• 22:43
  • Thursday ,31 July 2014

What are the socio-cultural dimensions behind the phenomenon of harassment? (Part 6)

By-Farid Zahran



Thursday ,31 July 2014

What are the socio-cultural dimensions behind the phenomenon of harassment? (Part 6)

 Through the last five articles we noted what we call the characteristics of slums and determined that there are four main attributes of these neighbourhoods. The most important of these characteristics are that the residents of slums are poor and marginalised, the area lacks prior planning and services and is newly constructed.

We clarified how a break in the structure of the middle classes and their socio-cultural values led to slum neighbourhoods invading working-class neighbourhoods. This phenomenon contributed to an increase in the number of people marginalised thanks to the continuous cycle of impoverishment to which the poor farmers and lower rungs of the middle class are vulnerable.

The Mubarak regime attempted to address what it considered to be the worsening danger of the slums by denying the issue and hiding the slums safely out of sight. The issue then developed into what resembled the imposition of a blockade on these neighbourhoods, alongside a prohibition of access to upscale neighbourhoods for slum dwellers.

However, the overgrowth of these neighbourhoods pushed their residents to rebel through intermittent clashes with security institutionsthat often resulted in unfortunate events, as well as organised instances of collective harassment during holidays.

We can summarise the solutions proposed through four basic strategies or trends:

One: A moral-religious or religious-moral strategy

This strategy holds that the problem with the slums is that the residents of these neighbourhoods have no morals or religion and threaten the whole of society. These neighbourhoods have been named “the revolution of the hungry” and “will lead to complete destruction” according to this school of thought.

Thus, this strategy says, there is an urgent need to pay attention to religious education, teach religion in schools, ensure that families are cohesive, keep the head of household from travelling, and so on. These pieces of moral advice can be heard in the aftermath of any incidence of harassment.

The political Islam movement took this strategy deeper when it considered religiosity and mobilising religiously to have the power to impose a moral-religious regime within these neighbourhoods. This meant that these movements, what with their radical and fascist nature, would organise what can be described as militias who would succeed, through religious ideology and oppression, in achieving what Mubarak’s regime was unable to achieve: concealment and denial.

Two: The elimination of the slums

This means that the slums would be destroyed and their population transferred to other areas, and would perhaps also imply the seizure of certain neighbourhoods on sites considered to be favourable by the REAL ESTATE MARKET. Thus displacing the population here does not mean the elimination of the slums, instead serving as a profitable development for real estate speculators, many of whom work without the apparatus of the state in general and within the agencies concerned with ‘eliminating slums’ in particular.

Three: Denial

This theory has two sides, the first being a right-wing denial of the existence of the slums as a problem. This school of thought considers the problems of these neighbourhoods to be architectural, as all of these neighbourhoods lack advanced planning and some or all services.

Thus some in formal neighbourhoods are rich, like Mohandessin, and some are poor, like Duwaiqa. The difference between the two neighbourhoods is that one fell into the hands of the state officially before the other in terms of architectural planning and services.

Right-wingers who subscribe to these perspectives deny that slums, in and of themselves, form a danger to their residents or neighbours for reasons relating their desire to avoid addressing the problem.

What is surprising is that some leftists have adopted this strategy for completely different reasons. They were outraged by calls to eliminate the slums and have taken great efforts to defend slum dwellers, and some of them ended up singing their praises to the beauty of the slums and the magnificence of their residents. They fell into the trap of defending poverty in the context of their defending the poor!

Four: Developing slums architecturally

This strategy forms a humanitarian vision for the slums and focuses on the necessity of re-structuring these neighbourhoods and making services available to their residents. This is done for the purpose of building social, humanitarian, and cultural cohesion, which is possible if the appropriate architectural conditions are present.

This also includes the security apparatus, education and health institutions, and areas capable of hosting social activities. The leftists that adopt this strategy refuse to discuss the slums as a source of danger, instead emphasising that the residents of these slums have specific socio-cultural value systems that we should become familiar with and build upon. They argue that we should also work with these populations on a targeted development process as a necessary condition for success.

I would like to clarify here that I am against scorn and condescension toward the poor or squandering the humanity of marginalised slum residents, because the poor are the victims of society. Anyone that has a true sense of humanity should not embellish their situation, lie, and falsely say that the poor live better lives than the rich.

These words suit hackneyed films, as anyone with a true sense of humanity should struggle with the poor to change their harsh living conditions that have succeeded, unfortunately, in destroying and distorting their humanity and socio-cultural values.

I certainly am closest to the latter strategy of developing the slums, and insist on calling them slums according to the definition that we recalled. It is not condescending toward the population, but rather serves as an exact description of the un-human status from which I demand we work to emancipate the poor. The phrase ‘eliminating the slums’ may perhaps lead to confusion between myself and supporters of forced displacement, but I view the slums as un-humanitarian, their residents living a miserable life. As a result, their socio-cultural values have become distorted and thus crime has spread at a time when the social cohesion necessary to maintain humanity absent.

By employing the word ‘development’, I mean to say developing the slums, banishing their existence and emancipating them. In order to achieve this, it is not enough to depend on architectural planning, the introduction facilities and services under the pretext that these troubles will pass with time, or building cohesion among the population and converting it from a slum into a working-class neighbourhood.

I used to believe, and still do, that slums are not merely poor neighbourhoods that lack services, but that their population is marginalised or engaged in marginal acts, many of which are against the law. At the same time, these neighbourhoods are relatively new.

Of course, I understand that time, planning, and facilities may improve the situation quite a bit, but this still does not address the matter fully; slum dwellers must be incorporated into society. Depending on planning, services, and time may allow the process to take longer than necessary, and these neighbourhoods could explode before their potential is achieved.

Evidence points to the possibility of something similar happening in the near future, and completing these tasks while also integrating the marginalised in 1200 slums in Egypt will require large sums of MONEY that are not available in the short-term. Because of this, socio-political solutions could be the fastest solutions, as they originate democratically to achieve a type of voluntary political-cultural mobilisation capable of achieving its objectives and a greater economic potential.

It should be noted here, dear reader, that political-cultural mobilisation is not inconsistent with the development strategy that depends on socio-economic development as well as a true alignment with the poor, including a timeline for introducing facilities and planning.

Another essential part of this process is cooperation and interaction with the people, the actual beneficiaries, who should be considered an active party and not just a recipient or a party that is acted upon. This is opposite of the logic of fascism, which aims to build up a group to forcefully implement what it views as right.