Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo

Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo

Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo

Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo


In an effort to restyle Cairo into a global capital that would meet the demands of tourists and investors and to achieve President Anwar Sadat's goal to modernize the housing conditions of the urban poor, the Egyptian government relocated residents from what was deemed valuable real estate in downtown Cairo to public housing on the outskirts of the city. Based on more than two years of ethnographic fieldwork among five thousand working-class families in the neighborhood of al-Zawyia al-Hamra, this study explores how these displaced residents have dealt with the stigma of public housing, the loss of their established community networks, and the diversity of the population in the new location.

Until now, few anthropologists have delivered detailed case studies on this recent phenomenon. Ghannam fills this gap in scholarship with an illuminating analysis of urban engineering of populations in Cairo. Drawing on theories of practice, the study traces the various tactics and strategies employed by members of the relocated group to appropriate and transform the state's understanding of "modernity" and hegemonic construction of space. Informed by recent theories of globalization, Ghannam also shows how the growing importance of religious identity is but one of many contradictory ways that global trajectories mold the identities of the relocated residents. Remaking the Modern is a revealing ethnography of a working class community's struggle to appropriate modern facilities and confront the alienation and the dislocation brought on by national policies and the quest to globalize Cairo.


Nationalism, as a model of imagining community, articulates with, rewrites, and often displaces other narratives of community.

Akhil Gupta, “The Song of the Nonaligned World”

The phrase Umm al-Dunya (Mother of the World) is used by Egyptians and Arabs to refer to Cairo. the mixture of actions, buildings, people, and activities gives the impression that the entire world is represented in Cairo and that it represents the world. the diversity of its neighborhoods, old quarters and new Western-style areas, high-rise buildings around the Nile, satellite dishes, foreign fast-food chains (such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I Can't Believe It's Yogurt), the World Trade Center, the crowded streets, the walls that are covered with advertisements for many international companies (such as Sony and Citizen), and the life that never stops—all of these phenomena blend together to give Cairo its magic and recreate the feeling that this city is “the Mother of the World” and that it has something to offer everyone. It attracts poor immigrants from rural Egypt who come seeking work and a better life and foreigners who work for international organizations, educational institutions, and embassies, as well as Arab and international tourists who are attracted by the pyramids, the Nile, and the nightlife.

Touring Cairo's streets and alleys, one cannot but feel both the presence and absence of the government. the large number of policemen, who are guarding buildings, searching bags, regulating traffic, watching the people, and socializing with each other, give the impression that Cairo . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.