Roman Stadnicki/ CEDEJ: The Emergence of Urban Activism in Cairo since the 2011 Revolution

Thursday, 12 December 2013, Panel I: Claims and Agency, 10.30-12.45 @ Warehouse

Since the 2011 revolution we are witnessing a powerful growth of urban activism in Egypt, especially in Cairo. This paper will examine conditions for the emergence of this particular form of activism at the political, social and territorial levels. These conditions include the opening of the scope of activism, the diversification and ‘pluralisation’ of civil society, and the urban roots of the revolutionary moment. A typology will be established according to the interests pursued by the stakeholders, that can be divided into three main categories:  general organizations for human rights working towards improving the city’s living conditions; individuals and/or organizations whose actions relate to a long-term struggle for the ‘right to the city’; individuals and/or organizations whose actions aim to protect the living environment and the common good. This paper will show that Egyptian urban activists are the authors of changes that are already visible on the urban scene.

Roman Stadnicki holds a PhD in Geography. He is a Research Fellow and Head of the Urban Studies Department at CEDEJ (Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales) in Cairo.

Hiba Bou Akar/ Hampshire College: Beirut’s Geographies of the ‘War Yet to Come’

Thursday, 12 December 2013, Panel I: Claims and Agency, 10.30-12.45 @ Warehouse

This paper discusses how Beirut’s post civil war peripheries, previously conceived as poor and informal, have been transformed through contested planning exercises by religious political organizations into frontiers of violence and growth. The paper focuses on two contested southern peripheries of Beirut, Sahra Choueifat and Doha Aramoun, that provide possibilities for those who cannot afford living in the city, while being simultaneously spaces where the contours of the futures of violent engagements, militarization, and displacements are being drawn and redrawn every day. The paper shows how the spatial practices of religious political organisations have transformed Beirut’s southern peripheries into frontiers of sectarian conflict through these actors’ territorial battles governed by their anticipated roles in local and regional wars that are ‘yet to come’. Reflecting on how sectarianism is constructed, lived and reproduced in contemporary Beirut, the aim is to understand how the everyday spatiality of the sectarian order is produced and negotiated.Within the spatial logics of the ‘war yet to come’, the paper illustrates how the articulation of sectarianism, capitalism, urbanization, geo-political interests, and violence produces and reproduces Beirut’s geographies of the sectarian order.


Hiba Bou Akar is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Urban Planning at Hampshire College. She holds a PhD in City and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley.

Maryam Amiri and Esmaeil Izadi / University of Tehran: Tehran Urban Space Under the Rationale of Sales Price

Thursday, 12 December 2013, Panel I: Claims and Agency, 14.00-15.30 @ Warehouse

We explore the interrelations between law and space, focusing on urban space generated in Tehran under the Urban Density Sales Law. Endorsed by Tehran Municipality in 1990, the law overturned construction density restrictions put in place by ratified urban plans for the city of Tehran, thus making the market mechanism the only determinant in all future developments. The rationale of sales price took over the rationale of planning. The sudden change, apparent everywhere around the city and affecting the lives of its populace in every walk of life was so dramatic that it divided the post-revolution era into ‘before’ and ‘after’ the Density Law. The revolutionary ideals of equality and justice that had previously led to a drive to nationalise land and control the real estate market gave way to a new paradigm of justification of selling off hitherto undeveloped urban space, changing the fabric of built-up areas and delivering huge chunks of landoutside the city zone for hasty urban development.It will be shown how by selling density Tehran Municipality created an ‘abstract space’ (Lefebvre), in which citizens are deprived of their say in how their habitat is developed, while urban planning as a civil rationality is side-tracked, the consequence of which is that the citizenry loses its fundamental ‘Right to the City’.


Maryam Amiri graduated with an MA in urban planning from the University of Tehran. She is a journalist at Shargh newspaper and works as an urban planner at rehabilitation projects in urban vulnerable areas.


Esmaeil Izadi is an MA student in economics at the University of Tehran.


Nazanin Shahrokni/ Harvard University: A Gender-Divided City? An inquiry into the spatial politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Privat, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

This study examines the spatial dynamics of gender-segregated spaces and what these dynamics register about the transformations of state power in post-revolutionary Iran. In doing so, this work links everyday practices of traversing the city with macro-level dynamics of power and politics. It addresses the following questions: What can shifting gender segregation practices show us about the Iranian state and its shifting strategies of governing and maintaining legitimacy? How do local and global politics condition the production of gender-segregated spaces?I examine three illustrative cases of gender segregation in Tehran – women-only parks, gender-segregated buses, and men-only sports stadiums – in an effort to better theorise gender segregation as a state policy, in its multiple incarnations across time and space.First, I offer a ‘progressive sense’ of gender-segregated spacesby treating them not as enclosed and static entities but as the products of social processes. These spaces and the meanings associated with them are never set. Second, adopting a Foucauldian approach to power as productive and not merely prohibitive, and building on Lefebvre’s notion of space as a political product, I explore the ways in which gender-segregated spaces are interwoven with politics and relations of power. Finally, I argue that it is necessary to situate the Iranian state within the web of state-society relations and the larger context of interstate relations.


