Postrevolutionary land encroachments in Cairo: Rhizomatic urban space making and the line of flight from illegality

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After the January 2011 revolution, new and unpermitted constructions on previously empty land went up across Cairo at striking speed. This paper explores a case of such land encroachments carried out by waste collectors in the neighbourhood of Manshiet Nasser in Cairo, Egypt. It begins with theoretical debates about the production of urban space, arguing that the de Certeauian paradigm, in which urban marginals poach or hijack others’ spaces evanescently, fails to account for the way such encroachments produce permanent new spaces rhizomatically alongside the pre-existing order. The paper then turns to a close examination of the events in Manshiet Nasser. Although in a broad view the actors are marginals living in the ‘informal’ city, the conditions enabling the encroachments were such that only the wealthiest and most powerful members of the ‘community’ benefitted. In a context of generalized ‘illegality’, the squatters rely on practical norms and de facto recognitions to obtain some degree of tenure security. Since these efforts rely on and play off legal norms even as the squatters violate them, the paper argues that property rights in this context should be understood not in classificatory terms based on the legal/illegal binary, but rather through a trajectory of ‘becoming-legal’: a ‘line of flight’ that approaches legality asymptotically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-329
Number of pages20
JournalSingapore Journal of Tropical Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2016


  • urban space
  • squatters
  • informal settlements/housing
  • law
  • Cairo
  • Zabbaleen


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