Building “Community” and Markets in Contemporary Cairo

Sarah El-Kazaz
  • Comparative Studies in Society and History, March 2018, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s0010417518000129

What is it about?

This paper interrogates the political economy of re-regulation in market-driven economies through the lens of transformations in contemporary Cairo. Focusing on property markets, the paper demonstrates that rather than reveling in the “freeing” of real estate through the reversal of rent control laws, private sector actors were working to re-regulate the real estate market. They were not turning to legal mechanisms or patronage networks, but invested in the production of local “community” in central Cairo as they worked to re-regulate the market. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork from 2011–2012, the paper compares how two private sector actors with varying relationships to the market reacted to the reversal of rent control. The paper demonstrates that both actors were mobilizing urban planning and architectural design as modes of societal engineering to foster local particularistic communities as they worked to corner real estate markets both upward toward a high-end clientele and downwards towards low-income residents. In unpacking how these actors mobilized community as they worked to intervene in markets, and their interventions’ contradictions, the paper challenges the idea that trust or relational networks are the most valued facets of community in market-transitioning economies. It shows that actors value the spatial boundary-setting and particularism of communities as they work to re-regulate markets, and accentuate difference rather than trust in those contexts.

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