The battlefield of the coup is the battlefield of memory, a surface that extends across the dimension of time that is filled as much with rich complex landscapes as with gaping trenches.
Share "The Conditions Of Possibility" on:

ذاكرة الإمكانية
00 General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s coup in the summer of 2013 left behind vast swaths of emptiness in its wake. Like a pause between breaths that stretches on for too long, or a river so dark that even reflections sink into it, one can't help but feel the spectral presence of all that remains missing. The mass assemblies that had so spectacularly filled Tahrir are now absent, forms of affinity that had emerged now falter, the fires of the barricades have been reduced to fumes, and too many bodies have been disappeared, vanishing into the dark recesses of the regime’s prisons or into the voids of unmarked graves in the shifting sands of the Sahara desert. The battlefield of the coup is the battlefield of memory, a surface that extends across the dimension of time that is filled as much with rich complex landscapes as with gaping trenches. Security forces hunt after those who dare to recall and revive the indeterminacies of the assemblies, and yet, like the information that manages to escape from the swallowing gravity of black holes, the memory of the assemblies finds ways of persisting and radiating.
01 Since I left Egypt in the summer of 2015, the repression of the regime has intensified to such a degree that I’ve chosen to anonymize the people that I spent time with and conversed with because I feared that they would be targeted for repression for participating in my project. As a form of cryptodocumentary, I’ve chosen to engage with the memory of the revolution in the same way that memory manages to survive in Cairo: in encryption and obscurity and in the way it evades particular forms of recognition. This happens on a conceptual level in my abstraction, transformation and obfuscation of various details and materials, but also in the technical production of the project itself. While I was still living in Cairo, I not only had to capture images and record conversations clandestinely, but also had to diligently encrypt my digital files so they could not be read by the regime if they were seized. In addition, it was necessary to use various techniques to encrypt and anonymize my internet connection and email conversations after it became clear that the regime was performing extensive monitoring of network traffic. This project, and your reception of it, is one way of proliferating as well as preserving the memory of the assemblies in encrypted and abstracted form, hoping to create the conditions where one day such encryption will no longer be necessary.
02 Following Sisi’s rise to power, the emptiness of his regime has taken on temporal dimensions, attempting to retroactively empty the past of the revolution by destroying its memory that persists in the present. This has taken form in the renaming of the coup as the "Second Revolution," as if it was the historical corrective to the first uprising. Acquitting former dictator Hosni Mubarak of almost every criminal charge against him, jailing hundreds of revolutionaries indefinitely, erasing the graffiti of the martyrs, and banning all marches or demonstrations that memorialize the revolution all mean to vacate historical time of everything that had found life within the manifold assemblies of Tahrir. Beyond the past, Sisi desires to empty the future itself of its ineradicable and wild multiplicity. The regime is fueled by fantasies of a securitized present that is infinite in its duration, yet empty of the deviations and dynamisms that necessarily accompany the passage of time itself.
03 Submerged in the emptiness of the regime, scattered memories still litter the streets from years of revolt. Walking through alleys, I stumbled upon the debris of the uprisings: A discarded riot shield, sitting in a gutter caked with layers of thick dust from the sandstorms that occasionally rumble through the city. A black and white poster denouncing military rule, now partially covered over with election advertisements adorning stern faces and bright colors. A mural depicting martyrs of the revolution, defaced with thick brushstrokes of black paint. Where downtown meets the Nile, the National Democratic Party Headquarters, which had been set alight during the January 25th Revolution, continued to tower above the corniche, its scorched interior home to large flocks of migrating birds until its eventual demolition by Sisi's regime.
04 I think it’s clear now that the revolution in Egypt was less a rupture in the previous order than it was an opening of new continuities that are still in the process of becoming actual. It initiated a polysynchronous conflict made up of a diversity of tempos, speeds, and intensities of struggle. Emerging and vanishing, blinking in and out of existence faster than perception or moving so slowly that they appear entirely still, it is easy to lose track of the various durations of the revolution that spiral together in the present like storm systems converging in the sky.