Nazanin Shahrokni is a Postdoctoral Academy Scholar at Harvard University, Weatherhead Center for International and Area Studies. She holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley.

Mathew Gagné/ University of Toronto: Expanding Queer Spaces in Beirut: Mobile communications technologies and contestations to heteronormative space

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

Recent histories of neo-liberal governance and reconstruction in Beirut have created new types of public, commercial, and virtual spaces that have opened up to new forms of queer sexualities. Emergent forms of queer practices and socialities enabled through new Internet technologies render public spaces semi-private queer spaces, including commercial bars, restaurants, and clubs, as well as queered public areas. Appropriations and contestations of public spaces are expanding due to the growing popularity of mobile communications technologies. Smartphone applications, like Grindr and Scruff, disrupt the binaries of private and public, virtual and real by enabling men to connect, flirt, and enjoy intimacies woven between stratified urban spaces and virtual and physical worlds. This paper explores this process by looking at how these technologies imbue public space with private queer intimacies as well as new modes of recognition of queer others in the movements between online and offline social worlds. The suturing of ordinary activities and these technologies produces an expansion of queer spaces and visibilities that mounts contestations to heteronormative space while producing new types of politicized queer subjects. The conditions of heteronormative public space in Beirut are disrupted as these semi-private intimacies and forms of queer recognition take hold in spaces around the city.


Mathew Gagné is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. His work focuses on the ways queer dating technologies impact the formation of queer subjectivities and socialities in Beirut.

Nahid Siamdoust/ University of Oxford: Tehran’s Soundscape and the Public Sphere

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

Tehran’s soundscape is a highly contested element of the public sphere that the Islamic Republic officially controls. I will show through a discussion of music how this space serves to mitigate any stark demarcations of the public or the private as people use various tactics to insert their presence into the official sphere via the city’s soundscapes. In this way, producers and consumers of music challenge officially imposed norms and values. The fragmentation of state authority through critiques of imposed gender roles, official corruption and religious hypocrisyhappens in the semi-public sphere that each individual within the larger public sphere possesses; these range from a business-owner’s shop to a taxi driver’s car to the personal space that each individual can affect, through such things as speech, clothing, behaviour or humming a tune. I examine discourses in several musical subcultures and how the text as well as the performativity that it enables produces what Asef Bayat has called ‘quiet encroachment’ in the public sphere. By declaring the ‘private’ in the public, these music enable a much larger sphere of dialogue and contestation of norms and values than state authority allows. I will also be discussing the role of the Internet and satellite television within the musical field in greatly expanding the ‘traditional’ public sphere.


Nahid Siamdoust teaches history and politics of the Middle East and Modern Iran at the University of Oxford, where she recently obtained her PhD in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at St Antony’s College. Her work focuses on the interstices between politics and media.

Mazen Haidar/ ALBA and Akram Rayess / AMAR: Public Sounds, Private Spaces: Towards a Fairouz Museum in Zoukak el-Blat

Friday, 13 December 2013, Panel II: Between Public and Private, 15.00-18.30 @ Zico House

The idea of dedicating a museum to Fairouz, the singer and leading figure of musical theatre in Lebanon, in her childhood home in Beirut has been circulating in the local media in recent years. The persistent media campaign came to fruition with the declaration that the endangered nineteenth-century mansion in Zokak el-Blat was a building of public interest. Taking an anthropological approach, this paper will focus upon Fairouz’s House as a contested urban space. It will highlight multiple and diverse readings and interpretations of Beirut’s architectural heritage in this contentious context. After illustrating the dialectical conception of the ‘space of sound’ in relation to physical references of what was originally a private space, our presentation will focus on two issues: the legacy and memory and the connection between the museum’s function as a shrine dedicated to an artist who progressively became a public figure closely related to the history of modern Lebanon; and the transformation of a modest nineteenth-century private house on the periphery into a key cultural and public centre. As the museum will witness the transition of Fairouz’s childhood house into a public space, the paper will also follow the biographical trajectory of a personality switching from private to public, from a young timid girl to both an established artistic landmark and national icon.


