This thesis argues for the prioritized productivity of the local, the ordinary and the violent in the framing and the analysis of the Egyptian revolution. I demonstrate this productivity through a case study in which I analyze the role of the Popular Committees (PCs) – the armed civilian neighborhood-watch groups that were formed in every street in Egyptian cities to compensate for the withdrawal of the police – in the revolutionary contention over the removal of Mubarak. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, I use “the local” as an analytic category to draw the determinants of the variation in political relationships and inter-neighborhood class dynamics of the PCs in Alexandria and Cairo. While I hypothesize the PCs as a contender in a (Trotskyan) state-centered revolutionary situation, I use the lens of micro-sociological theories of Bayat to interpret the identity, the politics and the agency of local, ordinary small actors. I conclude that, while the PCs were socially conservative, their localized, block by block, appropriation of the legitimacy of the use of violence, performance and narrativization of the police enforced a strategically significant nationwide civilian anti-police curfew. They, subsequently, created a dual power situation that restricted the choices of the incumbent regime and permitted those organized regime challengers, sitting-in public squares, to safely and performatively demand the removal of Mubarak and take credit for it. By including the millions of PC members, the public space construction of the streets of Egyptian cities, and the use of force, I rewrite the strategic model of revolutionary contention that removed Mubarak, redraw the political and social map of the early days of the revolution, and explain its later developments.


Ahmed Saleh . American University in Cairo .

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