The revolution passed here then vanished: Mohammed Shuman's study of the Egyptian street

Mahmoud El-Wardani , Tuesday 13 Feb 2018

Khitab Al-Sharie (The Street Discourse) by Dr. Mohammed Shuman, Dar-Akhbar El-Yom Publishing - Kitab Al-Yom series, 2017. pp.136

The story surrounding this book's writing and publication is crammed with meanings and connotations that are no less significant than its content and the issues and questions it raises. According to author Dr. Mohammed Shuman's introduction, he completed the last chapter and began to revise the final draft in December 2010. But the 25th January Revolution delayed its publishing for about six years.

The book itself attempts to present a comprehensive reading of the discourse of the Egyptian street, the people, life, and death -- as well as the forms of practising power between society and the state, and also between segments that don't interact and aren't equal, although they are all living in Cairo. The author adds that his work relies on his own reading of critical discourse and semiological analysis.

Before a publication agreement could be reached, the 25th January Revolution broke out, bringing the author's plan to a halt. Given Dr. Shuman's observations of the Egyptian street in this time -- of relationships between people and of the transformations that took place affecting all aspects of life -- he found the substance of his book had become unsuitable for publication. His previous conclusions changed completely, thus he saw no point in publishing it.

When he returned to the book years later and compared it with what is going on now, he found that all the transformations and changes that followed the revolution had either vanished or nearly done so. What he found most surprising -- even infuriating -- was that the analysis and conclusions which he had first reached were valid once again -- the revolution passed here then vanished!

The writer raises the following question: Does this mean that the revolution hasn't changed anything in society and social life, and in the people's and the state's discourses? He answers, saying that little has changed and much has returned to what it was previously. He adds that the social practises remain the same and people's talk and the state's practises on every level are surviving and stable.

After all the aforementioned, Dr. Shuman decided to publish the book as it was!

In any case, the work displays the writer's own views on Cairo’s reality, based on the assumption that Cairo constitutes the epotome of what happens in Egypt. For instance, in the first chapter titled "The Power Conflict and the Paradoxes of Street Traffic," Shuman focuses on the city's street chaos and absence of both state authority and traffic systems. Cairo's streets lack meaning and standardisation and are overwhelmed by an evasive and deceitful discourse which is not only the controlled by the state, but by several competing powers. For besides the authority of traffic officers and soldiers, there is the power of drivers, especially whose vehicles are possessed by sovereign authorities; the power of microbus operators and dilapidated public transport buses barreling like monsters in over-crowded streets; the power of taxi drivers who choose the passenger and inquire about his destination, inspecting his appearance before letting him ride. There is also the power of the parking attendants who snatched the mission of organising street corners according to a fee they determine. They pay part of these fees as bribes to some traffic officers in return to allowing them to do so. There is the power of the shop owners who seize street spaces adjacent to their shops. Some of them have even put iron chains or signs to assert their control and ownership of parts of the public roads.       

Thus reads the exciting and lively study, in which the writer devotes one chapter to the people of the Cairene street, crowded as it is with hawkers of every kind and beggars alike, assaulted by everyone, with its limited space seized by shop and kiosk owners. He devotes another chapter to the chaos and architectural deformation which have befallen the homes of all Cairenes of all social classes in various quarters and districts. Shuman also devotes an enjoyable third chapter to details about fashion, especially girls' and women's dress, ranging from ordinary clothes, to the veil and the niqab -- all of which jostle beside each other, joining the aforementioned entities in plunging the street into further chaos.

The writer concludes his book with a chapter titled "The Death Discourse." It is the longest chapter due to the importance Egyptians assign to death. It begins with the publishing of obituaries in newspapers and ends with the poor who break into cemeteries to live with dead under the same roof.

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