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Title: The role of the state in urban development : the case of urban waterscapes in Cairo, Egypt
Author: Wahby, Noura
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 9243
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This dissertation explores the making of infrastructure in Middle East cities in the face of rising urban inequalities and grassroots mobilisation efforts. National governments and international donors continue to provide apolitical technical explanations to infrastructural failures in Cairo, but remain silent on systemic inequalities cemented by local and transnational capital. My study examines the politics of urban water as a site of negotiation, accumulation by dispossession and of protest, in both elite and unplanned areas in Cairo's North Eastern districts. Moments of water shortages in Cairo are used to trace processes of state-society negotiations and claim-making. Based on qualitative action research tools like community and elite interviews, narrative walks, archival research and government meetings, I contend that informal practices are used by political and economic actors to govern urban water. I argue that informality drives conditions of infrastructure access and transcends class, institutional legality, and geographical boundaries. My research contests the accepted assumption of the Egyptian state's monopoly over its water functions. First, I address the 'informal state' and expose arbitrary policy-making, donor pressures and crony networks, and 'guesstimations' by street-level water bureaucrats. Second, I analyse informal water practices, such as community-constructed water projects in poor neighbourhoods, and privatised governance in elite settlements. In order to trace exclusive water access, I particularly examine local patronage geometries and networks of privilege of the state, real estate developers, and the military. Third, I contend that both elite and marginalised residents employ contentious and organisational tools to secure water rights; through protests, social media activism, and people as infrastructure. This study engages with urban theorisations from the Global South and contributes case studies from the Middle East on urban water, grassroots negotiations and informality. It provides an alternative to apolitical discourses on infrastructure failures, emphasising class, variegated water supplies, and state-society relations.
Supervisor: Abdelrahman, Maha Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: water governance ; urban informality ; uneven development ; hydraulic citizenship ; contention ; Cairo ; Egypt