05 Even if the revolutionary period seemed to be in the process of withdrawing into the depths of Sisi’s emptiness, the ineradicable excess of its memory nonetheless continue to endure in various durations in the present. During an afternoon tea with the filmmaker
, they described the affective waves of the revolution that could still be felt:
"There's a presumption that because we've had this good time together that we will be able to survive rougher times, and that's been proved not to be the case. There are key differences that find a meeting ground in certain points, and people are able to get on well together, and later on they diverge. Which makes you at the same time want to search out why, because again, you've had that experience of something that was frankly extraordinarily beautiful." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The desire to hold on to the experience of "something that was frankly extraordinarily beautiful" in the "rougher times" of the coup takes on different forms. What all of these forms share in common is their reliance on the production and cultivation of obscurity. Subtly, sometimes imperceptibly even, memory finds duration in the ways that it escapes notice.
06 If the January 25th Revolution survived the coup, it survived through the enactment of practices that resist the regime through maintaining forms of indeterminacy and imperceptibility. These small and fragile resistances additively and subtractively carve out and reproduce the conditions for obscurity within which bodies can again find one another and remember together away from the perception of the regime. You could say there’s an entire obscure repertoire at work, composed of different weapons, tools, gestures and practices: Evasion, avoidance, encryption, translation, obfuscation, deception, confusion, concealment, and escape.
07 Memories can be more or less fixed, either organized in historical chains of apparent causation or persisting in diffuse fogs of indeterminacy. At times, memory constrains and delimits forms of life in the present by virtue of the bounded historical conditions that it preserves. At others, memory disturbs, emerging as a form of deviation, turbulence, indeterminacy, swerve, wildness, that is fundamentally noncausal and nonlinear, producing novel conditions of possibility that cannot be anticipated in advance. This second form of memory is what I call the Memory of Possibility. As a result of this possibility of memory, situations are never entirely reducible to their causal relations, and the potential effects and affects of the past can never be entirely exhausted. Rather, pasts persist in their ineradicable potential to indeterminately matter in the present, an excess that sets into motion the production of new histories and futurities.
08 The memory of the assemblies is not just of the various sequences of revolt, but rather it is the memory of possibility itself. This memory, wherever it persists, gives duration to the assemblies by preserving the conditions of their indeterminacy. In this way, the memory of possibility is not relegated to the past but rather is a lived differential experience in the present between pasts and futures. In other words, memory is a form of mediation between the present and its possibility. Memories, and the conditions of possibility they carry with them, are contingent in the sense that they are never a given, but must be cared for, defended, and at times even encrypted or hidden away. The past is ineradicable, but our relation to it, in the form of memory, is incredibly fragile. The political conflicts following the coup have been defined by their struggle to remember the assemblies, to preserve what they set into motion and cultivate their indeterminacy, tactically and necessarily in fogs of obscurity.
09 In an apartment looking out over green gardens and walled embassies, I met with the human rights advocate
to talk with them about their perspective on the revolution and the coup. One of the things they emphasized was the long and varied durations of the uprisings that exceed our ability to fully map out or predict their future consequences:
"I like talking to historians who see history in a very long arc and keep reminding us that we’re still in the middle of it, in the middle of that first bit. We don’t really know what impact this idea that you can actually overthrow a dictatorial president will have. We also don’t know what will happen with this generation of kids who were at the age of 17 or 18 when 2011 happened. And that’s their introduction to politics. And that’s their understanding of what people power is and what the state is. We don’t know what they’re going to be like in 10 years time. Or what their expectations of politics are as well." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The long arc that
refers to, this longer sweep of history that is arced by the memory of possibility, bends away from any linear trajectory and towards the formation of radically different conditions for life as such. To think of history and memory in this way is to think of them as emerging from relations that are shaped by complex vulnerabilities and contingencies, relations that are poietically manifest in diverse practices which give them duration in time. For
, the uncertainty of not knowing what the youth are "going to be like in 10 years time" is one form of lingering indeterminacy that allows for the revolution to not only have a past, but a future too.
