The modern metropolis has always evoked feelings of alienation and disorientation, but it has equally been associated with new possibilities for encounter and solidarity.
Kevin Robins, “Prisoners of the City”
Ali, the shoe factory worker mentioned in chapter 5, has many dreams and desires that are largely informed by the movies he watches, the stories he hears from friends (who work or have relatives in other Arab countries), and the strolls he takes with his peers in upper-class areas. One of his dreams is to buy a villa in Switzerland for skiing during the winter, another villa in India where he would hire singers and dancers to perform for him as he has seen on videotapes, and a palace in Saudi Arabia to facilitate his performing the pilgrimage (hajj) every year. To travel in comfort to all these places, Ali dreams of buying a yacht that will enable him to get around far removed from the hassles of public transportation that he experiences daily. Meanwhile, Ali's mother went to Saudi Arabia to perform the omra (an abbreviated form of the hajj that may be performed at
I grounded my discussion of globalization in concrete examples and precise enactments to illustrate how global images, goods, and discourses are appropriated in the formation of spaces and identities. The framework that I presented in this book connects sites, practices, and feelings and shows how these connections are central to the continuous production of urban locality. Tracing the logic of flows through precise enactments allows us to follow individual and collective trajectories (which may take us to India, Saudi Arabia, or Switzerland) and to analyze how global flows are articulated, transformed, and resisted in different contexts and by various social groups. It therefore allows us to avoid limiting globalization to a geographically based concept that focuses only (or even primarily) on flows between the West and the Rest. Ali's dreams take him not only to Switzerland but also to India and Saudi Arabia. His mother's desires and religious devotion take her to Saudi Arabia. As I tried to demonstrate throughout this book, class and gender structure people's access to jobs and travel destinations as well as their appropriation of various global discourses and images. Magdy's aspirations take him to Kuwait, and his brother travels to Libya to acquire the money and goods he desires. While upper-class Egyptians travel with ease to and from the United States and Europe (for education, vacation, and treatment), cities such as Paris, London, and New York are largely offlimits to young men like Magdy. The West as a travel destination is so far removed from their reality that it is not even a dream. While there are “lucky” men like Magdy, who have managed to travel to the Gulf or Libya and to acquire the money needed to secure spacious and well-furnished homes, this market is getting tighter every day. Many young men, including Magdy's other three brothers, cannot find the jobs and the income they aspire for at home or abroad. Sadat's promise that young men would be able to own villas, drive cars, and acquire more consumer goods has not materialized for most Egyptians. Young men and women experience the frustration of
As I argued earlier, while the state public discourse has stigmatized the relocated group and the project has physically separated them from the rest of the neighborhood, religion in general and the mosque in particular have facilitated their interaction with other residents. Religion is also important in people's selective appropriation of modern discourses and images. In light of the tendency in sociological literature and popular media to equate Islam with fundamentalism, it is worth repeating here that the religious identity I have been discussing is situated between two extremes: the government, which since the early 1970 s has been showing a strong orientation to Western modernity, and Muslim extremists, who try to reject various modern objects and discourses. Just as the practices of Hisham and his neighbors transform and redefine notions of modernity embedded in the housing units allocated to them by the state, people's attraction to religion is part of their critique of the state's strong identification with Western modernity. At the same time, the religious identity of Nuha and her neighbors is constructed through their struggle against the extreme position of some Muslim activists who try to restrict people's appropriation of various aspects of modernity in their efforts to replicate the practices of the Prophet in the modern time. As discussed in chapter 5, religious identity is not defined in isolation from modern discourses and objects. The growing number of modern educational and health services that are being offered in mosques, the active use of the city bus by Islamic groups to communicate with people and “let them know,” and the increasing display of religious signs in homes, shops, and vehicles are indicators of both increasing modernization and increasing
Ali's dreams and his mother's trip highlight part of the structured globalization of Cairo. The huge gap between Ali's dreams and his family's realities is manifested in his mother's first and only trip outside Egypt. Unlike upper-class Egyptians, who can tour the world in jumbo jets, Ali's mother had to take a bus and a ferry boat to reach Saudi Arabia. While the trip by plane hardly takes two hours, Um Ali spent two whole days on the way in each direction. Her desire to perform the hajj forced her to stay away from her family and to live in hiding for almost five months. Just as trips to the mosque are linked with extra rewards that could contribute to the path toward paradise, the hardships confronted in performing the hajj are also invested with religious meanings and values. Ali's mother and others who take similar trips emphasize the rewards that they acquire by taking the long and arduous journey. While Islam structures Um Ali's daily life and interactions and helps her make some sense out of various hardships and inequalities, for her son and other young men, religion plays a more ambiguous role. Ali's desires and aspirations take him in different directions. He follows the struggles of Muslims in different parts of the world (from Bosnia to Chechnya) and talks about them as part of the same community. He also uses religion in his critique of government policies and actions and in his discussions of gender inequalities (especially when asserting the rights of men). Religion, however, is far from structuring his dreams and desires. Unlike his mother, who performs prayer on a regular basis, Ali rarely prays or goes to the mosque. He often refuses invitations to go to the mosque in favor of watching movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, attending local coffee shops, and smoking hashish with his friends. What will be the future role of religion for a young man like Ali, with his grand dreams and frustrated expectations?
Throughout this book, I have highlighted the uncertainty of the longterm
Religion, however, is an option that derives its power from its promise to address and resolve current daily problems associated with modernity and urban life. In one speech I attended in a mosque in al-Zawiya, the sheikh recited the following tradition (hadith): “There are four things that are the source of a man's happiness. These are a virtuous wife [mar’a saaliha], a righteous neighbor [ gaar baarr], a spacious house [daar fasiha], and a comfortable vehicle [markib hani]. And there are four things that are the source of a man's misery. These are a bad wife [mar’a taliha], an undutiful neighbor [ gaar‘aqq], a narrow house [daar dayyiqa], and a bad vehicle [markib sayyi’a].” The sheikh provided a detailed interpretation of this tradition, linking it directly to pressing issues in the daily life of al-Zawiya's inhabitants: housing, transportation, and relationships between spouses and neighbors. For example, he interpreted the markib sayyi’a as the current transportation system in Cairo and described riding the city bus or the otobis as the utmost insult (akhir bahdala). His interpretation also touched upon the many changes that continuously transform people's lives. A bad woman, he explained, is the wife who does
The linkage between happiness and space did not need elaboration. I was cramped with hundreds of other women and children in the section designated for us in the mosque. Many of these women are struggling to secure better housing options for their families. I was sitting next to Um Amal (the mother of the child whose story I included in chapter 2) and three of her young daughters who had insisted on joining us for Friday prayer. Compared to Hisham and Salah, Amal's family is unlucky. They live on the fifth floor and need the cooperation of all the neighbors who live in their block. Their one-bedroom unit is also close to the police station, which makes any expansion directly exposed to the gaze of the state. These two factors prevent them from expanding their apartment. After that sermon, Um Amal started trying to convince her husband to sell their current unit, hoping to secure enough money to buy a larger one even in the remote neighborhood of Hilwan, an option that is not preferred by her but seems to be the only one left. As far as I know, they are still searching.