreign investment. Chapter 2 describes the modern and scientific ideals embedded in the spaces of the housing development; its segregated and regular spaces would produce a healthy and productive citizenry for the nation. Here Ghannam reveals the tactics and strategies of people in reinterpreting the spaces allocated to them by the state to meet their own needs, by changing the balconies or using a single space for several purposes, for example. As women are the “main daily users” of the housing unit, their visions, desires, and needs are central to its individual transformation (p. 61). Chapter 3 discusses the identity construction of al-Zawiya residents through their relationships to place. Ghannam explores both the narratives of residents’ past and their identifications with Bulaq and their places of origin, as well as the reordering of relationships and the new uncertainties caused by relocation to al-Zawiya. Chapter 4 brings the issue of the control of public space down from the level of state discourse to the gendered relations of the family. Ghannam challenges the public/private dichotomy, the traditional point of departure for academic discussions on the gendering of space in the Middle East, to examine the ways in which the boundaries between them are continuously contested. The construction of the mosque as a “safe” (p. 126) public space is examined in chapter 5, where religion is discussed as a unifying factor for a mixed community. Chapter 6 reveals the global context in which the local neighborhood is created. The space of the apartment is the site of the nexus between the global and the local; global connections build the local landscape and realize the global desires of one couple, even as another couple struggles with the inequality created by the same system as they search for an apartment to consummate a marriage.
Because the foundation of Ghannam’s work is in the practices of everyday life, this book bridges urban studies and gender studies in the Middle East by moving beyond defining the gendering of space as a simple division between public and private spaces. Ghannam argues that women have always been viewed as “privatizing the public” (p. 91), because the public has been defined as the male domain; such a view does not allow for the complexity of actions and spaces that go beyond the dichotomy of the male-dominated public and the female-oriented private. Ghannam opens the discussion by exploring the varying public spaces that are open or closed to women (and young men) at differing times. Her uses of such a spatial analysis builds on studies that focus on veiling, for example, which explore the control of female sexuality through the body. Ghannam argues that the power relationships that reinforce gender inequalities regarding the movement or access to spaces do not aim to control women’s sexuality but to control their access to knowledge.
The discussion of the tactics and strategies of women also contribute to theoretical discussions on the nature of the production of space. For Ghannam, “the city is not a ready-made container for the practices of its residents but a flexible entity that is made and remade through these practices” (p. 23). Ghannam illuminates the role of local people in making Cairo’s landscape as well as the significance of their attachments to local place for their own identity construction. However, she argues that the local is never fixed, it is instead continuously remade through the practices of residents. Through actions of everyday life, women and men in al-Zawiya al-Hamra articulate their visions in a local neighborhood while they selectively appropriate or reject elements of the state discourse on modernization, global flows of information and the creation of new desires, and religion that serves as a unifying force for the urban poor. This is the nature of modernity in Cairo. Remaking the Modern joins a growing body of literature that contributes to gender studies in the Middle East with a geographical analysis of social practices. Farha Ghannam’s model ethnographic study gives students of urban culture in the Middle East a text which evokes the life of the city itself.
. Ghannam uses “tactics” and “strategies” as defined by Michel deCerteau in The Practice of Everyday Life. According to Ghannam, a strategy “assumes a proper place,” whereas a tactic “is a ‘clever trick’ that depends on time and waits to manipulate any emerging opportunities in a system of domination” (p. 50). The physical addition or change to an assigned apartment is an example of a strategy. A tactic is based on “shifting meanings” (p. 59); changing the functions of spaces inside apartments according to different daily needs is a tactic. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
. Such geographic studies emphasize the importance of the spatialization of daily practices and suggest the complexity of the role of Islam in shaping the context in which women negotiate these practices. Another recent example of such work is that of geographer Anna Secor, who explores the spatialization of various practices of veiling across Istanbul, Turkey, suggesting links between the gendered production of Islamic knowledge and women’s mobility. Anna Secor, “The Veil and Urban Space in Istanbul: Womens Dress, Mobility and Islamic Knowledge,” Gender, Place and Culture 9:1 (2002): pp 5-22.