10 The memory of possibility, the survival and duration of a past and future otherwise, is something that has persisted despite the deep intensities of state repression. Organizing to produce obscure and opaque milieus within which memories endure has manifested as a form of resistance against a military that means to totalize its control over and regulation of the practice of remembering. Remembering is revolutionary in this context not only in the ways that memories and those that remember survive the violence of the regime, but importantly in the encounters, exchanges and proximities that necessarily arise from the practices of remembering themselves, practices that also come to produce novel conditions of possibility for living, surviving, assembling, and revolting. Remembering is a form of resistance that both precedes the power of the regime and exceeds the regime's organization, moving us to consider not only the way new practices of living become possible within the fleeting periods of turbulent riots and wild assemblies, but also within the prolonged revolutionary forms of remembering that forcefully carry unresolved pasts into the present.
11 In one of my conversations with the artist
on one of the many dusty balconies of Wust El-Balad, they suggested that the revolution had not entirely vanished, but rather was undergoing a process of translation as a means of surviving the violence of the regime:
"I think this has to do with the fact that at a certain point in time, we had public space, we had that freedom. But now it’s being translated, in this period where we no longer feel that we have it. It’s being translated into establishing small spaces and projects. Of course, you have the other people who are depressed, you know. And that’s normal. That’s their character. Others have left. And others are saying ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with this, I’m stopping everything.’ I don’t think that it’s right to say the conditions of the revolution no longer exist. I think it actually continues because of the presence of this repressive regime and I think it will continue. There are ways of doing more subtle works." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
In the desperation of post-coup Cairo, the process of the assemblies "being translated" into smaller spaces and projects has also emerged as a survival strategy. These subtle translations allow for the practices and relations of the assemblies to continue in obscurity and escape the policing practices of the regime. Translation, which implies both movement in space and between formal registers, is also a means of encryption and evasion. The transversal movements that have taken place between the Midan and the café, between the café and the home, between the home and the university, between one body and another, allows for the memory of possibility to adopt different forms as it moves, subversively populating the emptiness of the regime with its indeterminacy in the form of "more subtle works."
12 One of the crucial ways that the revolution finds continuity is by occupying zones of indeterminacy, the spaces of undecidability and indecision that preserve the fragile conditions of survival for memories, relationships, and imaginations that can no longer survive as legible or out in the open and instead find refuge in obscurity. Techniques of translation, encryption, obfuscation, abstraction, evasion, and camouflage are used as means of sheltering pasts that haunt in they way that they are not yet entirely passed. My time in Cairo was focused on tracing the haunting noise of these surviving possibilities that failed to conform to the militarized present through their preservation of the undecided. Preserving forms of indeterminacy under the repressive torrents of the coup is a way of giving duration to memories in material, affective, and relational forms.
13 Because the regime is currently in the process of repressing these spaces of memory when they find them, I’ve chosen not to address them in their specificity in this project in order to not draw the security forces' attention to them. Nonetheless, I can still approach them in less descriptive and more general manner. Cafés, bars and restaurants, cultural spaces, apartments, and universities all provide fragile shelters for the memory of possibility. Circulating through these constellations of milieus, bodies are still able to assemble together and encounter one another in the shared practice of remembering. Partially encrypted away from the regime and from the emptiness that now fills Midan Tahrir, bodies assemble at intimate scales, carrying forward the relations of the revolution in translated forms. Continuing to assemble in this translated way is a practice of remembering, of refusing to let the past and the future be rendered absent and empty. These milieus are where practices of care, cultivation, and preservation give duration to the memory of possibility.
14 Many spaces scattered around Wust El-Balad manifest as anomalies to the imposed controls of the police and military.
, one of Cairo’s many famous cafés and bars, continues to be a place where intellectuals, artists and writers that were involved in the revolution congregate and socialize together into the late evenings, a form of infrastructure that helps to shelter the memories and forms of collectivity that were forged in the uprising. When a women's protest in downtown was planned in response to the regime’s murder of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, the nearby
became a sanctuary for activists and lawyers who were there to support the demonstration. Unsanctioned protests in Cairo had long been banned, and the women that took the streets that day risked detention, harassment, violence, and death. While sitting inside of
with my partner, people nervously shuffled in and out of the space as the protest across the street escalated and deescalated. The owners and employees stood guard at the entrance, ready to close the gates if shots were fired, while shifting arrangements of small gatherings and cell phone conversations floated around tables and chairs. This is just one of many spaces in Cairo that complicate and introduce turbulence into the military’s ordered calm and lend support to resistant practices in the city.
