Multiplicity and indeterminacy are the targets of security practices because they constitute the terrain of struggle within which security can be undone.
Share "The Conditions Of Possibility" on:

الأمن ضد الإمكانية
00 At the end of 2014, a large hole sat in the center of Midan Tahrir. The stone memorial to security forces that had previously occupied in the square, having been repeatedly vandalized and graffitied by activists, was being dug up by government workers without any official mention of what would replace it. Instead, bulldozers and barriers sat scattered on top of uneven mounds of sand and debris, and the space that had so often been the dynamic milieu for bodies, tents, stages, and banners over the previous years was refashioned into a construction site in perpetual disarray, inversely framed by the literal hole in its center.
01 Following Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup, when I would take taxis through Tahrir on my way to meet with friends for tea, teach classes, or run errands, I was always struck by the improvised choreography of the construction equipment, mesh fencing, and security forces that every so often rearranged themselves as if they were caught in the gravity of the square’s emptiness. The Midan was kept in this state of disarray for months, a form of spatial and temporal emptying of what had been set into motion during the 18 days of revolt in 2011. As Sisi’s regime built various monuments to itself, tore them down, and replaced them in a kind of rhythm, I was often left questioning what remained of the revolution. Had everything been extinguished? Exhausted? Smothered by the military regime?
02 In the years following the January 25th Revolution, the manifold and diverse assemblies of Tahrir had become powerful through their production of differential possibilities, the indeterminate wakes of diverse assemblings, proximities, and affinities. Following Sisi's coup, the military responded with the strategic production of emptiness, vacating the conditions of possibility for assembly through a securitization of spaces that literally emptied them of bodies. During one of our conversations in the courtyard of a gallery, the revolutionary activist
reflected on how spaces of assembly transformed following the return of military rule:
"That kind of space was a space of opening and opportunity and collecting. People, because they had met, could go on and do other things. Later, it became much more a space which was pointing towards who you should round up. The space collapsed and its values changed and shifted." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The coup took shape largely in its attempt to eradicate and empty spaces "of opening and opportunity" where people found one another and assembled and subsequently could "go on and do other things" together. After Sisi seized state power, anyone who tried to maintain or defend these spaces risked being "round(ed) up" by security forces, arrested, killed, or disappeared. Mass military deployments to the streets and skies of Cairo intended to empty the spaces of assembly as a means of emptying the indeterminate possibilities and futurities that accompanied them.
03 After having been pushed out of power in the coup, members of the Muslim Brotherhood organized several anticoup sit-ins across Cairo, the largest of which gathered away from the center of Wust El-Balad in Midan Rabaa al-Adawiya, a few kilometers to the northeast of Midan Tahrir. Thousands of protesters assembled to demand an end to the coup and the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as president, setting up tents and stages that resembled the form and spatial organization of the January 25th Revolution. In an effort to secure power, Sisi publicly demanded that demonstrators leave the square and began preparing for their eviction. On August 14th, 2013, a little over a month after the coup had begun, armored vehicles, helicopters, snipers, tear gas, and troops were used to disperse the sit-in over the course of several hours. In the process of clearing the square, the military killed nearly a thousand people and injured several thousand more in what has come to be known as the Rabaa massacre, the deadliest day in Egypt since the first fires of the revolution had been lit.
04 In the weeks between the beginning of Sisi’s coup and the Rabaa massacre, I spent most of my time confined inside with my partner in our apartment, writing articles online about the coup as it unfolded in the streets below, all while trying to survive the extreme heat of the Egyptian summer. Anticoup marches regularly poured into the streets, fighting with security forces or with pro-Sisi groups in long, drawn-out battles which included fireworks, tear gas, paving stones, barricades, birdshot, and bullets. These protests were juxtaposed with periods of tense calm that had taken hold during Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting that slows Cairo’s normally kinetic and chaotic pace. Going out to run errands meant unavoidably being swept up in crowds that gathered in various neighborhoods, as well as by sporadic and dispersed military mobilizations which unpredictably and dynamically appeared and disappeared across the territories of the city like sparks burning and vanishing in the night. Slowly and steadily, the wild milieus of the assemblies were replaced by fractal territories of security.
05 Sisi’s regime is heterogeneous, inconsistent, and fragmented, both multiple and singular in its external action and internal movement. Different sections of the regime undermine one another, various organizations and factions of security forces are often in conflict (at times fighting with one another in the streets), and even within the military itself there have been internal coup attempts. The regime has compensated for these potentially debilitating inconsistencies and fragmentations by multiplying security checkpoints in universities and on roads, ordering myriad helicopter patrols over the Nile, installing numerous concrete-block walls that cut off neighborhoods from one another, occupying Wust El-Balad with swarms of armored vehicles and young military conscripts that await deployment orders in alleys and in the back of trucks, and finally emptying spaces that cannot be regulated or policed via the previous means. Together, these culminate into a fractalized security regime that operates at diverse scales and speeds: a Security Against Possibility that conditions all life in the city.
06 While the regime's violence is quite present and actual, its power is virtual. In other words, it emerges from its excess, that violence which hasn't yet happened but still could. It’s not so much particularized instances of violence, but rather the possibility of violence, that affectively shapes how one moves, acts, thinks, relates, and lives in Cairo after the coup. Counterintuitively, it is the indeterminate quality of the security forces, their unpredictable and dispersed practices flickering in and out of existence at plural scales, that produces forms of order and determinacy. In response to the wild indeterminacy of the assemblies, the regime produces its own indeterminacy in diffuse and distributed forms of violence that emerge in dynamic intensities across the entirety of Cairo. It’s not only stark violence but also the proliferation of possible violence that defines the regime’s security against the possibility of the assemblies.
07 The regime’s strategy has taken on different tactical expressions since Sisi took power. The massacre in Rabaa was followed by the imposition of a month-long city-wide curfew that prevented the return of protests or sit-ins. Downtown Cairo, usually bustling with people in the warm evenings, remained desolate and empty in the evenings over this period. Months after the curfew ended, police officials cleared the Borsa, the famously dense string of street cafés in Wust El-Balad, seemingly in an attempt to eradicate the informal socialities that had established a life there. The repeated military closure of Midan Tahrir is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the military regime's attempt to empty spaces and impose order in Cairo in the interest of its own survival. In more muted fashions, police officers performed identification checks, harassed bystanders, or confiscated property to help empty spaces. Any hint of possible unrest has prompted widespread military mobilizations that have included the stationing of troops and vehicles on the peripheries of Tahrir and a closure of the large steel gates on its south entrance that were installed after the coup.
08 The regime’s strategies have, over time and through their repetition, imposed a fragile order onto the streets of Cairo. In a conversation with the academic theorist
in a smoke-filled library study room, they described the regime’s spatial practices following the coup:
"It seems at times as though it’s a very singular logic. The largest most spectacular events, the biggest visits by the governor and all of this kind of stuff, is really an attempt to show that they have control over the state and they do that by showing that they have control over the visual appearance and the orderliness of the street. There’s a weird determinism inherent in that. But there’s also a rather disheartening logic because it really strips away everyday spaces of gathering and collectivity and hanging out. Egypt has very little if not its cafés. Cairo is not the most beautiful city. It’s not a clean city. It’s not an orderly city. It’s a city that’s always to me been marked by this kind of madness that at times is euphoric and is open ended. As frustrating as it can be and as frustrating as any encounter with bureaucracy and the heavy handedness of it is, it is the place where there is always a gathering of people and you stay up late with your friends and your colleagues and your acquaintances and there’s a liveliness to the street that’s always been the lifeblood of the city that I think is very clearly under attack by this government." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The banning of marches, the clearing of street vendors from main thoroughfares, the emptying of the Borsa, the attacks on "everyday spaces of gathering and collectivity": what is striking about the regime’s repression is not that it seeks out groups that are recognized as being political, but also extends its repression to every form of assembly or gathering that doesn’t strictly conform to the regime’s managerial logic. This includes spaces of conviviality, sociality, romance, and fun, any place where affinities and desires and intimacies and pleasures and becomings can unexpectedly be generated in encounters between bodies in unscripted fashions. Sisi’s regime depends on the (re)enactment of controls to (re)produce their power, attempting to eradicate the generative forms of assembly that flourish in these informal spaces.
09 After the military returned to power following the coup, mixtures of Egyptian police, soldiers, and baltagiya have incessantly attacked any kind of protest that has managed to manifest against them in the streets. Those who are lucky manage to slip away from these attacks with only the sharp burning of tear gas in their lungs, either escaping into open restaurants, quickly catching one of Cairo's many taxis, or disappearing into the bustle of a nearby metro station, all while evading the plethora of plainclothes police that roam the area before, during, and after demonstrations. Others are hit with scattered birdshot from the regime's shotguns, beaten in the streets, detained and sentenced to years in jail, or killed. These highly visible forms of repression that are enacted in the open occur against a backdrop or pervasive torture, imprisonment, and hundreds of disappearances that happen out of view but also affectively condition the diverse practices of living and forms of possible life on Cairo’s streets. Sisi's emptiness must be continuously reproduced, and its order incessantly reimposed: even the slightest anomaly is felt as an existential threat to the regime.
