Panel 11: Shubra: A Neighborhood in Cairo

Chair: Pascale Ghazaleh (American University in Cairo)

Mina Ibrahim (Universität Gießen) and Gaétan du Roy (Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles):

Everyday Practices of Neighborliness in Urban Cairo
In Egypt, one of the main themes of nationalist discourses is the unity of Christianity and Islam, the fraternity of the Cross and the Crescent. This affirmation of interreligious conviviality is often supported by examples of urban coexistence between neighbors belonging to different faith. The metaphor of the pluriconfesional house is often used in fiction (movies, novels or TV series) but also by Cairenes affirming that they live in harmony with their Muslim or Christian neighbors. The examples often convey images of shared practices and symbolic exchanges: people sharing food, inhabitant of the same building living the doors open to each other and considering the neighbors’ children as if they were their own kids, Christians greeting Muslims for their religious festivals as well as the opposite. Those proclamations of interreligious conviviality are part of a public transcript (James Scott, 1990) in a context where sectarian incidents and interreligious hates are often denied. This discourse is most of the time sincere as people have faith in this model of coexistence and hope that it keeps smoothing out the difficulties of everyday coexistence. The hidden transcript on the contrary does not always follow this path: Christians and Muslims often complain about each others-particularly Christians who live in an increasingly islamised public space. This presentation will study the articulation of the public and hidden transcripts in the frame of Shubra, a neighborhood located in the north of Cairo which convey a reputation of cosmopolitanism as many “foreign” Christians, Levantines, Armenians, Italians and Greeks lived there until the mid-20th century. After the departure of most of Egypt’s foreign population, Shubra remained home to a great number of Copts and for several missionary institutions, including schools. Beside the memories of its past cosmopolitanism, the neighborhood gained the reputation of a place where Copts and Muslims live in harmony. Shubra is thus regularly invoked as a symbol of national unity in political discourse as well as in novels, movies and TV series. The neighborhood has a strong identity and people like to present their place of living as the archetype of a certain “urban authenticity” compared to the Upper-Class neighborhoods or with the informal areas. Those values of courage and sense of belonging are often referred to the Arabic notions of gada‘, tayyib, andkowayyis which are linked in Shubra with the fact of living peacefully with the religious Other. This presentation is the result of a collaboration between a Belgian ‘outsider’ who studied Shubra for several years, and an Egyptian born and raised in this urban district. Those two viewpoints are complementary and allow, according to each positionality on the fields, to observe different discourses and attitudes in order to better understand how discourses of interreligious cosmopolitanism differ or relate to everyday practices of neighbourliness.