Generations and social activism: new forms of youth organisation in Egypt


Start date: 30 September, 2009 End date: 30 December, 2012 Project type: Smaller projects: PhD Project code: 09-010KU Countries: Egypt Thematic areas: State building, governance and civil society, Lead institution: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Policy Brief: Policy Brief Project coordinator: Sara Cathrine Lei Sparre Total grant: 274,636 DKK Project files:

Project summary

This PhD project investigates a new and emergent form of youth activism in Egypt. Lately, a growing number of young Egyptians have started to engage in society in order to solve youth-related problems and contributing to social reform and development. With Islam as their primary motivation, they combine conventional charitable activities such as in-kind donations and medical assistance with a human development approach and awareness-raising activities aimed at mobilising young people to participate in civil society. One example is Resala. It began as a student initiative in 1999, and today it is the largest voluntary youth organisation in the Arab world with more than 70,000 members. On the basis of nine months of fieldwork in Egypt, the project explores this new and growing youth activism in the context of specific historical events, older generations and official policies and discourses. The applicant is enrolled as a PhD scholar at the Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen. In Egypt, the project will be anchored at the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo. The project will result in a PhD dissertation as well as a working paper and a number of popular and peer-reviewed articles. Furthermore, findings will be disseminated among relevant Danish, Egyptian and International NGOs through seminars, meetings as well as articles in "Udvikling" and other relevant development-related journals and websites.


Project Completion Report:

The project has explored processes of subjectivity formation and development of generational consciousness among a group of young Muslim volunteers in Cairo engaged in society through Resala, a large Muslim NGO. Following the same people before and after the 2011 Egyptian uprising, the thesis demonstrates how the subjectivities of the young volunteers take form through participation in 'slow' everyday social activism as well as 'fast,' dramatic political events. Hereby, it contributes with a critical and well-grounded perspective on how ordinary young Egyptians experienced and were mobilized for the 2011 mass demonstrations. The main argument is that the civic consciousness and agency of the young volunteers were somehow prefigured. What may have looked primarily or even solely like a religious commitment turned out to be just as much a civic commitment. Underlying the specific processes of subjectivity formation among the young volunteers was a novel foregrounding of citizenship and the civic interpreted within the framework of the Islamic tradition and the stractures of a civil society organization. Due to their social and historical location as a generation and their previous experiences in Resala, the young volunteers had already gained ideas and practical knowledge of what it meant to be and aet as a citizen prior to the uprising. What the Tahrir moment changed was their consciousness about themselves as a generation and their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

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