10 The scattered protests that have tried to take the streets and establish new kinds of assembly following the coup have done so under the threat of extinction, as Sisi’s regime has not only consistently dispersed protests when they have appeared but has also attempted to eradicate the conditions of possibility from within which resistance and revolution are rendered possible in the first place. To these ends, Sisi’s regime has made use of fractal techniques to produce an affective fear that permeates all spaces of the city regardless of whether security forces are present. Unfolding across Cairo, the regime’s repression and the emptiness it produces has symmetry across all of its different scales: it is systematic yet unpredictable, diffuse yet particularized, atmospheric yet localized. In other words, the emptiness of the regime is a structured form of emptiness that has both extensive and intensive dimensions and means to be totalizing in its fractalized operation. It’s impossible to discern where the security of the regime properly begins or ends, whether one is entering or retreating from the battlefields of the coup, or if the situation will collapse and implode or accelerate and explode. Both actual and virtual, macro and micro, repeating and differentiating, a thousand security practices percolate through the possibility of the city.
11 During my regular walks, I unavoidably encountered Sisi’s security forces in the streets and squares of the city. Armored personal carriers are stationed around government buildings, their metal shells towering over the pedestrians that walk beside them. Large groups of soldiers, loitering around their large trucks, produce affective black holes across the bustling city as people avoid being close. Secret police, making no effort to disguise themselves, regularly sit in the back rows of theater performances and academic lectures. Following the coup, life in Cairo has been immersed in the emptiness of the security forces, and the forms of community and intimacy I took part in were perpetually haunted by their deeply felt contingency, fragility, and possible disappearance.
12 In Sisi’s Cairo, security is fundamentally oriented against possibility. Establishing order at any cost, the regime desires to shape, determine, police, and manage all practices of living in the city as a means of constraining and curtailing the conditions of possibility for radically other practices of living that incessantly threaten to become manifest. The security practices of the regime respond to the ineradicable multiplicity of Cairo by attempting to manage that which is wild and desiring to tame that which is untamable. Lives are pushed and shoved into static configurations of relation, exchange, orientation and recognition that inscribe them with stratified expressions of difference. One function of these security practices is to make bodies apprehendable, and to limit relations between bodies to relations of apprehension.
13 Almost always, when we encounter other bodies we apprehend them in their difference. When we apprehend a body, we recognize it as being resolved and fixed in its normative particularity (as a gendered body, as a classed body, or as a raced body, for example). To apprehend is also to arrest, in essence to capture a body in its apprehended difference and to help materially reproduce those differences in bodies themselves through the recognition of them. To assemble with bodies on the other hand is to encounter them in their irreducible complexity and indeterminacy without necessarily recognizing them: you don't need to apprehend a body in order to assemble with it. On the contrary, apprehension only hinders possible assembly because of the established and repetitive relations to the other's body that it implies. Security measures mean to produce the conditions for apprehension within which stratified relations are reproduced and reinscribed while denying opportunities to reorganize or refashion those relations in the differential possibilities of the assemblies that occur outside of apprehension.
14 Through emptying spaces of assembly where indeterminacies proliferate, the spaces where repeated encounters have the potential to both cohere and decohere difference itself, the regime hopes to limit bodies to relating to one another within the already-existing organization and distribution of the city: in the home with family, at work with coworkers and managers, in places of worship with others of faith, at school with students and teachers. These are spaces where bodies are made to be more determinate, predictable, and recognizable in their roles in relations, spaces where bodies are apprehended as being bodies in particular, spaces where most often difference is simply reproduced and reinscribed, foreclosing upon experimental practices of living and becoming that flourish in assemblies.
15 Sisi's systematic yet unpredictable repression of queers, political dissidents, students, and artists suffocate the conditions of possibility for assembly that have the potential to reorganize forms of difference and practices of living in the city. These forms of repression function in tactically distinct yet strategically interconnected ways. First, the regime renders already existing social formations more precarious as a means of affectively regulating them. By heightening the felt vulnerability of communities through the virtual multiplication of the regime’s possible violence, the regime pushes groups to become cautious, afraid and isolated, trying to foreclose upon forms of affinity that could otherwise take shape. Second, the regime extinguishes and empties spaces where bodies can possibly encounter and assemble with one another against the logic of the regime. This strategy is manifest in the military’s regular closure of Tahrir, but also in attacks on other spaces of indeterminate assembly across the city such as galleries, mosques, cafés, classrooms, theaters, and soccer stadiums. This dual motion of the regime’s security practices, the production of possible violence and the foreclosure of the possibility for assembly, is the dynamic technique Sisi uses to reproduce his power.
16 In an exchange with the activist
in a university cafe, they described the security force’s recent attacks against informal and indeterminate spaces of assembly as being an attempt to dissolve the conditions within which unstructured behaviors can possibly take place:
"To my mind I think what frightens them the most is people gathering in ways that they can’t directly control and predict. It doesn't have to be political. When it’s political of course there’s an extra level of scrutiny and aggression directed against it. And yes, there have been tens of thousands of arrests and there are thousands in prison now, for expressly political crimes of conscience, or what have you. But, at the same time when you look at the operating logic of the government and the apparatus and the state, their priorities have been on this notion of a very superficial but a very rigid formal sense of ordering. Bringing order back to the city. ‘Enough Chaos’ they say, ‘Enough Disorder.’ So, we’ve had enormous campaigns of eviction against street vendors that started in August of 2014. Only a couple of weeks ago they evicted the vendors. That was in downtown, and only recently they did the same in Ramses square. Similarly, the cafés in downtown and elsewhere have been targeted by the police supposedly for licensing and other kinds of sidewalk violations. The impact if not the intended effect is a tamping down on the everyday hanging out that people do and the discussions they have. I was talking to a business owner in downtown who, that on his authority, says he was talking to one of the people that was in charge of the policing and utilities, who said they explicitly cleared out the cafés in downtown because the government felt that this is where activists hang out. And so, to deal with that problem, the easiest solution is to basically eliminate the spaces and the arenas where those unstructured behaviors take place." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The "very rigid formal sense of ordering" that
says is meant to "eliminate the spaces and the arenas where those unstructured behaviors take place" produces varying intensities of emptiness and order across the city. The regime’s security practices aren’t intended to suffocate every particular instance of assembly in this sense, but instead are concerned with policing the conditions of possibility for assembly as such. When the regime says "enough chaos" and "enough disorder," it desires to produce a city where bodies are constrained to living lives that conform to the regime’s organization. Security forces attempt to abolish "unstructured behaviors" and foreclose upon what
describes as "people gathering in ways that they can’t directly control and predict."
17 Sisi’s military regime is not simply the sum of its police officers, army conscripts, vast bureaucracies, armed thugs, and security architectures, although it surely includes them. To properly understand the regime, it must also be seen as a regime of space and time itself, a complex and dispersed assemblage that both produces and forecloses upon space-times as a form of ontological, social and political power. This strategy culminates in the fractalized structuring of emptiness, the diverse distribution, maintenance, and regulation of emptiness at different scales as a means of vacating the city of any possibility other than the static continuity of the regime itself.
18 Minoritarian communities that have taken part in experimental and resistant forms of assembly, intimacy, and affinity have been the most sought after targets for the regime. Among these groups, queer communities composed of homosexuals, trans*, bisexuals, sex workers and others intentionally try to become obscure in order to evade state violence. Under Sisi, security forces have raided bathhouses in Cairo, arresting men en masse and charging them with ‘inciting debauchery’ after allowing for them to be filmed by media, half dressed, being dragged into the backs of police trucks. Several clubs and bars have also been closed for hosting ‘debaucherous parties’ where queer practices allegedly take place. Cell phone applications that queers have used to find one another are also regularly infiltrated by security forces who send invitations to meet and then arrest whoever arrives. Queer communities continue to find life in various spaces across Cairo, but do so deeply conditioned by the felt possibility of these forms of violence. The forms of assembly practiced by queer communities threaten the regime because of the way that they potentially reorganize social and political difference, and open up forms of indeterminacy, affinity and intimacy that jeopardize the regime’s control over bodies, and so the regime produces possible violence to foreclose upon the conditions of possibility for the communities themselves.
19 The securitization of universities is yet another tactic that Sisi’s regime has used to impose its apprehensive order upon the city. Universities in Cairo have long been homes for resistance movements and more general forms of political organizing, and students were very involved in the revolution and have been active in the protests against the coup. Universities often manifest as spaces of assembly because of the forms of proximity and density that emerge on campuses despite disciplinary and security structures. Following the Rabaa massacre, the regime installed private security at the entrances to Cairo’s public universities, forcing students to present identification, have their bags searched, and pass through metal detectors in order to enter campus. Student political organizations have been banned, and faculty that have expressed political opinions have been fired. Beyond these measures, security forces have also conducted sporadic raids of various dormitories and student buildings, searching rooms and arresting those they suspect of taking part in protests. These raids, through their chaotic and unpredictable enactment, produce power more through the production of the possible raid than through any singular raid itself, seeking to diminish the forms of proximity and affinity that have otherwise taken hold in these spaces while reinscribing their role as students and nothing more.
20 Civil society organizations in Egypt that have been critical of the regime, most often human rights groups, have also been increasingly repressed. In 2014, an announcement was made that all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt needed to officially register with the state, remain open to surprise inspection, and have all foreign funds pre-approved. When I sat down to talk with
who works at the
, they explained how groups were destabilized by these measures:
