From ‘refugee population’ to political community: the Mustapha Mahmoud refugee protest camp

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Introduction Over the last decade, migrant and refugee protests have emerged as one of the most significant phenomena through which citizenship and belonging are contested and redefined ‘from the margins’, both in Europe and along its externalised borderland (Balibar, 2004; Tyler and Marciniak, 2013). The sit-ins held by undocumented migrant workers in Murcia, Southern Spain in 2001 (Bañón Hernández and Romero, 2013), and the African refugees’ protests in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park, as well as the camps set up by rejected asylum seekers in central Vienna and in Berlin's Oranienplatz in 2012–13 and the collective known as ‘Lampedusa in Hamburg’ are all examples that highlight how political mobilisation against migration governance is increasingly taking the form of protest camps. In Europe as well as in the broader Mediterranean region, migrant and refugee protests have often intersected with, emulated, and in some case anticipated recent struggles against austerity, authoritarianism and neoliberal capitalism (see Tyler, 2013). In Egypt, the focus of this chapter, public collective mobilisation and street politics have characterised the social landscape for decades (Kandil, 2011). Slum dwellers, factory workers, Islamists, ethno-religious minorities and other marginalities (Ayeb and Bush, 2013) have all been important actors in the long-term political and social struggles which led to the events of 2011–12 (Elyachar and Winegar, 2011). Cairo being home to a large population of urban refugees (Goździak and Walter, 2012). The role of migrants and refugees in Egyptian popular politics has also often been significant. Nonetheless, it remains less explored in academic literature concerned with the country's recent history. This chapter traces the origins and dynamics of one of the biggest public protests in the history of postcolonial Egypt: the encampment set up by Sudanese refugees in Cairo in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, in September 2005. The refugee protests, which lasted for over three months, came to be known as ‘the Mustapha Mahmoud camp’, from the name of the park, and of the adjacent mosque, in which they took place, in the neighbourhood of Mohandeseen, in Giza. Initially triggered by UNHCR's decision to suspend refugee status determination procedures for Sudanese applicants following the 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the protests revolved around the more comprehensive lack of effective ‘durable solutions’ to the refugee condition in Egypt.

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