In Search of Antistructure: The Meaning of Tahrir Square in Egypt’s Ongoing Social Drama


Miami University

This paper is about the iterative and contingent relationship between the Egyptian revolution as a social process and the revolution as a congeries of contested narratives through which people assign meaning to social events. I argue that while the eighteen days in Tahrir Square neatly fit Victor Turner’s concepts of liminality, communitas and antistructure, the revolution failed to exhibit the inexorable “decline and fall into structure and law” that Turner’s model predicts (Turner 1969a:132). On the contrary, the following years saw dozens of attempts to reconstitute that experience of antistructure. Moreover, each iteration was accompanied by contested metacommentaries that evaluated the success or failure of each new gathering in Tahrir. These discourses constitute multiple versions of what the “real” uprising in Tahrir was about, and thus construct moments of meaning in the contingent, unfolding experience of the ongoing revolution.