Vol. 29 No. 1 (2014)
Futures of Neoliberalism
By Amira Mittermaier
‘Aīsh, huriyya, ‘adāla igtimā‘iyya (“bread, freedom, social justice”) were key demands of Egyptian protesters in early 2011. Whereas the call for bread evokes immediate need, social justice is often associated with structural transformations and a better tomorrow. In light of this temporal tension, this article calls for a critical rethinking of an orientation toward the future by dwelling on the ethical and political potentials inherent to traditions of giving, sharing, and hospitality that are fundamentally oriented toward the present. Drawing on fieldwork in Cairo during 2010 and 2012, I think about an ethics of immediacy that is embodied in seemingly non-revolutionary everyday practices, but that also emerges from stories about Tahrir as a space of togetherness and solidarity. I argue that such an ethics is obscured in dominant neoliberal concepts of social justice, which foreground individual responsibility, productivity, and economic growth. Concretely, the article places the Tahrir utopia in conversation with a Sufi khidma that provides guests with food, tea, and a place to rest. Both spaces, I suggest, gesture toward modes of being in the world which rupture the state’s monopoly of politics, enable alternative forms of circulation and distribution, and encourage forms of relationality different from capitalism (in both its welfare and neoliberal renditions). By bringing these spaces into conversation, I seek to problematize a pervasive neoliberalization of social justice and to contribute to an anthropology of the otherwise.
Egypt; revolution; social justice; neoliberalism; distribution; gift; ethics; temporality; Islam; Sufism