"The point of these policies was to create that hysterical atmosphere among the activists of the NGOs so to corner them, in a sense. And actually that was the case over the last months. I mean, we spent almost 50% of our work thinking about our own survival. And so we weren't able to fully mobilize our own limited capacity, to do our own work that’s on our own agendas, trying to appear in the media, trying to even outreach to the authorities, etc.. That’s why, from that point of view, their plan actually worked out. They cornered the NGOs. They kept them under constant pressure using at their disposal a set of very ambiguous and ambivalent legal tools, and creating an aura in the media that those guys are actually kind of colored, kind of marked, and then also trying to work on that social and political stigma by saying that you’re receiving foreign funding, and by the way, the Egyptian political sphere is quite paranoid towards these issues. Or thinking about something like phantasmatic connections between the Muslim Brotherhood and the human rights groups and something like that. This is the aim of that campaign. So the aim and the objective is not to eradicate the human rights groups. The aim is to corner them and put them under constant pressure and create an aura around them that actually blocks their own communication with the communities they are trying to work with." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
notes, the regime attempts to create "an aura in the media that those guys are actually kind of colored, kind of marked" in order to diminish the capacity of NGOs to engage with communities in Egypt. These regime strategies mean to keep people in their proper place by not allowing encounters between bodies or communities that could lead to the manifestation of novel collective practices as well as rendering them precarious, forcing them to focus on the question of their "own survival" and little else.
21 During the January 25th Revolution, Ultras soccer fans played a big role in the street fights that regularly took place with security forces. Because they had been organizing as fans for years and had confronted the police repeatedly outside of stadiums, they had much more experience in street fights than others and thus were able to more effectively defend spaces of assembly from the attacks of security forces. Following the January 25th Revolution when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took power, and then more intensely under the coup, the regime repressed Ultras groups by closing soccer stadiums to fans and outlawing their organizations by labeling them as terrorist groups. In one of my conversations with
who had witnessed the Ultras' participation in the revolution, they described what the regime found so threatening about them:
"They really imagine living their life in a different way and I think this is also something that scares the state. The state does not understand what these people are about, why they are that organized. ‘Is this only about supporting their teams?’ This is something Asef Bayat talked about, about the state’s animosity to fun. And how the state can’t really perceive or understand fun as something that people would come together to do collectively. We shouldn’t blame them if they don’t see their battle as political, but we should blame the political parties who can’t see this as a political battle. This also would tell us how we see fun, and how we see pleasure as something insignificant or something that is not worth fighting for. And they are really a pleasure-oriented group. They want to chant. They want to dance. This is something very different than something most Egyptians are thinking of. Not only because of the binary of work and fun, that we should actually value work and despise fun, but also about the way we think of and the way we live our life. It’s a different thing. If you attend a match with them, there’s that point where they ignite so many flares, and they go shirtless, and they start to throw water on each other, and everybody is wet, and there’s colored smoke and it’s a very carnivalesque moment and it’s a whole different experience." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The regime’s "animosity to fun" and inability to "perceive or understand fun as something that people would come together to do collectively" are intimately tied to its fear of spaces of assembly that it cannot control. The "carnivalesque moment" that is "a whole different experience" and is literally fought over in the streets is one manifestation of indeterminate and collective assembly that the regime has attempted to eradicate because of the possibility that the participants could "imagine living their life in a different way."
22 In addition to repressing Ultras groups the regime has also targeted moulids, the religious festivals in Egypt that honor various figures in the Muslim and Christian faiths. These are spaces where people gather together to dance and eat and enjoy themselves, or in other words, where people assemble. Many media organizations in Egypt have functionally become part of the regime and help to justify the repression of these festivals as well as other activities and practices that are deemed morally questionable. While in Cairo, I was able to converse with
several times in their studio and at cafés in downtown. During one of our exchanges,
described the attacks on the moulids that followed the coup:
"Last week there was a moulid in Sidi Ahmad al-Rifa'i, and I mean for hundreds and hundreds of years this is the way Egyptian people have been celebrating the moulid. And it included music and it included singing, but suddenly you open the newspaper and you find that there is a campaign in the newspaper and they are against the people of the moulid making music inside of the mosque. Because of this campaign, the state got afraid and went and closed the moulid. There have been three moulids this year that the state hasn’t given permission for, and this is happening after the media campaigns against moulids because they are against music inside the mosque." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
Later on in the same conversation,
described another instance where the state and the media cooperated to limit and curtail forms of intimacy:
"The media’s role is not to watch the state, but instead they are trying to watch the people. And by trying to watch the people, they always comment and they campaign against how the people should or are supposed to live their life. They don’t discuss it, but they make campaigns about people. There was even a campaign against a boy and a girl that were found kissing in a library. And there was a campaign against that because, why? This is not the role of the media. For example you open the newspaper and you find a fucking shitty guy who took a picture of a boy and a girl who are kissing in the corner. And this is getting published. And they are making a fucking campaign about it. Because of the pressure and because of the combination and marriage between the businessmen who own this media and the state. The media are not watching the state. They are watching the people." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The regime and media organizations cooperate to repress instances of assembly, either in the moulids or in intimate encounters that take place outside of marriage, because they don’t conform to the logic of apprehensive security and instead have the potential to make possible novel forms of relation. The regime means to not only control the streets of the city, but also the desire, attraction and pleasure of its inhabitants.
23 Most recently, Sisi’s security forces have resorted to shutting down cultural and intellectual spaces. At the end of 2015, several spaces in downtown Cairo were unexpectedly raided by regime security forces. These raids were part of a larger wave of repression unfolding in the days leading up to the revolution’s 5th anniversary, which included detaining prominent members of the April 6th Movement as well as several researchers and journalists. Of these raided spaces, I was able to attend many events at
while I was still living in Cairo, and remember it as being home to a vibrant and diverse cultural and intellectual milieu in the heart of the city.
is one of many spaces that have acted as shelters for the revolution and its memory, a place where people could still gather, converse and imagine together in a city where doing so in public has been made increasingly impossible by the regime’s violence. Undoubtedly, Sisi’s security forces raided
because they were afraid of what could potentially find life within its walls, the unwieldy forms of creativity and warmth that are impossible for the regime to fully manage or control.
24 While the regime makes maximal use of its security forces in repressing instances of assembly wherever they appear possible, it’s worth noting that even the regime knows that they can never entirely impose the forms of order they desire in Cairo. As a failsafe, Sisi has engaged in planning and seeking investment for the construction of an entirely new capital in the deserts east of Cairo. Tentatively called Capital Cairo, there are plans to begin construction and eventually Sisi hopes to move all government administration and offices to the new city, far from Midan Tahrir and its history of wild assemblies. In a conversation with the activist
in my living room, they described this escapist fantasy of the regime:
"There is this project to create a new capital city, which was brought up a couple of months ago by Sisi’s regime. Some 60 billion dollar pharaonic fantasy out in the desert with glitzy buildings to rival Dubai, and the UAE was supposed to pay for the whole thing. And that was clearly a counter-revolutionary project. The idea pure and simple was to build a city that the revolutionaries couldn’t reach. There is this teeming Cairo population that every regime has always been afraid of. They’ve always been afraid of Cairo rising against them, and particularly of the workers and the intellectual leftists joining together. That’s been the terror of every regime. If you create a new capital that doesn’t have any workers, or that doesn’t have any mass population, you feel safe. Part of the fantasy of this regime is this hygienic modernism. To create a space for itself that is immune to diseases of the Egyptian body politic that took down Mubarak and could still bring it down." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
This desire to leave Cairo behind and start anew is perhaps the clearest articulation of the logic of Sisi’s regime. Rather than inheriting and working within the complex and contradictory histories of the city, Sisi instead hopes to make a new city appear as if out of thin air, to start over again in a place where the bodies of the revolutionaries and the people more generally cannot reach the regime, where assemblies themselves will not be possible by virtue of the built space of the new city itself, where Cairo is incapable of "rising against them."
25 Multiplicity and indeterminacy are the targets of security practices because they constitute the terrain of struggle within which security can be undone. The subtle deviations away from the official route, the imperceptible becomings, the imagination that sees a life different from the one being lived, the memory of a past divergent from the military’s, all open up new kinds of undecidability and indeterminacy that cannot be entirely foreclosed upon in advance. The recent history of Egypt can be thought of as being caught in wide swings between security and possibility, between fixity and futurity, between apprehended difference and becoming. Sisi's enactment of security practices initiates forms of conflict that have no end, but instead relentlessly recreate the same conditions that require the regime’s incessant resecuring.
26 It’s crucially important that we understand that the military cannot ever manage to entirely foreclose upon that which it attempts to eradicate. As much as Sisi desires an orderly city, life in Cairo remains anything but. As the regime attempts to tighten its grip and erase the potential for any other way of life but its own, the living know better. The collective activities that life requires, the cooking, the music, the conversation, the performance, the art, the improvisation, the imagination, the love, the sex, are together the locus of what we could call the wild and the untamed, the productive and poietic forces that cannot help but emerge from our encounters with others and with the world. These forms of conjunctive encounters necessarily persist even under the harshest security measures, enabling those assembled to continue to investigate and experiment with possibilities that refuse to be tamed. Given enough time or intensity, the anomalies of possibility become inevitabilities, and bodies discover that they can find one another in assembly again.