تتميز القاهرة بتنوع وغزارة الدراسات الجادة التي تتناول شتي نواحي الحياة فيها، وقد ظهر في العام الماضي كتاب بالإنجليزية عن القاهرة أظن أنه علامة فارقة في التأريخ للقاهرة ويستحق الانتباه له ودراسته بتأني.
الكتاب عنوانه “فهم القاهرة: منطق مدينة متخبطة” وهو من إصدار قسم النشر بالجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة ومن تأليف ديفيد سيمز، الاقتصادي وخبير تخطيط المدن الذي يعيش في القاهرة منذ عام 1974. وقد أوجز المؤلف في العنوان الذي اختاره للكتاب نظرته للقاهرة ومشاكلها، فالمدينة التي توصف كثيرا بأنها تعاني من مشاكل تجعلها مدينة مستعصية علي الفهم تبدو حسب المؤلف كمدينة يحكمها منطق ما وهذا المنطق يجعل فهمها والوقوف علي مشاكلها ممكنا. الكتاب يعتبر امتدادا لدراسة جانيت أبو لغد عن القاهرة والذي ظهرت بالإنجليزية عام 1970، ولكن وعلي عكس دراسة أبو لغد الرائدة لا يتناول كتاب سيمز تاريخ القاهرة الطويل بل يركز علي الستين عاما الأخيرة. ومما يلفت النظر القراءة الدقيقة للتعداد العام للسكان وخاصة تعداد عام 2006 بالإضافة إلي خرائط جديدة مستقاة من جوجل إيرث. واعتمادا علي هذه المادة الغنية وعلي العديد من الدراسات التي ظهرت في السنوات القليلة المضاية والتي قامت بها مؤسسات بحثية عديدة يعرض لنا سيمز في عشرة فصول وأكثر من ثلاثمائه صفحة رؤيته لمشاكل القاهرة وتخيلا لمنهج فكري وعملي للتفكير في حلول لهذه المشاكل.
كتاب سيمز معني بتاريخ المدينة ولكنه ليس أسير ذلك التاريخ، الأمر الذي كان له أثر في رؤيته للمدينة. فعلي عكس الكثير من الكتب عن القاهرة لا يقسم سيمز المدينة تقسيما زمنيا، أي قاهرة المعز، ثم القاهرة الخديوية، ثم القاهرة المعاصرة، مثلا، بل تتكون القاهرة في رؤية سيمز إلي ثلاث مدن: المدينة الرسمية، والمدينة غير الرسمية (أو ما يطلق عليه “العشوائيات”)، ومدينة الصحراء (أي المدن الجديدة). ويعرض سيمز معلومات جديدة وتحليلات ثاقبة عن أنماط العمارة وتنوعها، وسياسات الإسكان وفسادها، والتخطيط العمراني أو غيابه، ووسائل المواصلات، وغير ذلك من الأمور المتعلقة بإدارة القاهرة.
