Beyond the Bounds of the State: Reinterpreting Cairo’s Infrastructures of Mobility


  • Anna Rowell The University of Cambridge



Urban Development, Cairo, Egypt, Transport, Informality, Mobility, Infrastructure, Neoliberalism, Global South, Cities, Boundaries, Collective action, Marginal, Community, Urban Planning


Cairo is a city in flux, characterized by ceaseless intersections of residents who openly claim their rights to mobility beyond the city’s material infrastructure and political will. Egypt’s governing systems have, for many years, neglected to tackle urban inequality, particularly since the political turmoil of the January 2011 revolution. Against such a backdrop, this article seeks to understand how informal communities reinterpret structures of political division as expanded spaces of economic and cultural operation. It supports the notion that large segments of Cairo’s populace are in a constant negotiation between autonomy and integration. Compelled by physical and socioeconomic barriers, they carve out selfgovernance and develop structures which give them the freedom to work, socialize, and live in the public arena. This article proposes that Cairo’s local, or baladī streets, often neglected by the state and ill-serviced, offer their residents a spatial reservoir of possibilities, where elements of political subjugation often mask a highly mobile and connected social realm. This reading of informality infers that invisible infrastructures of networks and relationships open marginalized spaces to new productive exchanges and lived practices, where expressions of collective identity flourish.


Anna Rowell, The University of Cambridge

Anna is currently based in Edinburgh, where she is working as a Senior Project Officer for sustainable transport infrastructure across the city.

This follows on from a Master’s in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Cambridge, where she had the opportunity to carry out extensive fieldwork in Cairo. Her research focus was centred on the notions of political structures that inform how the population claims and interprets its rights to mobility and public space in the context of Cairo’s informal urban development.

She has had the opportunity to work as an urban consultant for the Aga Khan Foundation and UN Habitat projects in Cairo, and for GIZ with TU Berlin.





Rowell, A. „Beyond the Bounds of the State: Reinterpreting Cairo’s Infrastructures of Mobility“. Middle East - Topics & Arguments, Bd. 10, Juni 2018, S. 60-70, doi:10.17192/meta.2018.10.7589.