A Future Yet To Come

A lot could be written on the "to come" of the future, an understanding of futurity that draws upon the French "l'avenir." For Jacques Derrida, it was fundamentally justice that perpetually remained on the impossibly-distant precipice of the future, a kind of horizon that could be walked towards but never reached. Derrida found it particularly important to distinguish between the future (as "le futur") and the future (as "l'avenir") based on the degree of their decidability:
"There is a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l'avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable." (Derrida featured in Dick and Ziering's film Derrida)
For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, it was a people that were "yet to come," a future community that perhaps could be capable of reaching that justice which in a sense is impossible to anticipate. This temporal relation is further tied back to Jacques Derrida's writing on the form of the future-anterior (the future past), a:
"...way of thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge." (Derrida. Of Grammatology, p. 4).
This future that presently "proclaims itself" radically suggests that we must think and act in relation to future communities that have yet to arrive, a politics of "l'avenir" that sees the imperfect present as a stage for the unexpected arrival of prefigured and refigured futurities, a present caught in the tides of a future anterior.

A Note Concerning Concepts

Throughout this project I'm using concepts as if they were tools or weapons. Concepts are less objects to be studied than they are verbs that are manifest only in their experimental and speculative activation. Concepts aggregate and disaggregate the world, conjoin and disjoin, draw order from chaos and chaos into order, always contingently and relationally.

This approach to concepts is indebted to Elizabeth Grosz's thinking when she writes that:
"If philosophy, through the plane of immanence or consistency, gives life to concepts that live independent of the philosopher who created them, yet participate in, cut across, and attest to the chaos from which they are drawn, so too art, through the plane of composition it throws over chaos, gives life to sensation that, disconnected from its origins or any destination or reception, maintains its connections with the infinite it expresses and from which it is drawn. Twin rafts over chaos, philosophy and art, along with their more serious sibling, the sciences, enframe chaos, each in its own way, in order to extract something consistent, composed, immanent, which it uses for its own ordering (and also deranging) resources" (Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 8).
In this sense, concepts shouldn't be appreciated for what they are, but rather for what they do or might be capable of doing. This understanding of concepts is tied to processes of territorialization (ordering) and deterritorialization (deordering), which have a topological and imminent relationship with one another. In other words, we can think of concepts in terms of their capacity to order and reorder the world, or alternatively, to decompose it.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi عبد الفتاح السيسي

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (also referred to as el-Sisi, or just Sisi) was the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during the January 25th Revolution in 2011, and was later installed as the military's commander in chief by then-president Mohamed Morsi in 2012. During the resurgence of popular protests in 2013, Sisi lead a coup that culminated in the arrest of Mohamed Morsi and a month later in the Rabaa Massacre, where more than a thousand were killed. Sisi was elected president in dubious elections in 2014, and remains in power in Egypt.

Affinity and Affect

Affinity can be thought of as being the affective attraction and solidarity that emerges between two or more bodies in assembly. This affective relation is precognitive and is an ontological phenomenon, and arises from differential encounters. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza described affective relations as being intimately connected to the power of bodies:
"By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body's power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections" (Spinoza, The Ethics, Part III Def. 3).
For Spinoza, affect was a relation that emerges when two or more bodies come into contact with one another that involves a mutual transformation. Interestingly, in a Spinozist metaphysics when a body becomes more affectively powerful in the world, it also becomes more part of the world and more vulnerable to it as a result. The philosopher and artist Simon O'Sullivan elaborates on this point in relation to Gilles Deleuze's adoption of Spinozist thought:
"Affect then, for Deleuze-Spinoza, names the risings and fallings - the becomings - of my own body, especially when it encounters another body. It follows that different encounters will have different characters, and indeed that certain encounters will be more productive, others less so" (O'Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, p. 41).
In relation to Spinoza's affects, we can understand affinity as the form of collective empowerment that can potentially arise from affective encounters between bodies, what O'Sullivan describes as the "risings" and "productive encounters" that potentially become manifest. The philosopher Brian Massumi frames affect in more explicitly Deleuzian terms as being constituted by an active relation between the actual and the virtual:
"What is being termed affect ... is precisely this two-sidedness, the simultaneous participation of the virtual in the actual and the actual in the virtual, as one arises from and returns to the other. Affect is this two-sidedness as seen from the side of the actual thing, as couched in its perceptions and cognitions. Affect is the virtual as point of view, provided the visual metaphor is used guardedly" (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 14).
Here, affect is manifest in the experience of literally being affected by the world, of being unsettled and living the potentiality of difference and becoming by virtue of that affect. Bodies that enter assemblies, across glancing proximities and in newly found intimacies, increase the intensity and frequency of affective encounters, multiplying their collective virtual potential as affinities are generated.

American University in Cairo (AUC)

The American University in Cairo is an English-language liberal arts university in Cairo that was founded in 1919, where I taught while I was conducting my fieldwork in Egypt. Its main campus was historically located on the Eastern periphery of Midan Tahrir, but most of the campus has since been relocated to a new location in New Cairo, a wealthy suburb consisting of walled-off enclaves located in the deserts to the East of Cairo. Following the January 25th Revolution, the university hosted a wave of events, discussions, and conferences that examined and reflected upon the uprising, although these have largely receded following the coup as the university has become more conservative.


The term anticoup has been used to describe the various groups that emerged to contest General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's military coup in the summer of 2013. The regime's rhetoric has framed anticoup forces as consisting entirely of the Muslim Brotherhood, but in reality the protests against the coup were much more diverse and complex. Most notably, the "Third Square," which was composed of liberals, students, and other leftist groups, declared themselves to be against both Sisi's military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

April 6th Movement حركة شباب 6 أبريل

The April 6th Movement is a political organization that played a large role in agitating towards the protests that led to the January 25th Revolution. The group was originally formed in 2008 in solidarity with striking workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial city in the Nile Delta to the north of Cairo that also played a large role in the January 25th revolution. The group was later outlawed and many members have since been jailed, although it continues to clandestinely operate under the coup.