من أهم فصول الكتاب في رأيي ذلك الفصل الذي يتناول العشوائيات، وينتقد سيمز فيه الرؤية الشائعة عن العشوائيات كمرتع للمخدرات ومفرخة للإرهاب، ويقدم عوضا عن ذلك معلومات مهمة وجديدة ورؤية ثاقبة لطبيعة العشوائيات ونمط الحياة فيها. أما المهم فهو أن سكان العشوائيات أصبحوا أكثرية سكان القاهرة، إذ يسكنها 11 مليون نسمة أي أكثر من ثلثي سكان القاهرة، الأمر الذي يجعل من المستحيل “القضاء علي العشوائيات” كما يطلع علينا المسؤولون الحكوميون بتصريحات عنترية من حين لآخر. أما الجديد فهو تتبع سيمز لأنماط العمارة (التي توصف عادة بالقبح، ولكن سيمز يركز علي صلابتها وديمومتها) وطرق الموصلات (أي التوك توك الذي يستعر منه الكثيرون ولكن سيمز يراه وسيلة مواصلات مناسبة لشوارع العشوائيات الضيقة)، وأنماط الاستهلاك والتوظيف (التي تتركز في الحي الواحد وبالتالي تقلل من وطأة العشوائيات علي سائر أحياء المدينة). ويقدم هذا الفصل نقدا لاذعا للفشل المريع للدولة وتخليها عن أغلبية أهالي العاصمة، كما يعبر عن حيوية هؤلاء الأهالي وعبقريتهم ونجاحهم في التغلب علي تخلي الدولة عنهم بابتداع أنماط بناء وتخطيط ومواصلات قد تكون قبيحة في أعين النخبة ولكنها أثبتت نجاحها في الإبقاء علي الحد الأدني من الحياة الآدمية.
إن كتاب سيمز نابع من سنوات طويلة من الجهد والبحث والتقصي، ولكنه، وبالرغم من صرامته الأكاديمية وغزارة أرقامه ودقة خرائطه، نتيجة حب عميق يكنه المؤلف للقاهرة وأهلها.
المعماريين المصريين الرواد خلال الفترة الليبرالية بين ثورتي 1919 و1952م
تأليف: شيماء سمير عاشور
الكتاب جزء من سلسلة “صفحات من تاريخ مصر” التي تنشرها مكتبة مدبولي
في إطار الحفاظ علي هويتنا المعمارية المصرية بتكوين صورة متكاملة لتاريخ العمارة المصرية بجميع حقباتها الزمنية،يتناول هذا الكتاب النتاج البنائي للمعماريين الرواد خلال العقود الثلاثة ما بين استقلال 1919 وثورة 1952 تناولا فكريا معماريا يشمل السياق المحلي والعالمي المحيط بنموذجين من المعماريين الرواد هما: المعماري أنطوان سليم نحاس والمعماري علي لبيب جبر.يعيد الكتاب قراءة البعد التاريخي الممثل في اتحاد فكر وواقع المجتمع في الفترة الليبرالية وانعكاس ذلك علي النتاج المعماري لهذه الفترة.
الكتاب يعتمد علي الرسالة التي تقدمت بها المؤلفة للحصول علي درجة الماجستير وكانت بعنوان “إطلالة على المعماريين المصريين الرواد خلال الفترة الليبرالية بين ثورتي 1919 و1952م” وتحت إشراف ا.د. سهير حواس، ا.د. علي جبر، ا.د. رغد مفيد
The Pioneer Egyptian Architects during the Liberal Era (1919-1952)
Shaimaa Samir Ashour
The book is part of “Pages from the Egyptian History” series
published by Madboly publisher
This book overviews Egyptian architecture during three decades; starting the 1919 independence and ending by the 1952 revolution with special focus on the works of Antoine Selim Nahas and Aly Labib Gabr. It is a deep study of the impact of political, economical, socio-cultural aspects of local Egyptian ideology on the architecture of that era.
This book is built upon the author’s M.Sc. thesis which is entitled “An Overview of Pioneer Egyptian Architects during the Liberal Era(1919-1952)”, and was under the supervision of Prof. Soheir Hawas, Prof. Aly Hatem Gabr and Prof. Raghad Mofeed.
Book available now at Madboly Bookshop in Talaat Harb Square.
Photographer Xenia Nikolskaya lives in St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Cairo. She has done 15 solo shows, and her pictures are featured in the Bibliotheca Alexandria Arts Centre and Sveriges Allmänna Konstförening. She has done commissions for Newsweek, Conde Nast Traveler and the Hermitage Museum.
Nikolskaya currently teaches photography at the American University in Cairo and is editing her upcoming book, “Egyptian Dust: The Social Life of Endangered Spaces,” which will be released in February 2012. The book will include 70 pictures featuring buildings in ten Egyptian cities, with text by historian and poet On Barak.