15 Another important obscure technique that has emerged as important is the production of various forms of noise within which memory can hide and survive. During one of my conversations with
, who works with survivors of torture in Egypt, they mentioned that they don't make use of the literal testimony of survivors of torture because it could lead to further regime violence being directed at them:
"Almost all the testimonies are anonymous, but that's not enough. We also need to change the story and make sure that the survivor is removed from the context, and that their perpetrator cannot go back and seek revenge. A lot of the testimonies resulted in us being approached by the government. So we need to be very careful about this. And we need to consider that a story is not only about an incident, it's not flat. It takes time and is a process. It does not start at the time of the incident and it does not end there. So we try to take this into consideration when we write these stories. We know that having names linked to stories is much stronger, but we can't do this because it puts them in danger. So we need to accept the fact that we need to make stories that are anonymous and change a lot of details in the stories. We really want to ensure the safety of our clients. So we change a lot of details." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The tactic of changing details in testimonies as a means of anonymization has been one of the effective ways of preserving memory under Sisi’s regime. Altering details in this way resembles introducing noise into a signal, making it harder to individualize or identify survivors while still allowing their memory to circulate and resonate.
’s emphasis on these testimonies not being "flat" and instead being something that "takes time and is a process" suggests that memory itself is something that must be repeatedly practiced over durations in order for it to remain present.
16 Later on in an activist café along the Nile I was able to meet with
, who has participated for years with
, a group that collects personal stories of sexual harassment and violence in workshops and then later presents them to the public. In addition to changing details of the narratives, they also take an additional step and mix stories together into collective stories, making it impossible to separate out any individual contribution. In a sense, in order to protect the memory of sexual harassment and violence in Egypt, the testimonies and identities of survivors are obfuscated into collective abstractions, multitudinous voices that testify while refusing identification. This strategy obscures the temporal and spatial specificity of particular instances of sexual harassment and violence in order to both preserve and express the memory of sexual harassment and violence in collectively abstracted fashions.
17 In a city where Sisi’s regime desires for everything to be apprehendable and surveyable, to be ready for inspection and subject to approval, finding ways for memory to be encrypted within forms of noise and abstraction has become an urgent task. The practice of producing noise and abstraction weaponizes memories by giving them duration while stripping them of their capacity to be used to justify future repression. Here it’s important to again make clear that memories never exist on their own but rather are materially created, reproduced, supported, and at times extinguished. Memories can take on forms that allow them to be shared by some while remaining illegible or invisible to others. They can be transformed or reshaped, encoded or translated, hidden or revealed, magnified or diminished. Some memories have entire governments that support them, while others are kept alive by one person alone. This is what renders memory irrevocably political: its diverse formal possibility and radical historical contingency.
