Bringing the Local Back In: Local Politics between Informalization and Mobilization in an Age of Transformation in Egypt
Cilja Harders – 2013
In 2011 people took to the streets in masses in an open and broad contestation of the regimes in power in North Africa and West Asia. These revolutions and the ensuing ongoing transformations in the region are among others rooted in the earlier practices of small-scale, localized, formal and informal types of politics, which often happen in spaces ‘beyond the center.’ We start from the basic assumption that so-called peripheral spaces and seemingly marginal actors are and have been vital in triggering major change on the regime scale. Thus, years before the 2011 mass mobilization, local (and national, to be sure) authoritarian governance was heavily contested and at the same time reproduced through formal and informal organizations and institutions. Local institutions were part and parcel of an informal arrangement of service delivery—or, rather, refusal of delivery—which was crucial for the formation of the ‘social contract of informality’ (Harders, 2003) and thus for the stabilization of authoritarian rule, as I will explain in more detail in Section 2. The ‘local,’ I hold, is a political space, which is both a testing and a contested ground for changing state-society relations and thus deserves the closest scrutiny. But so far such a micro-political analysis has been rather neglected in mainstream political science; thus, much of the conceptual inspiration comes from sociology, anthropology of the state, and qualitative political science and area studies.