"Old people are not revolutionaries!" Labour struggles and the politics of ʾistiqrār ('stability') in post-Mubarak Egypt
(Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores how class conflict between permanent and precarious steel workers in Egypt was expressed in generational discourses during an occupation. It argues that an anthropology of value helps us understand class as relational and the imaginative appropriation of state projects.
Paper long abstract:
Although the initial 18 days uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 rallied people from across generations, it was predominantly young people that led the mobilisation. A generational conflict emerged in the days following Mubarak's downfall and shaped the politics of the revolution. This paper draws on fieldwork in a steel plant in Helwan, an industrial neighbourhood of Cairo important to political movements. At Egypt's oldest and largest public-sector steel plant, the generational conflict became central to recent industrial actions. In the month-long factory occupation in 2013, older permanent workers and younger precarious workers held different ideas about what was at stake. While older workers promoted the state's counter-revolutionary discourse of the need for ʾistiqrār ('stability') and distanced themselves from the occupation, young workers had a different interpretation of ʾistiqrār, which involved revolutionising their tactics. In this paper I explore how class conflict between organised stable workers with middle class lifestyles, and younger workers who experienced greater precarity was expressed in generational discourses. By highlighting what ʾistiqrār ('stability') means to both groups, the paper explores how ʾistiqrār is a mode of governmentality whose power cannot be fully appreciated at the level of political discourse only. Rather, as a practice of government, it is entangled with peoples' values, aspirations, affects and the intimate politics of everyday life. The paper argues that an anthropology of value is central to a relational understanding of class conflict and to the complex ways in which state projects and their imaginative appropriation intersect.
The worldwide urban mobilizations: conundrums of 'democracy', 'the middle class' and 'the people'. Supported by Focaal and the IUAES Commission on Global Transformation and Marxian Anthropology