Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Cairo's Urban Youth

Elijah Zarwan calls attention to Egyptian street protests as an urban youth movement:
True, it is difficult to systematically track the demographics of a stampede, but what most of those rushing to escape birdshot and tear gas canisters have in common is that they are male, urban, young, and unemployed; they have very little to lose, and even less confidence in a political class that does not represent them. For them, the mantra of the uprising that began two Januarys ago -- "Bread, freedom, social justice" -- remains an urgent and unanswered demand...
Decent work, already scarce, has become scarcer. Prices have continued to rise. Prospects for a dignified life -- a steady job, marriage, and escape from the family home -- have grown steadily more remote...
Before the 2011 revolution, some of the poor had turned to the streets, to pills, to hashish, to brawling, to fun. With the army hesitant to appear involved and the opposition in disarray, that street culture is now likely the biggest check on the Islamist project. The dispirited urban population is perhaps more heavily armed now than at any time in modern history. Families -- "honorable people," as onlookers describe them -- still join protests by day, but they melt away by night, and a leaner, angrier group takes their place...
Since 2011, that population has rushed to fill whatever space the state's contraction and the police's retreat have left open. Soon after Mubarak's departure, minibus stations popped up on snarled street corners where police once stood. Stoned and rowdy street venders have gradually taken over Cairo's Talaat Harb Street (formerly Suleiman Pasha Street), an avenue that Egyptians of a certain age remember as the most elegant in the Middle East, as more beautiful than Paris. Unemployed young men have repeatedly blocked major traffic arteries in the capital and have destroyed the lobby of a five-star hotel. City streets and alleyways are rougher and more lawless, as more people compete for fewer resources. Tempers fray and manners are forgotten. The level of street crime, which was always miraculously low for a city of more than 20 million, has risen.
I suspect the role of the Ultras also fits this paradigm.  I also wonder if the youth-heavy demographics of today's Arab world could make the "Arab Spring" revolutions, especially in Egypt, different from the French and Russian revolutions which have sparked the most discussion in revolutionary theory.



Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

There was certainly a rough street culture in Paris which helped power the increasing radicalism of the French Revolution; Ca ira! Ca ira! Ca ira!

8:01 AM  
Blogger Brian Ulrich said...

Was it youth-oriented, and does that age factor even matter?

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much of the more radical agitation preceding the Russian Revolution came from working class university students who lacked the social capital & access to integrate into the czarist "knowledge economy." Sergey Nechayev, whose father was a waiter and sign painter, was certainly one of these. If you look at May 1968, or pretty much any pre-revolutionary situation by demographic, radicalism and commitment to confront and combat police repression in the streets is inversely proportional to the extent to which that group has vested interests in the status quo. So, it follows that older working and middle class people would be a bulwork of, rather than the leading edge of any revolutionary situation.

8:37 AM  

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