An assemblage can be defined as any contingent set of heterogeneous parts that maintain forms of relation over time. Sometimes these parts are made up of material things, such as bodies, forests, cars, cities, bacteria, sand, telephone lines, insects, or the atmosphere. At other times these parts can be expressive things, such as ideas, colors, chants, utterances, or music. Thinking with assemblages is useful because it allows us to distance ourselves from habitual and normative ways of evaluating situations, and instead allows us to approach each case in its radical specificity. In the case of politics, it means that we don't have to start with categories like "the party," "the people," or "the state," or at least not in the unitary fashion that we're accustomed to thinking about them, and instead can try to draw upon less normative, but equally substantial, connections or dynamics.

We can think of assemblies, for example, as being a form of assemblage. The philosopher Manuel Delanda writes that:
"...once historical processes are used to explain the synthesis of inorganic, organic and social assemblages there is no need for essentialism to account for their enduring identities. This allows assemblage theory to avoid one of the main shortcomings of other forms of social realism: an ontological commitment to the existence of essences" (Delanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, p. 4).
Assemblage theory allows us to focus explicitly on the metaphysics of production, duration, and relation rather than on the dualistic metaphysics of presence or reductive metaphysics of essence. This framework shuns essentialism, and instead places emphasis on the contingency and specificity of relations and compositions, or in other words, is attentive not to what things are but rather what they do and how they are poietically (re)produced over durations.

Assemblages are involved with several dimensions and dynamics. First, we can say that assemblages have external milieus that constitute the environmental/worldly conditions for their possibility, shaping their contingency and capacities. Second, assemblages have internal milieus, defined by the speed, intensity, and direction of the relations between their various parts. It's critical to note that assemblages are always doubly entangled with milieus in this way, each shaping their durational actualization. This double-entanglement of the assemblage is meant to describe the differential relations between the interiorities and exteriorities that assemblages create, and as such an assemblage can also be thought of as emerging from bordering phenomena or processes of de/reterritorialization. Myself (the author), this text, and you (the reader) can be thought of as being a form of assemblage.


While the concept of the assembly has often been used as a term to describe the particular meeting or decision-making spaces of social movements, I will be using assembly throughout in a broader sense to describe the dynamic affinities, densities, proximities, and promiscuities that take place between bodies, and between bodies and their environments, when they congregate together.

Judith Butler recently wrote her own account of assemblies in "Notes Towards A Performative Theory of Assembly," largely drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt and structuring the concept around her previous writing on performativity and precarity. Her turn towards the potentials opened up simply by the convergence and gathering of bodies is particularly useful in helping us to grasp the potentials of bodies that congregate together:
"...there is a coming together of bodies that speaks, as it were, in another way. Assemblies assert and enact themselves by speech or silence, by action or steady inaction, by gesture, by gathering together as a group of bodies in public space, organized as an infrastructure - visible, audible, tangible, exposed in ways both deliberate and unwilled, interdependent in forms both organized and spontaneous" (Butler, Notes Towards A Performative Theory of Assembly, p. 156).
While my own approach is not so concerned with questions of speech, this description of embodied political performativity that is remarkably ontological in its character is striking. Butler's earlier writing on Tahrir can also be particularly helpful when we attempt to grasp assemblies in their multiplicity as assemblages:
"So when we think about what it means to assemble in a crowd ... we see some ways that bodies in their plurality lay claim to the public, find and produce the public through seizing and reconfiguring the matter of material environments; at the same time, those material environments are part of the action, and they themselves act when they become the support for action. In the same way, when trucks or tanks suddenly become platforms for speakers, then the material environment is actively reconfigured and re-functioned, to use the Brechtian term. And our ideas of action then, need to be rethought" (Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street).
In Butler's articulation, "the public" is produced by bodies and their material supports, or the "matter of material environments." Action is not reducible to the agency of any singular body or group of bodies here, but rather emerges from the "reconfiguring" and "refunctioning" of the relations that manifest in the process of assembling itself. The public is nothing more than a shifting assemblage of complex and dissimilar environments and bodies that becomes "organized as an infrastructure."

My own thinking is heavily indebted to extended engagements with Butler's work, and although I've chosen not to deal with it in specificity in this project, it's worth noting that I find her approach to assemblies complementary to my own and should be taken into consideration when thinking about the potentials and dynamics of assemblies. There are particular differences however, such as her position on nonviolence and her more general description of the assemblies as being nonviolent, that I find untenable. Nonetheless, her work on bodily vulnerability as a basis for coalition and alliance is much needed and is worth spending time with, particularity in relation to notions of possibility and its conditions.

Baltagiya البلطجية

The term baltagiya (thugs) is used at times to describe groups of men hired by security forces to attack demonstrators. Their informality and lack of official ties to the state allow them to operate outside of the law and contribute to the confusion and chaos of street battles. Some believe that the baltagiya have also played a central role in the organized sexual assaults against women in the assemblies of Tahrir.

Becoming Against Being

Becoming is the process of something becoming different from itself over time. This term is borrowed from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who define becoming as an immanent process where different parts of an assemblage change the speed or direction of their relations and/or boundaries and thus change the form and potentials of the assemblage. This can happen auto- and sympoietically.

Being, on the other hand, is described by Deleuze and Guattari as the state of having stable properties and relations in equilibrium. It is the state of being unchanging and stratified in static configurations of difference. Being is disrupted by becomings that arise from the encounters between things in the world that set into motion forms of indeterminate transformation.

Becoming is a state of existence defined by its status as a verb, or as a process or activity. In other words, it is a "doing" rather than a "being." The doing that is becoming gives rise to new forms of possibility and potentiality. As Mark Bonta and John Protevi describe:
"In complexity theory terms, the new assemblage, the symbiosis, is marked by emergent properties above and beyond the sum of the parts. It is also important to remember that a becoming is a combination of heterogeneous parts; it is an alliance rather than a filiation, an 'unnatural participation,' a 'marriage against nature,' a 'transversal communication'" (Bonta and Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy, p. 59).
Becoming is in some way always an experimental and speculative process because the emergent properties and potentials that emerge from a new assemblage cannot be reduced to the sum of the assemblage's parts.

Becoming is immanently tied to being in the sense that they exist in differential and folded relation with one another. As the artist and scholar Simon O'Sullivan suggests:
"There is no Being, or at least no Being which is separate from the processes of becoming. Our world consists of moments of becoming, the mingling of bodies, the meeting of forces, a constant interpenetration and interconnection of all phenomena. There is no beginning or end to this process. As Deleuze and Guattari remark: 'We are not in the world, we become with the world'" (O'Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, p. 56).
In this way, being and becoming, the actual and the virtual, together constitute the multiple, diverse, differential conditions of any present.

Bullets and Fogs

There exists a certain kind of photograph: the "shot," a heavy bullet of indexicality. Its determinacy is discrete, a scene composed of figures neatly arranged within the capturing and enclosing truth of its frame. However, in contrast, there's also another kind of photograph: a "fog" that saturates the scene of time and space rather than a projectile that flies through them. While the bullet is aimed and strikes a target, the fog inhabits, roams, reveals and hides, responds to subtle imperceptible forces, and finally returns as condensation when the conditions for its duration are no longer there to support it. It's not so much a question of what the image "is" in an ontological sense, but rather what its production, circulation and reception "does." The bullet is predictable in its trajectory, while the fog is full of surprises. The bullet draws a neat line, while the fog appears only in the way that it diffractively blurs.


The constellation as an image of history was first suggested by Walter Benjamin in the prologue of "The Origin of the German Tragic Drama" where he describes it as being simultaneously a subdivision and a redemption of the past. For Benjamin, constellations were an accumulation of the past in the present, a form of drawing together images and connections between what is past yet is arriving. This formulation suggests a view of history that is nonlinear and non-teleological, a history that is full of creative dialectical openings. In one of the fragments from his unfinished "Arcades Project," Benjamin writes:
"It's not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill" (Benjamin, Arcades Project, p. 462).
What is interesting about the image of the constellation is its emphasis on the creativity of our relation to history and past as well as its ontological haunting of the present. This continuous yet varied arrival of the past, the emergent inheritance of multiple pasts, constitutes not only what we could call the conditions of possibility for a present dis/conjuncture that radically precedes and exceeds us, but also for a creative orientation towards the future in constellational form that radically exceeds those dis/conjunctures.


Contingency is a state of existence that is possible, but not necessary. A contingent existence can be thought of as a particular historical organization or formation that comes into the world, has a duration or life, and eventually leaves it. However, rather than simply propose that there are contingent (accidental) and noncontingent (necessary) things in the world, we can follow Louis Althusser's insight that:
"Instead of thinking of contingency as a modality of necessity, or an exception to it, we must think necessity as the becoming-necessary of the encounter of contingencies" (Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-87, p. 261).
In establishing an immanent relation between the contingent and the necessary, Althusser helps us to understand the radical contingency at the heart of all matter. Like the processes that create states of being and becoming, different forces, folds, and fields constitute the conditions for the stability and duration of various forms while also being contingent themselves. The "becoming-necessary" that Althusser describes is another way of describing the process of actualization, which is also always a contingent and historical process in relation to virtuality.

