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The Flexible Governance of Water in Cairo’s Informal Areas

Khalil, Deena
Water 2019 v.11 no.8
governance, infrastructure, public water supply, topology, water utilization, Egypt
This article explores the relationship between informality and water infrastructure in informal areas in Egypt. I apply three concepts drawn from the wider literatures on state power and governance: Topological power, flexible governing, and the “statization” of urban space. I find that infrastructure has functioned as one of the main instruments through which the state is produced or “effected” in the daily lives of residents. Due to this, examining the governance of water infrastructure in informal areas exposes the Egyptian state’s “flexibility” and the uneven nature of its power. I argue that this flexibility is a result of the ad hoc nature of power in governance and the uneven quality of the state’s authority and reach. This flexibility creates a waterscape constituted by overlapping infrastructures, practices, and actors, making traditional binaries such as public–private and formal–informal meaningless. However, I find that in Egypt’s post-Arab-Spring era, the state has been seeking ways to effect its presence more strongly within informal areas, and one of the ways in which it has been doing so is by incorporating “informal” users into the “formal” public water supply and allowing/forcing them to pay for water. I argue that this accommodation of informality is a way to increase the statization of informal areas, while also charging them for water usage. In this way, I find that the state’s flexibility allows it to benefit from informality without having to actually “formalise” the neighbourhoods themselves or address the underlying causes of why they are labelled as informal.