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Haphazard urbanisation: urban informality, politics, and power in Egypt

Sharp, Deen ORCID: 0000-0003-0524-0540 (2022) Haphazard urbanisation: urban informality, politics, and power in Egypt. Urban Studies, 59 (4). 734 - 749. ISSN 0042-0980

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Identification Number: 10.1177/00420980211040927


The Egyptian military regime of Abd al-Fattah el-Sisi has announced as part of its Vision 2030 its intention to eliminate informal urban areas. The regime has identified these areas – commonly known by the Arabic term ‘ashwa’iyyat (which means haphazard) – as a threat to the nation. The Egyptian state, however, has no clear conception of what urban informality constitutes or what exactly it is eradicating. To understand how and why the state has placed urban informality as central to its politics, I contend that we have to examine the political processes through which this uncertain yet powerful concept is produced. Urban informality, I argue, is a political intervention that is always fleeting and geographically specific in an otherwise haphazard context. Haphazard urbanisation points to the complex power struggles by a range of actors, both within and beyond the state, through which the formal and informal divide can mark urban life. In a critical reading of the first major study of informality in Egypt, I show how the urban was divided into the formal and informal through outdated laws. I detail, by engaging sources in English and Arabic, how the Egyptian state militarised urban informality from the 1990s onwards. I argue that it is through this historical framing that we must understand el-Sisi’s current war against urban informality. In turn, I argue that the regime’s attempt to eliminate informality has not resulted in greater control over what and how urban informality appears but has deepened the hazardisation of urban life.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 Urban Studies Journal Limited
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 05 Aug 2021 08:45
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2022 08:15

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