Coup انقلاب

It's worth noting that the use of the term "coup" is controversial in Egypt, and in a sense its use signals one's political position in relation to the current military regime. For example, supporters of Sisi refer to the coup simply as the "Second Revolution." When the coup first began with the military's arrest of Mohamed Morsi against the backdrop of popular protests in the summer of 2013, the historical consequences of the events that were unfolding and the military's role within them were less than clear. After the imprisonment of thousands of revolutionaries, the Rabaa Massacre, and the outlawing of opposition parties and protests, it's increasingly unquestionable that the military purposefully executed a coup and seized state power in response to the popular protests of that summer. It's also worth noting that the United States never officially recognized Sisi's seizure of state power as a coup, a strategy that enabled them to continue delivering their annual $1.3 billion worth of aid to the Egyptian military.


A drift is the practice of walking in or exploring a space in the interest of encountering and possibly resisting the forces that organize that space. The practice was developed and theorized by the Situationists in France in the 1960s. When they first began experimenting with dérives, Guy Debord and the Situationists imagined them challenging:
"...the built hierarchy of the capitalist city and break down distinctions between private and public, inside and outside, use and function, replacing private space with a 'borderless' public surface." (Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation, p. 209).
Guy Debord proposed the dérive as a methodology to be used in these encounters with cities, mapping them by simultaneously becoming intimate with as well as resisting their forces:
"One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances ... In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there ... from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones" (Debord, Theory of the Dérive).
Debord argued that the distributed conditions that affectively shaped movement through cities were often overlooked, but were essential to the understanding of urban space:
"The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected" (Debord, Theory of the Dérive).
Debord's main insight was that navigating a city necessarily meant being immersed within its organizational, material, and managerial power, and thus processes of navigation, orientation, and movement could be forms of complicity or resistance in relation to that power. Interestingly, both modern Paris (where the Situationists were walking) and modern downtown Cairo (where I walked) were developed along Georges-Eugène Haussmann's philosophy of urban planning, and thus share particular organizational and spatial features.

Determinacy and Indeterminacy, The Actual and The Virtual

The determinate and the indeterminate can be mapped onto the actual and the virtual as concepts. The actual is a concept used to describe a contingent state of a system, whereas the virtual is the infinite set of possible states which potentially can become manifest as actual. Actualities are historical groupings of virtual states that have reached temporary equilibriums, or historical groupings of possibilities that have been temporarily and contingently realized. The actual is not expressive of any predetermined or necessary order in this sense, but rather is ordered by the intensive virtual forces that constitute the historical conditions for its emergence.

Perhaps the clearest relation between the actual and the virtual comes from Gilles Deleuze when he notes:
"Every actual surrounds itself with a cloud of virtual images. This cloud is composed of a series of more or less extensive coexisting circuits, along which the virtual images are distributed, and around which they run. These virtuals vary in kind as well as in their degree of proximity from the actual particles by which they are both emitted and absorbed" (Deleuze, Dialogues II, p. 148).
An example of an actualized state might be a sand storm, where individual grains of sand become dispersed and move through the air due to intensive conditions in atmospheric pressure and temperature, without necessarily containing information or knowledge of the storm in any singular sand particle. The virtual, as expressed in intensive changes in atmospheric pressure between two zones, manifests in the actual movement of the sandstorm. We can go on to say that there is something like a topology that exists between the actual and the virtual, and between the determinate and the indeterminate, that allows for their differential and poietic folding.

For example, the Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi argues that:
"The potential of a situation exceeds its actuality … the virtual is not contained in any actual form assumed by things or states of things. It runs in the transitions from one form to another" (Massumi, Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible, p. 2).
Massumi suggests that the virtual acts as a kind of plane from which actual situations emerge and transform: the actual conditions the virtual, and vice versa, in a form of differential relation. Massumi also describes the virtual as:
"...the pressing crowd of incipiencies and tendencies, is a realm of potential. In potential is where futurity combines, unmediated, with pastness, where outsides are infolded … The virtual is a lived paradox where what are normally opposites coexist, coalesce, and connect; where what cannot be experienced cannot but be felt" (Massumi, Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible, p. 30).
The differentials between the actual and the virtual constitute what we can simply call the conditions of possibility for forms of relation, organization and duration.


Here it may be helpful to reflect on two distinct forms of difference that find expression in bodies. The first form of difference is the one that we're perhaps most accustomed to thinking about, and is the difference of being. This difference is what we can call a form of stratification, where bodies and things are coded, articulated, and organized along historically reproduced differentiations. An example of this form of difference is religious identification, materially and durationally reproduced in certain kinds of dress, food, architectures, and/or the practice of prayer, that literally reshapes the bodies that participate. Another example might be a strand of DNA that codes for the production of a specific protein, literally writing its difference into the flesh of bodies across generations. The stratified differences that accompany being are always (re)produced historically and are manifest as a kind of positive difference in the sense that they rely on oppositions (this, not that) instead of taking on a form of difference which simply expresses itself (this, this, this) without relying on oppositions.

Stratified difference is contrasted to a second form of difference that for our purposes is more substantial. This second form of difference is the difference of becoming, the difference that emerges between a thing and itself, or in other words, the difference of possibility. This form of difference emerges autopoietically (coming from an internal change in relation or intensity) and sympoietically (coming from a differential encounter between things, a kind of transtitial production of difference). The difference of becoming is manifest as a modulation in the repetition of difference, a detour from its stratified course (this, this, that).

These two forms of difference making are often in conflict with one another, in the sense that the latter has the potential to unsettle the stratification of the former. This relation between stratified difference and the difference of becoming is the ground of poiesis. The philosopher Elizabeth Grosz argues:
"Difference is the 'principle of identity' for all identities to the extent that no entity is self-producing or self-identical, with each entity and relation a product of the encounter of differences of different things and different orders. If difference is what emerges through all forms of life, then difference must also suffuse the inorganic conditions that enable the eruption of life from non-life" (Grosz, Significant Differences: An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz, p. 4).
For Grosz, difference is expressive of the relational dynamism that is part of matter itself, expressed as it is in durational processes of being and becoming across matter generally rather than just in matter that we might consider "living." In this sense, we can consider the formation of a mountain as being engaged in the same form of process as a blooming flower, a burning star, or perhaps even a dream, each of which produces itself through diverse processes of differentiation across radically different durations.


In relation to mathematics, the "differential" of differential calculus emphasizes not change/difference but instead the rate of change/difference, or what we could call the speed of change/difference. This is a shift from the study of extensity to intensity, or in other words, from being to becoming. Gottfried Leibniz, one of the inventors of differential calculus, notes of difference in general that:
"...there are never in nature two beings, which are precisely alike, and in which it is not possible to find an internal difference ... I take it also for granted that all created beings ... are subject to change, and even that this change is continuous in each" (Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Writings, p. 118).
Borrowing from Leibniz, my use of differential is also meant to imply this incessant entanglement between difference and change, understood in their radical continuity. Differentials are mutually transforming relations, or in other terms, are differences that are entangled together in conjunctive and relative motion. In a sense they can be likened to the use of the term differential in engineering, which describes a gear that allows parts moving at different speeds to combine their motion together. Differential in this sense is about the forms of practice and production (in the case of a differential gear, of motion) that arise from the meeting and encounter of difference.

The Encryption of the Self

I would like to briefly suggest here that this encryption of the self can become manifest in two distinct fashions. In one sense, self-encryption can occur in a self-coding that makes oneself immediately and obviously recognizable in a particular fashion, while also effectively masking the nuance, complexity, and contradiction that persist despite this coding (this can be thought of as a form of misleading performance). In my case, this meant appearing as a wandering tourist on the streets of Cairo, for example. On the other extreme, an encryption of the self can take on the form of a refusal to be coded, becoming something that Giorgio Agamben calls a "whatever singularity" that simply fails to align with codes at all. This would manifest along the lines of becoming "a body" or "a life" in general rather than a particular body or life.

Hosni Mubarak حسني مبارك

Hosni Mubarak was the dictator that ruled Egypt for 30 years between 1981 and 2011. Before becoming the fourth president of Egypt, Mubarak had served in the Egyptian military in several important positions. Following Sisi's coup in 2013, Mubarak was cleared of almost all charges related to the repression of the January 25th Revolution. While Mubarak currently remains in prison, he will likely be released soon having already served the time he was previously sentenced to.

