Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cairo: Real Participation and Change?

The question remains whether all this chaos and participation on an individual basis really asserts people’s right to the city, or is just reinforcing and a physical manifestation of the harsh realities that continue to govern Egyptian society. Originally, I thought, hidden in all of this chaos was truly emerging a real energy and power to the poorest people, who have continued to stake their claim and truly remake Cairo. Yet, it is not necessarily to their liking, but to their necessity. Unlike many other urban areas, especially in Latin America, the poor here have resorted to individualistic action instead of collective action, and the results of this are no more apparent that in the buildings.

In many ways, people participate precisely because they are not given any other choices. They do what they can to survive, and to find space in which to perform the activities that support their daily lives. Yet, people are surviving and not much more, because such small scale activities still do not fundamentally change their lives or the structures that set them up in the first place.

And as the economic realities of gas and food prices continue to be felt most significantly by such people, any collective gain will be stymied. The future of Cairo will be interesting to watch. One architect here, Hany El Melawy, described the large poor people’s movement defining and setting the rules of history. It is hard not to discount the impact and effect poor people are having on defining the present and future space of Cairo. And it is precisely this notion of ordinary people, and how they survive and adapt and challenge the monied and powerful interests in Cairo which is so fascinating. Will such massive growth deteriorate into urban chaos or will it is just stay as it is, people fighting for survival, to improve their lots, and get onto the next day with dignity intact. Or will it eventually provide and offer a new laboratory for a more just city?

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