Polis recently met with Xenia Nikolskaya in Stockholm to talk about the project.
To read the interview on Polis and for more incredible interiors of Egypt’s forgotten palaces, click here.
UPDATE December 2, 2012: The photographs are now published in the book Dust: Egypt’s Forgotten Architecture, available for purchase.
Nezar AlSayyad, Irene Bierman, Nasser Rabbat, eds. Making Cairo Medieval. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005. vi + 266 pp. $83.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7391-0915-1; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7391-0916-8.
Reviewed by Seif El Rashidi (Aga Khan Cultural Services, Egypt)
Published on H-Urban (July, 2005)
Typically, scholarship of the urban development of Cairo has emphasized the dichotomy between its “medieval” and its “modern” quarters, with little critical analysis about how this notion of a dual city came about, or the impacts of this treatment on both perceptions of Cairo and on its subsequent development. Through the work of ten scholars, Making Cairo Medieval examines the idea of a “medieval Cairo”—a concept developed in the nineteenth century by people who were essentially outsiders to the historic quarters of the city, yet whose ideas of refashioning such neighborhoods to create a “medievalized” Cairo continue to affect the policies governing these quarters of the city today.
The first section of the book, “A Medieval City for a Modern World,” sets the framework around which the ideas that eventually led to the “medievalization” of the city developed. Irene Bierman discusses world exhibitions in which the stage-set recreations of historic Cairo came to be seen as more authentic than the real city itself, thus becoming a guiding prototype for urban policy and intervention. She also outlines the development of conservation policies intent on ensuring the architectural purity of historic monuments (often by editing out buildings or sections of them which did not conform to preset ideas about the style of each epoch).
Nasser Rabbat discusses key literary works on the history of Cairo, namely the fifteenth century Khitat of al-Maqrizi, until today seen as the bible for many of the questions related to the city’s social and urban history. Unlike the other authors in this volume, Rabbat brings up the idea of Egyptian “cosmo-centrism” (seeing Egypt as the center of the world), tellingly absent from this medievalization process, which was led primarily by europhilic Egyptians, and Europeans in a prenationalistic age. Nezzar AlSayyad, discussing the role of Ali Pasha Mubarak, a europhilic Egyptian par excellence and architect of Cairo’s modernization scheme, presents him simultaneously as the writer of the most detailed account of nineteenth-century Cairo, a novelist who captured the prevailing mood of historic change, and the heavy-handed urbanist who worked towards the indiscriminate modernization of the historic city. Ironically, AlSayyad maintains that Mubarak did not contribute to the medievalization process, except through his written works. Yet Mubarak, historic Cairo’s self-proclaimed greatest enemy, was in fact an unintentional protagonist in the quest to create a medieval Cairo. As Donald Preziosi argues in the second section of this book, by trying to change the pre-nineteenth-century city, and only partially succeeding, Mubarak helped emphasize the medieval nature of Cairo’s historic quarters.
“Representing and Narrating,” the second section of the book, considers the Orientalist imaginary of Cairo, and how it became firmly embedded in the minds of non-Cairenes through the works of European artists, photographers, and writers. Derek Gregory, discussing Edward Lane’s written works (and illustrations), shows how Lane’s portrayal of Cairo life as a series of attractively Oriental vignettes fueled Westerners’ imaginations and sent them in search of the “Arabian Nights” in the real-life city. Caroline Williams, through her study of Orientalist paintings and photographs, traces the evolution of the Orientalist painting as a documentary medium. The advent of the photograph changed the role of artists to that of visual interpreters, portraying a hyper-romanticized view of the Orient through their work. These visual and textual references, created for a Western audience, determined what it was visitors to Egypt expected to find: essentially, an Oriental fantasy out of touch with the modern world.
Read full review, here.
