Accepted paper:

Times of friendship, spaces of sociability: youth activism and everyday solidarities in Mubarak's Egypt


Henri Onodera (University of Tampere)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the intersections of urban space and everyday sociability in the lives of young activists in Mubarak’s Egypt. Friendship ties provided them with intimate loci of trust, belonging and reciprocity, but were shaped by social cleavages e.g. class, gender and partisan membership.

Paper long abstract:

During 2000s, certain quarters of down-town Cairo served as important social hubs for young prodemocracy activists. As they lived around Greater Cairo area and their everyday trajectories involved criss-crossing the city, a constant practical question for many was: Where to sit down? And with whom? Some frequented in a set of cafeterias, both Western-style and the more popular coffee houses, others in public parks, restaurants or at a street corner. Those, who had access to the headquarters of political parties, associations, trade unions, and newspapers, would invite their friends to spend time at these premises. This paper examines the role of down-town coffee shops, especially in the quarter of el-Bursa, for the daily practices of social networking among young activists during Mubarak's late presidency. The quarter is of walking distance from the main arenas of contentious politics, and provides a space of congregation, leisure, and sociability. In addition to the social web, it represents an important urban space where friendship ties, political coalitions, and collaboration were negotiated on a daily 'face-to-face' basis. In a patriarchal society, it was also one of the few places in central Cairo where unmarried young men and women could socialize with relative ease. The quarter provides its clientele with a hybrid sense of cosmopolitan belonging, nationalist glory of 1920s 'belle époque' era, and relatively inexpensive popular consumerism. The paper bases on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo between 2007 and 2011. Theoretically it is anchored in anthropological approaches to friendship and everyday sociability.

panel P105
Intimate collaborations and gendered spaces in African cities