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Urban Subalterns in the Arab Revolutions: Cairo and Damascus in Comparative Perspective

  • Salwa Ismail (a1)

This paper investigates the role of urban subalterns both as participatory agents in the Arab revolutions and as mediating forces against revolutionary action. It argues that during revolutionary periods the positioning of subalterns as a political force should be understood in relation to their socio-spatial location in the urban political configuration. Looking at the protest movements in Cairo and Damascus, the paper examines the differentiated locations of subaltern actors in each to demonstrate how their positioning in relation to state and government has shaped their engagement in the revolutions. In Cairo, the mobilization of subaltern forces was anchored in spatialized forms of everyday interaction between popular forces and agents of government. These interactions were formative of urban subjectivities that entered into the making of “the people” as the subject of the Revolution. In Damascus, the configuration of the urban space and the Syrian regime's modes of control made it difficult for subaltern forces to mobilize on the same scale as in Cairo or to form a unified opposition. The regime instrumentalized socio-spatial fragmentation among subalterns, in effect turning some segments, as buffers for the regime, against others. In analytical terms, the paper underscores the common conceptual ground between the categories of “urban popular forces” and “urban subalterns.” This ground covers their socio-spatial positionality, their bases of action, and the factors shaping their political subjectivities.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
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