Mazen Haidar is a conservation architect, currently involved in several project in Lebanon. He is the assistant director of the Architecture School at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA).


Akram Rayess is an ethnomusicologist, a management consultant and a trainer. He is a founding member of the Foundation for Arab Music Archiving and Research (AMAR) and Core Committee member of the Zaki Nassif Music Program at AUB.

Lucie Ryzova/ University of Oxford: Strolling in Enemy Territory: Contested spaces and spatial practices in Downtown Cairo, a historical analysis

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 10.30-12.00 @ Mansion

Downtown Cairo means many things to many people. To some, its large avenues lined with neoclassical buildings stand as symbols of colonial domination; to others, they represent a bygone era of a cosmopolitan Paradise Lost, a Belle Époque that has long disappeared under the heavy hand of authoritarian nationalism and religious parochialism. To many brought up in a succession of new neighbourhoods, Downtownis a dirty and dangerous place. The sense of danger is epitomized in the phenomenon of Eid harassment, as well as through urban battles following the January Revolution, of which especially the battle of Muhammad Mahmoud stands as an example of how competing claims on social order play out in public space. Most recently, Downtown Cairo has been the object of interest from two important power actors: government agencies’ efforts to ‘heritize’ the area, and private developers keen on gentrifying it. This paper will present a historical analysis of the many diverse functions, usages, and meanings of Downtown Cairo through the 20th century. It will also focus on one particular spatial practice most associated with the area: loitering, formerly known as ‘strolling’. It will present Downtown Cairo as a heterogenous space predicated on drawing in audiences from all over the city, a zone of contingent autonomy where the boundaries of both class and gender are porous and elastic.


Lucie Ryzova is a social and cultural historian of modern Egypt, based at the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. Her current research includes the social history of photography and visual practices in modern Egypt.

Soraya Batmanghelichi/ Brooklyn Institute for Social Research: Red-lights in Parks: A social history of Park-e Razi

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 10.30-12.00 @ Mansion

This paper investigates the spatial transformations of a red­light district in southern Tehran, which was once a societal landmark called the ‘citadel’ of Shahr­e No. During the Pahlavi years (1925­1979) it operated quite openly as a government regulated brothel district. In 1979, it was demolished and later developed into a large family park, Park­e Razi. Before its transformation, the vibrant activities inside Shahr­e No were verified. When the area was under threat of fire, a popular Shi’a cleric even came to its defence, insisting that prostitution played a necessary role in society – similar to that of a toilet in a house. This comment was prescient in that it intimated what would necessarily transpire following thesex district’s destruction and despite its cosmetic conversion. The movement from brothel district to Islamic family-themed park is treated not as a moment of rupture but one of transition. For prostitution is still an ongoing problem, where transactions for paid sex are arranged on the park’s premises. By tracing the social realities of this space over a period of forty years this discussion engages in a multivalent theoretical debate over the role of prostitution and the expectation of female sexuality in the Islamic Republic of Iran through the ideal rehabilitation of a public space.


Soraya Batmanghelichi is a women’s activist and feminist scholar, conducting research on gender, sexuality and body politics in the Middle East. She holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University.

Rana ElNemr / Artist& Image Researcher: Olympic Garden 2009-11

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 12.15-12.45 @ Mansion

Located behind ‘The Egyptian Olympic Centre’, on the amorphous line separating the upper middle class neighbourhood of New Maadi and the Arab Al-Basateen informal area, the Olympic Centre Garden has come to replace ’Al-Ahram Coop Complex’, which burned down completely in May 2007.The circumstances surrounding the fire were described then in Al-Gumhureya newspaper as ‘mysterious’. Less mysterious accounts of the story still circulate amongst the residents of the surrounding area who are fathoming the nature of the new space in transience… a front-yard, a backyard, grass to grow, image to conserve…This Work consists of a 3-channel still-image loop with sound & text. The slow paced loops follow 3 different logics & aspects of the space, its physical appearance, its actual use, its location & historic context, the power dynamics that happen within such a fragile space, and the projections, aims & dreams of people who use the space.The 3 projections are placed & designed in a way so that the viewer could decide on their own ways of following the 3 channels. The different lengths of the loops allow the viewer to constantly see a different combination of image, sound & text.


Rana ElNemr is an artist whose work is photo-based but often includes text, sound and other media. Rana is involved in researching the visual culture and prospect of images, and is one of the co-founders of the independent artspace ‘Contemporary Image Collective’ (CIC) in Cairo.