Contesting Visions and Public Spaces in Cairo


Cairo University

Cairo is a contested city, in terms of narratives and images it evokes in academic literature, and which in turn construct it as an issue of study.  Moreover, it offers a vivid imagery for consumption, a trait that became formative in the imagery of public spaces like “Tahrir Square” in early 2011, posing as a romantic/ romanticized image of political agency, public space, and social and cultural change.

At work underneath these imageries is a complex web of private –public spaces, the lines of which are sometimes clear cut (as in gated communities), or blurred and negotiated (as parks, malls, coffee shops), or even politically contested and re-appropriated (streets and squares).

I take public spaces in the setting of Cairo as complex and sometimes illusive. They are places where dynamics of inclusion and exclusion are at work and place membership is negotiated.  I trace this to a colonial/modernizing urban planning of Cairo. I argue that this experience affects what it means to be public, and sparks images of nostalgia to a cosmopolitan space, even though the spaces that cater for this imagery are created on a different setting of neoliberal mechanism of space production and consumption.

Hence, of particular interest is the interplay between glorified values of security, safety, and exclusivity as opposed to a rather recent emerging valorization of re-appropriating spaces, and streets and reclaiming ownership of a public space in the city sparked by the events that shook the city in early 2011.