chapter  3
21 Pages

The city as prison cell

Cairo
WithRob Sullivan

The city can be perceived as a vast penitentiary or internment camp, with its residents as so many prisoners. For this, Cairo has been chosen as the exemplar, due to its repressive government and its carceral-like living conditions. Approximately 1 million people in Cairo live in the city’s cemeteries; some of these are marking the third generation of families living in such quarters. Others live in informal housing that can be demolished at the whim of a government bureaucrat. Numerous political prisoners are languishing in the jails of Cairo, many of them subject to torture. The aftermath of the Arab Spring has brought more oppression than emancipation, an oppression which has long been the condition of Cairo. Having defeated the forces of liberation, the army and the government, led by the autocratic General el-Sisi, have put a tight clamp on civil society, effectively instituting a police state. In this chapter I consult many fiction and nonfiction writers, including Albert Cossery, Naguib Mahfouz, Thanassis Cambanis, Ahdaf Soueif, Nawal el Saadawi, and Janet Abu-Lughod. I also examine the role of repression within the family, as patriarchy brands the family with its dictatorial stamp, and I look at the ways in which the streets and alleys of a city can be a prison cell in and of themselves.