The History of the Egyptian Subaltern.

The politics of the people are the politics of the subaltern; the minority, the oppressed and the voiceless. Just as Marx talked of ideologies that were out of touch with reality (in reference with the Hegelians), the Egyptian fundamental agendas and the underpinnings are out of touch with the realities. Do the religious, political and the Egyptian elites know this? Do they ignore the realities and cover themselves in the veil of religious philosophies?

There is little historical scholarship about the Egyptian subalterns as I earlier thought. Most studies are contained in stories and documentaries as told by men who have generated voluminous scholarly work about themselves framing and reinforcing their own versions of the story. It wasn’t until recently when the social media revolution took over the world by surprise. The masses rose up to the realization that they had been hypnotized for a long time. The independence that thy got in 1957 had been used to establish ‘localized’ structured not very different from those of the former colonial master- The British. Thanks to the social media, we can now see the women being assaulted on a youtube video or men being very rude to activists in the legendary Tahrir Square. At least the rest of the world can see the actuality on the ground. No longer can we just sit and wait for the New York Times to bring us exclusive coverage of the events happening in Cairo or Alexandria.

Who is the subaltern?

According to Ranajit Guha, subaltern is “a term that refers to a wide range of groups who possess a subordinate social, political, economic and ideological status.” (Stephanie).  This term can encompass a wide range of groups including peasants, unemployed, urban poor, slum dwellers etc.. It also reaches out to the historically maligned groups in society and it is very common for an individual/groups to belong to more than one of these groups.

It is therefore important to note that subaltern groups, in the case of Egypt, encompass different social groups. In my study, I will focus on women as a subaltern group and how their agendas tend to be subsumed under the hegemony of other powerful social groups. In Egypt and in the Middle East and Northern African (MENA) region, crowd protests as well as riots and rebellion are not new but somehow, women have always had their pleas trumped/ignored.

During the colonial times, the Egyptian women were well aware of the oppression by the colonial masters. The women therefore suffered a double ‘impact’ both from the colonial masters and from the Egyptian men. Even with this, women became part of the men’s struggle to attain independence and at many occasions, men used women in their narratives to justify their case of the ‘oppressive other’ – the British. The Egyptian elite then talked about how women were being mistreated by the colonial masters and in a way, they won the favor of the subaltern –women- who though that men had their own interest.  Decades after independence, men have continued with both the colonial project of creating a ‘subject’ and by capitalizing on the structures built by the mode of production. In a way, the ideals of Egypt in the 50’s did no deviate from the colonial sanctioned norms and values that they had opposed and the women who were being saved are now in need of ‘resaving.’

This time round, unfortunately, they need to speak for themselves. It is unfortunate that their voices have one ear, the ear of the oppressed and they have to make a case- a case that is very familiar with the elite who have justified every aspect of oppression in referring to fundamental ideals – as those found in their religious text. Now they cannot talk about justice as they did during the colonial times, only the religious text is right.

The domination embodied in post-colonial legacies are strongly founded by the economic neoliberalism that makes it even harder because the subaltern are now faced with choices- fight for their economic rights or their human rights (although the two are closely related).


Work Cited:

Cronin, Stephanie. “Subalterns and Social Protest:.” Google Books. Routledge Studies on Middle East, 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.



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