18 In many cultural and art spaces in Cairo, people continue to gather to reflect upon the events and experiences of these last years, drawing upon memories that have taken form as photographs, plays, sculptures, drawings, installations, and videos. In these spaces, history and futurity are often difficult to distinguish because of the degree to which they’re entangled with one another: past events have a tendency to stir up desires for new ones, just as new events transform our relation to what is past. During one of my conversations with
, who has extensively worked in Cairo’s cultural centers that have acted as spaces of memory following the coup, they reflected on how these spaces have helped to preserve the possibilities of the revolution:
"Of course spaces of memory are important because otherwise we don’t have a way to capture what’s happening. What's happening is going to be a second or a moment without any traces. Those traces are what we need in order to be able to reflect. If we don’t have those traces we don’t have anything to reflect upon. So the practices of those spaces are actually the translation of what’s happening, a kind of production that can be criticized. And by criticized I don’t mean evaluate, I mean to see what’s beyond. To see how can we move from here: ‘What is here?’ Here for me is actually only read through this kind of production. Otherwise, it’s a moment that ends. Those traces are the only thing that keeps this historicity alive in a way and lets us get back to those moments and try to figure out what happened and why we are here. We need to know how we got here and see how we can move from here. We need to understand how we got here because obviously we’re not happy and obviously we want to get out of here. But, how we got here becomes a very important question." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
The forms of indeterminacy that emerged from the assemblies are preserved in this material memory of them, creating the possibility for them to take part in the future "translation of what’s happening." What’s of significance here is that memory is a differential that lets us see the actuality of the present situation as well as "what’s beyond it" in the past and future in order to "see how we can move from here," a mediated process of collective orientation. While Sisi’s coup has managed to impose security measures that disaggregated and dispersed the assemblies of the squares, the memories of those assemblies persist in forms that continue to preserve the conditions for the emergence of future assemblies.
19 Memories find life and duration through the embodied practices of individuals and communities, but also include materialities and milieus that are far more complex and queer than what we would simply call bodies. The monuments built of stone, the photographs, videos, sounds and texts circulated and distributed in pulses through networked fiber optic cables, the scars, the chants that cut through the air and echo off of the sides of buildings, the still-wet spray paint dripping down the surface of a police barrier, the used tear gas canister laying in the gutter: all of these constitute forms of memory, ripples and wrinkles of what is past but not yet fully passed, forms of matter that may possibly still come to matter.
20 Some memories emerge very rapidly and vanish just as fast: when a gun is fired at a demonstration, the initial sound causes everyone to rush and find cover while groups of dogs start barking without hesitation, echoing through their cries the sound of the initial gunshot and carrying it forward through time. Other memories have longer and less immediate durations: when walking through Cairo you inevitably meet people with missing or glass eyes, a memory literally carried in the bodies of many who took part in the street fights of the revolution when cannons mounted on trucks blasted high pressure water onto the faces of the crowds and police routinely targeted the faces of revolutionaries with their birdshot and clubs. The present situation of Cairo and the people that live within it are conditioned by these memories that constitute the conditions of possibility for the city itself.
21 While above ground formal organizations and public figures have faced increasing forms of harassment, scrutiny and violence from the regime’s security forces after the coup, including searches, raids, and closures, the informal networks and groups that emerged following the revolution have managed to largely evade them. While talking with the lawyer
outside in a sun-filled courtyard, they reflected on the role that informal groups have played following the coup:
"But that's the interesting thing and that's the hard thing because these kind of groups that have been emerging in the past few years, I think part of why they're strong is because they're not a formal entity, they're not an organization, and they don't have to justify their kind of work that they're doing to the state, or be very careful with what they do and what they don't do, so this is why they're strong." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
This informality, the ability to assemble but not appear to the regime as an assembly, manifests as a form of obscure technique that helps groups to survive. Because they don’t have to "justify the kind of work that they're doing" to the regime, they can engage in practices that would otherwise not be tolerated, and can even experiment in ways that would not be possible otherwise. The decision to become collectively opaque is predicated on the notion that the memory of the assemblies can be preserved in forms of social organization themselves. These collectivities aren't what we could call positive collectivities in the sense of being built up around forms of positive identification, but interestingly are a form of negative collectivity that does not rely on forms of identification but instead on affinity, desire, and intimacy.
22 It’s worth making clear that despite the regime’s repression, some people have chosen to perform their work visibly in the open in what are unquestionably performative acts of resistance. This includes people whose work requires them to be public in some way, such as lawyers who must interact with courts and bureaucracies, reporters that feel they must be accountable to their readership, or non-governmental organization's staff that interact with international human rights groups. It also includes artists, filmmakers, actors, and writers that choose to make themselves and their work recognizable and openly visible. Their visibility puts them at risk and places them under the regime’s scrutiny, but it also helps more obscure practices stay that way by drawing the attention of the regime away. Perhaps more importantly, it should be made clear that lives are never lived entirely invisibly or visibly, but rather only in varying degrees of opacity that differentially shift across different spaces and times; whether something should be visible or invisible in a given context is less an ethical question than it is a tactical one.
