Ibn al-balad vs. Ibn al-zawat in the land of the two pharaohs

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James F. Toth, Zayed University

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Urban Anthropology

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© 2016 The Institute, Inc. An analysis of Egypt’s January 2011 uprising reveals a strong class, and classist, dimension: a deep and pervasive antagonism between the upper and lower classes, between the classes that are westernized elites and those that are from the popular sectors of the population. These two segments are identified as ibn al-balad “sons of the country” and ibn al-zawat “people of importance” (“awlad” is the plural of “ibn”). The essay contends that the Islamist elements in the political arena, Muslim Brothers, Salafis, and liberal Islamists, represent the lower classes whereas the secular liberal parties are a reflection of elite interests. The essay focuses on the “sons of the country.” After describing the government’s massacre of Islamists in August 2013, it traces how government policy in the 1960s forced large numbers of villagers to migrate from the countryside and replenish the ranks of the urban working classes. The policies discussed here are (1) the government’s extensive agricultural price controls that engineered poverty, and (2) the regulation of the construction sector and its countless small informal sector firms that employ these migrants. The paternalism that permeates the agricultural and construction sectors is the same paternalism that binds working-class supporters (awlad al-balad) to middle-class professionals in the latter’s campaign to mount an Islamist program of radical political reform. The government attacked the Islamists and their populist program in 1992 in the “Battle of Imbaba” and again in the massacre at Rab'a al-Adawiya mosque in August 2013. It was this reform program that catapulted Muhammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party into office through two elections, and it was this reform program that antagonized the awlad al-zawat into deposing Mursi through a military coup d’état. The Islamists were declared illegal under Husni Mubarak, the first of the two pharaohs, and have been declared illegal once again under ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, the current pharaoh in power.




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Social and Behavioral Sciences

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Open Access


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