Abstract:

In Egypt these days, projects (mashari‘) are omnipresent. While men from most social classes hunt for and execute small business projects to supplement diminishing wages, the militarised state invests enormous resources and prestige in mega projects: bridges, roads, land reclamations, a whole New Administrative Capital.

In this paper, I think through the allure of Egyptian projects across scales. Combing data from participant observation among men who construct small neighbourhood football pitches with public debates, planning and propaganda about mega projects, I suggest that projects evoke dreams of prosperity in a future which, on the one hand, is highly tangible, but which everyone accepts will never fully arrive. While conjured as platforms for the creation of values in a manageable the ‘near future’ (Guyer, 2007), most projects end up half-completed, abandoned and deferred

The paper’s ethnographic renderings of small-scale football projects cast new light on the state’s obsession with mega projects. While there are many reasons to speak about Egypt’s ‘desert dreams’ in terms of ‘failure’ (Sims, 2016), why do the authorities continue to project, despite all? Could it be that the repetitive pursuit itself is what makes the project form so attractive? If so, sober comparisons between plans and results might not capture what is at stake. Let us instead consider projects as a particular kind of masculinised statecraft: idealised avenues for provision, crisis management, future making, and bold action.

Bio:

Carl Rommel is a social anthropologist, who earned his PhD from SOAS, University of London (2015). His doctoral research explored the emotional politics of Egyptian football before and after the January 2011 Revolution. Currently, Rommel holds a postdoctoral research position in the ERC-funded Crosslocations project at the University of Helsinki. His ongoing field research in Cairo interrogates intersections between precarity, masculinity, temporality and urban space in, around and through a variety of large and small ‘projects’ (mashari‘). Rommel’s research has been published in Critical African Studies, Middle East – Topics & Arguments, and Men and Masculinities. His first monograph, Egypt’s Contradictory Football Politics: Emotionality, nationalism, and masculinity will be published with The University of Texas Press in summer 2021.