Intensive Forces

Intensive forces operate as forms of topology and conditionality that constitute ranges or spectra of possible action by establishing forces between their topological extremes. Some examples of intensive phenomenon are storms and steam engines, but could also be something like a soccer game that has its own speeds, surfaces, attractors, and forces. An intensive force can be thought of as the becoming-possible of a particular virtuality.

Midan Ataba ميدان العتبة

Midan Ataba is one of Cairo's main squares and is located to the east of Midan Tahrir. The square contains a large mosque, one of Cairo's largest street markets, and a police station. Midan Ataba was one of the important gathering places for protesters during the January 25th Revolution.

Midan Rabaa Al-Adawiya ميدان رابعة العدوية

Midan Rabaa is a square a few kilometers to the north-east of Tahrir that contains several street markets and a mosque. Following the coup, members of the Muslim Brotherhood staged a large sit-in in the square to protest the removal and arrest of Mohamed Morsi, which was later dispersed by regime security forces who killed more than 1,000 people and injured several thousand more in what is now known as the Rabaa Massacre.

Midan Tahrir ميدان التحرير

Midan Tahrir (Tahrir square) is in the heart of downtown Cairo. Literally translated as "Liberation Square," it was home to the assemblies of the January 25th Revolution in 2011. Made up of a large roundabout and small plazas, Tahrir is a center of traffic and social activity in the city. Reflecting on the revolution, squares like Tahrir took shape as advantageous places for assemblies as protesters:
"...(re)learned that 'the streets of discontent' need to be large squares and streets in the heart of the capital … they are places where mobile crowds can rapidly assemble and then easily flee, before security forces disperse them forcefully ... The flexibility of larger places and streets allows protesters to appropriate a maneuverable space where they can easily flee from police through numerous back streets and alleyways, shops and mosques, that can offer sanctuary or respite for protesters" (Soudias, Negotiating Space: The Evolution of the Egyptian Street, p. 72).
The square was first planned and built in the 19th century by Khedive Ismail as part of the modernization of Cairo, which was modeled after the modernization of Paris, and remains a symbolic locus of Egypt's political life.

Milieus Against Territories

Assembled bodies encounter one another in the milieu, a space that is uncoded and unbound, or in other words, is deterritorialized. A milieu is etymologically a "middle" place, a space-time in the middle or in the midst, contourless and without clear limits, edges, or boundaries, among rather than apart from. Milieus take shape from within the indeterminate, chaotic, and open. A territory, opposed to the milieu, is a space that has defined boundaries and relations, or in other words, is determinate, ordered, coded, and closed.

Territories become milieus, and vice versa, through the emergence or disappearance of expressive rhythms that repetitively produce differences that define the boundaries of territories. A territory emerges through processes of territorializing milieus, while a milieu emerges from the deterritorialization of a territory. Mark Bonta and John Protevi describe Gilles Deleuze's and Felix Guattari's understanding of milieus in this way:
"Deleuze and Guattari mention markets and forests as milieus, where diverse territorialities are jumbled together; the rain forest is a milieu serving as the plane of consistency of myriad territorialities that draw from it and each other" (Bonta and Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy, p. 114).
The distinction between milieus and territories is not absolute, and typically milieus and territories differentially coexist in an entangled and imbricated fashion. Assemblies can be thought of as milieus where forms of experimentation take place without being coded, bounded, or ordered by territorial forces.

Mohamed Morsi محمد مرسي

Mohamed Morsi is a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was elected as president in 2012 in Egypt's first democratic elections following the January 25th Revolution of 2011. Morsi was heavily criticized during his presidency because of perceived attempts to impose aspects of Islamic law and because of the repression that he ordered against popular assemblies and demonstrations. During large protests against his administration in the summer of 2013, he was arrested during a coup orchestrated by the military's commander in chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and currently remains in prison.

Muslim Brotherhood جماعة الإخوان المسلمين

The Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamist group that came to power in Egypt's first democratic elections following the January 25th Revolution. While under the rule of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's oldest and largest resistance movement, and still has support across Egypt estimated in the millions. After the coup, the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed but they continue to organize protests and claim that Mohamed Morsi remains the legitimate leader of Egypt.

National Democratic Party (NDP) الحزب الوطني الديمقراطي

The National Democratic Party is the political party that ruled Egypt for 33 years before Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011. Founded by Anwar El-Sadat, the party ruled as an authoritarian regime and regularly orchestrated mass state repression in order to remain in power. During the 18 revolutionary days of 2011, the National Democratic Party headquarters on the periphery of Midan Tahrir were set on fire and looted.


The presence of noise, as a form of chaos, allows one to speculate and experiment with possible moves, gestures, and relations that can produce opportunities to grasp various forms of advantage and leverage that strictly deterministic systems do not provide. In other words, the unpredictability of noisy systems is an opening for speculative resistance and nonlinear combat.


A nonlinear system can be described as an environment whose dynamics have intensified to such a degree that it becomes increasingly impossible to predict in advance what will come to be. A clear example of a nonlinear relation can be seen when one throws a paper airplane when standing still as opposed to when one throws it while in motion. If you were to throw the paper airplane from a window of the Mogamma administrative building that overlooks Tahrir square, for example, the path of the plane may be fairly predictable in a linear fashion as it glides down to the square below. However, if you were to throw it from a speeding motorbike in the square itself, its path would become radically unpredictable, where minute changes in the gesture of the throw would have dramatic consequences for the fate of the paper plane.

Another clear nonlinear relation can be seen in matter state changes, for example when a glass of liquid water turns into steam or ice. Given certain delimited conditions, for example a planet that never goes above 100 or below 0 degrees Celsius and shared Earth's atmospheric pressure, the glass of water would forever remain in liquid form. However, if you add or subtract enough energy, radically different potentials emerge nonlinearly that would not have been predictable in advance of these changes. In this example, steam, water, and ice exist as possible virtual states, but are only ever actualized given specific conditions and/or speeds. This relation is as true for bodies and other materialities as it is for the paper plane or glass of water, and so with certain changes in the relations between these bodies and materialities, emergent possibilities may also actualize, or at least threaten to, in nonlinear fashions. In sum, we can think of the nonlinear as being that which doesn't unfold sequentially or evenly, but rather at diverse speeds, intensities, or frequencies. The nonlinear is that which defies monosynchronicity, diverges from consistent chronology, and destroys determinacy.

Obscurity, Opacity, and Obfuscation

Obscurity is a form of escape. It can take on different forms and emerge from different techniques and practices, including but not limited to evasion, camouflage, escape, encryption, disguise, or distraction. Obscurity can also be an environment, such as a fog or a shadow. The French group Tiqqun goes as far as to argue that "Fog is the privileged vector of revolt ... Fog makes revolt possible." The artist and theorist Zach Blas writes of obscurity through the lens of opacity in Édouard Glissant's work, emphasizing its tactical variability:
"Ultimately, it is the late Martinique thinker Édouard Glissant's aesthetico-ethical philosophy of opacity that is paradigmatic: his claim that ‘a person has the right to be opaque' does not concern legislative rights but is rather an ontological position that lets exist as such that which is immeasurable, nonidentifiable, and unintelligible in things. Glissant's opacity is an ethical mandate to maintain obscurity, to not impose rubrics of categorization and measurement, which always enact a politics of reduction and exclusion. While opacity in Glissant's writings is not tactical, an opaque tactics, now more than ever, must be wielded to insist on opacity as a crucial ethics--because capture annihilates opacity" (Blas, Informatic Opacity).
This collective refusal of categorization and measurement is at the center of obscure practices. Obscurity always has a tactical and differential "to whom" that it operates in relation to, in the sense that nothing ever escapes or hides absolutely but rather only partially in relation to particular perspectives or forms of sensibility. Rather than simply being present or absent, visible or erased, obscurity is precisely about managing and navigating the spectra in between extremes, and as such is a differential. We could describe obscure practices as being invested in exploring the uneven distribution of opacity, the various and varied forms that exist outside of the sensible.

