A Culture of Poverty or the Poverty of a Culture? Informal Settlements and the Debate over the State-Society Relationship in Egypt

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Problems facing informal (“squatter”) settlements in Egypt have increasingly gained public exposure through both media coverage and scholarly debates. Whereas the state public discourse reflects a pretence for developing these areas, this paper, through the study of the relationship between the state and members living in three urban squatter areas, argues that government response towards squatters takes the following forms: negligence, demolition, relocation, and exploitation. Whereas demolition and relocation take place under exceptional conditions, negligence and exploitation are the most common forms of the state response towards the marginal sector. This exploitation serves the state's public officials in lining their own pockets and provides a rich source of votes for the state political apparatus, which guarantee the continuity of the regime. Thus, a culture characterised by its poverty is created among squatters where individual and personal interests attain precedence over communal interests, leading to more exploitation and corruption, which impedes the government developmental policies and programs, leading to a further weakening of the state.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3751/194034604783997042

Publication date: October 1, 2004

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