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What are the social and cultural dimensions behind the phenomenon of harassment? (3)

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6-3 Farid Zahran

Farid Zahran

We stress for the third time, the four attributes of slums that were described in the previous two articles: the first, that most slum residents are marginalised; second, that these residents are poor; third, that these neighbourhoods lack utilities, services, and urban and humanitarian planning in advance; and fourth and last is that these neighbourhoods are recently established and that the population is not homogenous.

We discussedphenomena such as the street vendors’ monopoly on the most important main streets in most cities, the spread of the specific type of crime known as “thuggery,” and the spread of sexual harassment accompanied by violence. We considered the last phenomenon to be linked to a rebellion of the slums that have managed to exert their influence over other social classes and neighbourhoods to the extent that we employed the expression ‘slum-isation of the middle class.’ We pointed to this as the reason behind some members of this social class being involved in recent cases of sexual assault.

I would like to emphasise here, at the beginning of the article, that describing slums as informal as respected architects do, in the sense that the neighbourhoods were not planned beforehand, is a definition that fails to differentiate between Mohandessin and Duwaiqa: neither, according to this definition, was planned in advanced. We do not view this definition as correct because the socio-cultural attributes of the residents of neighbourhoods like Mohandessin is different than that of Duwaiqa . The reason behind this, in my opinion, is that one of the neighbourhoods is a slum according to our definition – and excluding the others – as it embodies the four attributes that we mentioned. Perhaps this is what drives us to the next topic, namely, an attempt to find solutions based on this understanding of the issue. These are solutions that will go beyond the definition of the slum neighbourhood as informal, and considering that this type of definition will drive us only to treat the problem through humanitarian architecture planning for these informal neighbourhoods. We must take into consideration that this type of planning on its own will not resolve the crises of these neighbourhoods, and there exists a package of social and political solutions that are no less significant. We will reveal the details of these solutions in the next article, God-willing.

Now let’s go back to the questions surrounding the difference between the rural-isation of cities and slum-isation of working-class neighbourhoods or the middle classes. In my estimation, there is an inadvertent confusion that has taken place through the recent decades as a result of the rural-isation of cities and the slum-isation of working-class neighbourhoods. The rural-isation of cities, in the beginning, meant a shift in the socio-cultural value system from the countryside to the cities. The most prominent attributes of this shift in architectural terms were that the rural population that moved to the cities, for example, did not rent their dwellings, instead purchasing land in order to build rural-style homes. Extended families keen to remain close to and interconnected with other households hailing from the same family or tribe or village mainly occupied these homes. Each demographic group is interdependent, integrated, and held relationships with other groups. In this way, they sustain their intimate connections with the villages that they left.

Ruralised neighbourhoods differ from slum neighbourhoods. In my opinion, the difference is not about the lack of facilities, services, and state presence within these types of neighbourhoods. It is also not related to the overwhelming poverty and marginalisation most of the neighbourhood dwellers face. The difference lies in the fact that ruralised neighbourhoods are more socio-culturally coherent, while slum areas and/or slummised areas, lack this social cohesion.

 

What we refer to here as social cohesion does not mean that the population engages in one profession or field of work. Rather, social cohesion means that there is a degree of social familiarity, or a prospect for safe socio-cultural coexistence between people. It is likely that these two factors of social cohesion can only be engendered through the presence of a specific set of socio-cultural values which connect people to one another as they choose what is permissible or forbidden, what is right and wrong, etc.

 

Social cohesion also carries the potential to be produced through the power of state presence and its various bodies, particularly educational, cultural, and even security institutions. Social cohesion could also rely on the presence of a strong social, civil, or political sphere. Finally, potential social coexistence could be bred through the presence of traditional value patterns which impose specific guidelines and controls.

This is exactly what ruralisation of certain neighbourhoods within the city achieves. What we find here is that people of the provinces come together and form groups with representatives. These different blocs and groups, while delicately balancing between themselves and dealing with poverty, marginalisation, and lack of services, impose what we can term the minimum limits for establishing a safe and humane coexistence. By comparison, slum neighbourhoods stagger and falter under the same conditions. This is the difference between ruralised and slum neighbourhoods; the latter type suffers from a lack of socio-cultural values, rules, and patterns that support a safe and humane coexistence. This is what causes us to both distinguish between the phenomena of slum-isation and to observe how, unfortunately, negative feelings and inclinations such as aggressiveness and individuality develop amongst inhabitants of slum neighbourhoods.

Finally, and before I conclude, I would like to point out that informal neighbourhoods are not necessarily inhabited by those who work in the informal economy, as some architects have posited. Marginalisation and the marginalised masses intersect with the informal economy but are not directly related to it, in the sense that marginalised labourers certainly participate in the informal economy, but not all workers in the informal economy are marginalised. For example, according to some estimates there are more than three thousand presses working without permits, i.e. they are part of the informal economy according to the definitions of the state and government institutions. But we believe that the owners of these presses, as well as their employees, cannot be considered marginalised. Most of them are have capital, skills, or specific social functions.

As for the type of polarisation and transformations that have led to the collapse of socio-cultural value systems in the middle class which have resulted in slum-isation, and how rebellion within slums began, are the subjects of our next article.

Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

About the author

Farid Zahran

Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party


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