Photographic Indeterminacy

Photographs are never simply determinate or indeterminate, but rather always maintain forms of determinacy and indeterminacy, actuality and virtuality, contingency and possibility. No total resolution in an image is ever possible in this regard. Instead, images are always haunted by a coexistence and con/disjunctive juxtaposition that emerges from the entanglements of their pasts, presents, and futures. A camera, just like any other apparatus, renders the world simultaneously determinate and indeterminate, what Karen Barad has called a "cutting together-apart." For Barad, the process of encounter and relation itself is ultimately productive of the related, which necessarily implies degrees of ineradicable indeterminacy in the production of the determined. Furthermore, when forms of determinacy do emerge, they only ever emerge contingently so. The camera obscura is just that, a form of framing that necessarily preserves degrees of what remains dark.


Poiesis (and its poietics) can be simply defined as creation or production, and is framed in several different fashions depending on how relation itself is conceived of. For example, autopoiesis is used to describe the process of self-production or self-creation, or the making of the self that emerges from the practices and potentialities of the self without any relation to an outside, exterior, or other. Sympoiesis, on the other hand, is a form of collective production or creation, or a form of production and creation that results from encounters with others. Making distinctions between auto- and sympoietic systems is a mereological problem, or a problem of the relations between scales, and typically forms of autopoiesis and sympoiesis can be said to be occurring conjunctively and simultaneously.


Precarity is a concept I'll use throughout to describe the degree to which a body is differentially rendered vulnerable. Judith Butler elaborates on this point as a particular social and political problem when she writes:
"In our individual vulnerability to precarity, we find that we are social beings, implicated in a set of networks that either sustain us or fail to do so, or do so only intermittently, producing a constant spectre of despair and destitution. Our individual well being depends on whether the social and economic structures that support our mutual dependency can be put into place" (Butler, For and Against Precarity).
Here, Butler establishes precarity as a kind of vulnerability that conditions all of life in the world that is also simultaneously particularized onto individual bodies, a kind of imbrication between the individual and the world. In this sense, precarity can be thought of as the singularized expression of broader systems and structures of vulnerability and fragility that create the conditions for something such as an individual to exist (an individual vulnerable to, and capable of doing harm to, vulnerable others), that simultaneously renders that same individual ineradicably social. Precarity can be thought of as being generalizable to all matter in the form of contingency and duration.


I use queer in this project as a concept to describe that which drifts away from the stratified and coded, rendering other less recognized forms of life and practices of living more possible. Judith Butler suggests:
"...we remember that the term queer does not designate identity, but alliance, and it is a good term to invoke as we make uneasy and unpredictable alliances in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice" (Butler, Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly, p. 70).
For Butler, queerness is found in the doing rather than the being, which for her is necessarily relational. The theorist Sara Ahmed writes on queerness and suggests:
"We have hope because what is behind us is also what allows other ways of gathering in time and space, of making lines that do not reproduce what we follow, but instead create new textures on the ground. It is interesting to note that in landscape architecture the term desire lines is used to describe unofficial paths, those marks left on the ground that show everyday comings and goings, where people deviate from the paths they are supposed to follow. Deviation leaves its own marks on the ground, which can even help generate alternative lines, which cross the ground in unexpected ways. Such lines are indeed traces of desire, where people have taken different routes to get to this point or that point. It is certainly desire that helps generate a queer landscape, shaped by the paths that we follow in deviating from the straight line" (Ahmed, Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology, p. 570).
This topology of queerness is helpful in stressing the ways that it takes shape materially and historically in the accumulation of gestures, walks, and deviations. Perhaps, José Esteban Muñoz provides the most generative understanding of the "queer" when he writes that:
"Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world" (Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, p. 1).
Muñoz's invocation of queerness understood as the ineradicable potentiality of a radically "other" world or way of being in the world is perhaps most useful for us in this project.

Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh شيماء الصباغ

Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh was a socialist who was murdered by police in downtown Cairo in the days leading up to the 4th anniversary of the Janurary 25th Revolution, causing international outcry. While carrying a wreath of flowers to Midan Tahrir to commemorate the revolutionary martyrs, the small march she was part of was attacked by security forces with birdshot that killed her.

Sharia Mohamed Mahmoud شارع محمد محمود

Mohamed Mahmoud street leads away from Midan Tahrir to the East towards Midan Falaki, and was the site of the most intense and prolonged street battles between protesters and security forces during and following the January 25th Revolution. Later, the street was almost entirely covered in murals and graffiti commemorating the martyrs of the uprising. Following the coup, many of these murals have been defaced or are painted over and some of the walls have been demolished.

Static Obscurity

Throughout this text I've included static blocks like this
to make obvious where I have removed information in order to protect those that partook in my project from the forms of repression currently unfolding in Cairo.

The Conditions of Possibility

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant famously defined the conditions of possibility as being the a priori conditions of possible experience. I agree with Kant but also find it important to elaborate by arguing that a priori conditions are historically contingent and are themselves a form of multiplicity. A complementary rephrasing might simply be "The Contingencies of Possibility," which suggests an imminent relation between possibilities and their conditions.

For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the conditions of possibility were understood not as the conditions of possibility for existence as such (as a kind of logical problem of noncontradiction), but rather as the conditions of becoming, of poiesis, and of genesis. Reflecting on the work of Kant, Deleuze remarks:
"The ground is a condition. The condition is that which renders possible … The classical problem of possibility completely changes sense. The possibility is the condition of possibility" (Deleuze, What is Grounding, p. 31).
Here, there is no distinction between a condition and a possibility, but rather, in a classically Deleuzian fashion, conditions and possibilities are thought of as having an immanent relation to one another rather than a transcendental one. In one of his lectures on Kant, Deleuze elaborates on this point further:
"It's when I say that every apparition refers to the conditions of the appearing of the apparition, in this very statement I am saying that these conditions belong to the being to whom the apparition appears … the subject is constitutive not of the apparition, it is not constitutive of what appears, but it is constitutive of the conditions under what appears to it appears to it" (Deleuze, Cours Vincennes : Synthesis and Time – 14/03/1978).
For Deleuze, there is no transcendental reference frame that conditionally renders appearance possible in this way, but rather the frame of reference for relation emerges from the encounter between the related themselves.

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) المجلس الأعلى للقوات المسلحة

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (also simply referred to as the SCAF) is a group of Egyptian military officials that convene during times of national emergency. They briefly took power following the January 25th Revolution in what was called a "transition period to democracy," and later helped orchestrate Sisi's coup in 2013.

Cryptodocumentary Practice and Collective Abstraction

In this project, I've obfuscated and abstracted the conversations that have been included in order to make the participants in my project impossible to identify by security forces. In order to accomplish this, I've placed multiple algorithmic layers of "lossy" and "noisy" filters over the video footage, obfuscating and partially randomizing the visual information. This particular process of abstraction is technically impossible to reverse. Additionally, the conversation locations within the drifts have been randomized throughout the project so that every time a page is reloaded different video clips are moved to different parts of the project, essentially creating a collective subject that speaks but refuses individual identification. Lastly, the conversation contents themselves have been mixed together across the drifts, a form of translation that aggregates distinct experiences together into a voice that simultaneously speaks in the particular and the general. Along with the clandestine photography that I performed while I was in Cairo, these constitute what I call a "cryptodocumentary" practice.

Wust El-Balad وسط البلد

Wust El-Balad is the name popularly used for downtown Cairo, and is literally translated as "the middle of town." The architectural layout and style of Wust El-Balad was designed and built in the mid-19th century and was largely inspired by Georges-Eugène Haussmann's renovation of Paris earlier in the same century, giving Cairo its nickname: Paris along the Nile. The modernization of downtown Cairo involved tearing down many buildings in order to make space for traffic through the city, creating wider avenues and more open spaces. While Napoleon III had rebuilt Paris largely to allow it to be more easily controlled by military forces following a series of popular uprisings, his authoritarian design was not entirely translatable to the bustling chaos of the streets of Cairo. A crucial difference between the two modernizations was the survival of Cairo's old city on the periphery of the new downtown, while Paris' had been destroyed. As Janet Abu-Lughod describes:
"Thus by the end of the nineteenth century Cairo consisted of two distinct physical communities, divided one from the other by barriers much broader than the little single street that marked their borders. The discontinuity between Egypt's past and future, which appeared as a small crack in the early nineteenth century, had widened into a gaping fissure by the end of that century. The city's physical duality was but a manifestation of the cultural cleavage" (Abu-Lughod Tale of Two Cities: The Origins of Modern Cairo, p. 430).
The urban geography of Wust El-Balad remains radically heterogeneous in this way, having large squares and thoroughfares alongside labyrinths of alleys that allow for uneven and unexpected routes through the spaces of the city.

The Conditions of Possibility
شروط الإمكان

This project is media and resource intensive and must be viewed using a modern browser on a computer or laptop. Please visit again on an appropriate device.