Intentionally excluded from formal politics in authoritarian
states by reigning elites, do the common people have concrete ways
of achieving community objectives? Contrary to conventional wisdom,
this book demonstrates that they do. Focusing on the political life
of the "sha'b" (or popular classes) in Cairo, Diane Singerman shows
how men "and" women develop creative and effective strategies to
accomplish shared goals, despite the dominant forces ranged against
them. Starting at the household level in one densely populated
neighborhood of Cairo, Singerman examines communal patterns of
allocation, distribution, and decision-making. Combining the
institutional focus of political science with the sensitivities of
anthropology, she uncovers a system of informal networks, supported
by an informal economy, that constitutes another layer of
collective institutions within Egypt and allows excluded groups to
pursue their interests.
"Avenues of Participation" traces this informal system from its
grounding in the family to its influence on the larger polity.
Discussing the role of these networks in meeting fundamental needs
in the community--such as earning a living, reproducing the family,
saving and investing money, and coping with the
bureaucracy--Singerman demonstrates the surprising power these
"excluded" people wield. While the government has reduced politics
to the realm of distribution to protect itself from challenges, she
argues that the popular classes in Cairo, as consumers of goods and
services, have turned exploiting the government into a fine
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