Nezar AlSayyad. Cairo: Histories of a City. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.
David Sims. Understanding Cairo: the Logic of a City out of Control. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2010.
Nezar AlSayyad’s Cairo: Histories of a City and David Sims’ Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City out of Control are the latest additions to a vast body of literature on Cairo’s urban development. In these early days following the 25 January revolution, Cairo has become a focal point for urban planners and architects who see recent events as an opportunity to position the city at the center of public discourse. Since January there have been numerous events, talks, and roundtable discussions about the city’s future. Some events centered on creating a monument marking the revolution in Tahrir Square. Proposals regarding a monument lack critical evaluation of the meanings and histories of the erection of such monuments in the past or in other locales. The latest such proposal submitted to the Prime Minister’s office is by architect Hesham Ali Greesha, of Misr University for Science and Technology, who imagines a grid of plexi glass columns each itched with the name of a martyr. Other events centered more generally on the future of Cairo. One such event was held at the Goethe Institute where German architect Albert Speer Jr casually presented some ambiguous ideas about the necessity for Cairo’s urban future to be sustainable.
Missing from these discussions is a comprehensive approach to the city as it exists today and how it manages to function. Also missing is a historical understanding of how Cairo of 2011 has become what it is. The current political situation is inspiring many to imagine the future of Cairo. Yet ironically, there has been little attention to how presidents and politicians manipulated previous political events to create self-congratulating monuments (e.g., the 6th of October Panorama under Mubarak) or expanded the city in the name of revolution (e.g., Nasr City under Nasser). Coincidently AlSayyad’s and Sims’ books, published in early 2011 and late 2010 respectively, are useful guides for architects, planners, Cairo visitors and residents to understanding Cairo’s past and present before they contemplate her future.
The two books approach Cairo from different perspectives with different sets of questions. While AlSayyad covers a time span of over three thousand years, Sims’ book is focused on the last sixty years. And while Sims analyzes the ways in which the city functions on the ground, AlSayyad zooms out and paints a panoramic picture of the various eras this city witnessed.
AlSayyad builds on the rich literature on Cairo and relies on three classics: Marcel Clerget’s Le Caire (1934), Janet Abu-Lughod’s Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious (1971), and Andre Raymond’s Cairo (2000). AlSayyad compliments reading these classics by referencing more recent biographies of the city as well as Arabic literary works. The total sum is an account of Cairo’s multiple histories, as the title suggests, that brings together the vast literature on the city and presents it in succinct chapters that are easy to read and richly illustrated.
AlSayyed presents twelve ambitious chapters, some of which span hundreds of years in the course of twenty pages including illustrations. This format will probably attract newcomers to Cairo, tourists and undergraduate students alike. The chapters are organized around historical eras such as “From Ancient Egypt to the Coptic Enclave.” The chapter organization for the most part traces the impact of powerful pharaohs, sultans, khedives, kings and presidents but also colonialists, explorers and Orientalists. However, there is a shift in approach in the last three chapters, which are discussed thematically organized around modernization, nationalism and neoliberalism. This is mostly a history of Cairo as the work of powerful men with different and conflicting political and artistic interests.
Forwarded by Janet Abu-Lughod, David Sims’ ten chapters trace major changes that have happened in recent decades with themes such as governance, mobility, housing speculation, and informality. The chapter “A History of Modern Cairo: Three Cities in One” reads like the missing final chapter to Abu-Lughod’s 1971 classic and brings it up-to-date. In this chapter Sims argues that socio-economic and political shifts in the city’s history over the past five decades are manifest in three zones that sometimes overlap; these are “the (decaying) formal city,” “the (expanding) informal city,” and “the (neoliberal) desert city.” Within each of these categories there is great variety; however establishing these typologies aids in breaking up the massive urban conglomeration of Cairo into manageable units of analysis.
Read the rest on Jadaliyya, here.
+image credit: Mahmoud Hamdy, Transmission. 2007
TV-based urban situation