New Logics of Popular Sovereignty and Subaltern Alternatives to the Egyptian ‘Baltagi State’


University of California, Santa Barbara

My paper aims to articulate subaltern forms of sovereignty – social banditry, vigilantism, community self-policing, and football-fan militancy – that have emerged at the street level in Egypt following the uprising of 25 January 2011. These forms of autonomous organization have generated novel kinds of political assertion, created a new vocabulary for representing stateness and governmentality, and unleashed a range of forms of political and social violence and resistance. I aim to contribute to the political anthropology of the state and the political sociology of revolutions by looking beyond the limits of civil society and identity politics, beyond the “pragmatism” of Bourdieuvian notions of logics or social capital, to grapple with the realities of violence, sexuality, and class that neo-institutionalists tend to ignore. In this context, I will trace the military junta and Islamist parliament’s deployment of discourses of hypermasculinity, thuggishness, predatory sexuality, and moral respectability that attempt to discredit and justify extreme repression of these “anarchic” forms of youth and community self-organization. I will draw upon his new ethnographic fieldwork to articulate the novel theories of governance, horizontal organization, autonomy, collectivity, and nationalism that emanate from these local assertions, as they are characterized by their practitioners. Can these be the seeds of a counterhegemonic formation of popular sovereignty that could substitute for the limitations of both militarized emergency rule and Islamic piety-centred electoral/representative politics? Or are these local, subversive appropriations of ‘thug politics’ doomed to be ephemeral phenomena?