PhD dissertation: "A Generation in the Making"
- The Formation of Young Muslim Volunteers in Cairo
PhD dissertation by Sara Lei Sparre, Department of Anthropology
Youth and Muslim activism in Egypt
The dissertation explores processes of subjectivity formation among young Muslim volunteers in Cairo. Within the institutional structures of the Muslim charity organisation, Resala, these educated, middle-class Egyptians in their late teens or early twenties engage in society through activities for Egypt’s poor.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Egypt before and after the Egyptian uprising in early 2011, the dissertation traces how the subjectivities of the young volunteers take form through participation in ‘slow’ everyday social activism as well as ‘fast’, dramatic political events.
Subjectivity formation and Muslim civic commitment
Sara Lei Sparre analyses the emergence of a particular form of Muslim citizenship as a generational phenomenon. What may have looked primarily or even solely like a religious commitment turned out to be just as much a civic commitment.
Underlying the specific processes of subjectivity formation is a novel foregrounding of citizenship and the civic interpreted within the framework of the Islamic tradition and the structures of a civil society organisation.
Sara Lei Sparre argues that the civic consciousness and agency of the young volunteers were somehow prefigured.
Due to their historical location as a generation and their previous experiences in Resala, the young volunteers had already gained ideas and practical knowledge of what it meant to be and act as a citizen prior to the uprising. What the Tahrir moment changed was their consciousness about themselves as a generation and their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
The “Muslim citizen”
Building on this insight, Sara Lei Sparre concludes that the processes of subjectivity formation exemplifies the emergence of a particular version of the ‘Muslim citizen’, understood as a subject whose religious commitment and observance takes shape primarily in adherence to ideals of social responsibility and civic engagement within the framework of the Egyptian nation.
You can purchase the dissertation at Academic Books (academicbooks.com), Øster Farimagsgade 5, DK-1353 Copenhagen K.
Resala Association for Charity
- Founded at Cairo University in 1999
- Registered as a NGO in 2000
- 63 branches, more than 112,000 volunteers across all governorates
- Services: in-kind aid such as food, shelter, clothes, education, training, micro-finance projects
- Funding: mostly donations from private Egyptians
- Beneficiaries: poor families and vulnerable groups, such as orphans, handicapped and illiterates
- Volunteers: mainly college students or recent graduates from approx. 18-27 years; women count for min. 75 percent.
- Vision of the founders: instill a culture of giving among young Egyptians
Tahrir Square was the focal point of the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The ‘Tahrir moment’ refers to the 18 days of revolt and mass demonstrations leading to the ousting of President Mubarak in early 2011.