Sherene Seikaly: Egypt's Bread Intifada

This is an Archive of a Past Event

Sherene Seikaly (University of California, Santa Barbara) “Egypt’s Bread Intifada: On the Subject of the People”

Over the last four years of upheaval in the Arab world, the notion of “the people,” Egyptian and otherwise, has proven profoundly resilient. It is these “people”—as individuals and a collective—that are problematically celebrated as subjects finally fulfilling their long-awaited destiny; dismissed as passive objects duped by external forces and incapable of politics; or incited against as dangerous masses capable of destroying the nation. In returning to this historical moment of the “Bread Intifada,” of 1977 this project interrupts the narrative resilience of the alternating sleep and wakefulness of the Egyptian, and more broadly the Arab people. “A Protest of the Poor” engages 18-19 January 1977 as a moment of politics and popular sovereignty. In doing so it challenges ‘who and what’ counts as political. In mapping the role food played in protestors’ and government strategies and demands, “A Protest of the Poor,” examines how basic needs function as a trigger of social upheaval as well as a vehicle of political containment. Through the examination of how poverty and hunger figure into politics, this project reveals contemporary critiques of the open door policy. It explores how government officials, journalists, and protestors defined and ultimately contained the “poor” and the “hungry.” More importantly, by attending to how protestors narrate and represent themselves and the tools they used to make their claims, this project troubles the construction of the “people.” In so doing, it explores continuity and rupture between 1977 and 2011.

Sherene Seikaly is Assistant Professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the co-editor of the Arab Studies Journal, and co-founder and editor of Jadaliyya e-zine.