23 There have also been forms of assembly that take shape in the seclusion of private spaces. Dance parties, dinner gatherings, afternoon teas, or even reading groups that are organized in people’s flats across Cairo become spaces where the possibilities and memories of the assemblies continue to unfold. The activist and writer
, who I first met at one of these parties in a mutual friend’s backyard, thought that these intimate assemblies in private spaces could constitute a ground for the continuation of the revolution’s processes:
"All of those micro areas of autonomy like the Borsa are disappearing, one by one. There is this loss of those spaces where people could meet, where different identities and kinds of action could meet, and people could talk to one another or even just see each other. People turn back into their flats and apartments, relying more on intimate friendships and family and less on strangers. I don’t think it’s impossible for politics to emerge here. People feel the public sphere is comprehensively unsafe, so they turn towards other more private spaces to meet and have conversations and establish new kinds of spaces. Out of what is coded as private life, you can still have forms of political resistance building up. I think for it to happen again in the open, it will take some time." (
, Anonymized Conversation, Cairo, 2015)
In the dispersed yet interconnected constellation of milieus that have taken hold across Cairo, memories still find ways of being circulated and at times even celebrated. These microassemblies, small gatherings that manage to elude notice, can be repositories where there can still be "forms of political resistance building up" even when political resistance in the streets feels impossible.
24 Lives are framed by the plural and ongoing histories that they arise from and have inherited in the form of memory, and are also framed by the futures that they help to call into being. Each act is figured by, as well as prefigurative of, complex differential relations all unfolding across the present of the coup, the past of the revolution, and the future of Egypt. In the manifold practices that remember the assemblies, we can glimpse how heterogeneous and unresolved pasts are enmeshed with the plural futures of the city's diverse inhabitants, each vibrantly modulating the conditions of possibility for novel forms of life and practices of living to be fashioned within.
25 Memory is political not in the way it simply preserves the past but rather in how it comes to produce and transform the past, present and future in the act of remembering in repetition. Everything said again - repeated - is saying something anew. To repeat a demand, a question, a dream, a memory, is not to simply reproduce a past expression in the present, but rather to say it as if for the first time. The uniqueness and singularity of every passing moment ensures that any repetition of the past manifests as having a different presence in the present, and so repetition also ineradicably carries a radical difference along with it. To repeat is to again set into motion unfinished, undetermined and unresolved pasts into the present, the effects of which are often less of a reprisal and more of a surprise. The life of a memory repeated is a life of novelty, anomaly, and creativity.
26 Sisi’s regime desires quiet, calm, stillness, security, a city that is entirely absent of life, history, and futurity. Yet the revolution persists in the lives of those who endure and carry the indeterminate memory of the revolution forward in fragile collective practices. The possibility of memory is intimately tied to the question of survival itself, and only manages to persist through profound interdependence and struggle. The many lives that continue to be lost to the violence and destruction of Sisi’s security forces live on in the practices that remember them and call those lives to matter. Memories are never merely present in this way, but are always situated in tides of reproduction, circulation, and exchange that make porous the boundaries that both separate and tie together in forms of assembly that remember.
27 In Sisi’s Cairo, to survive the violence of the regime is itself an act of resistance. One of the most simple and important ways that the memory of the assemblies persists is in the endurance and survival of those that took part in them, allowing for their relations and memories to continue to circulate across and through the milieus of the city. When bodies have organized spaces that exist as forms of exception to the emptiness of the regime, spaces where bodies can assemble together, care for one another, and remember together, they add to constellations of subtle acts in fogs of obscurity that are part of much more prolonged and distributed forms of solidarity and care that people lend each other over spans of years or even entire lives, an aggregate that not only preserves the manifold possibilities of life but also preserves the memory of possibility itself.
28 The regime’s violence means to make it impossible to remember the assemblies, or the wild possibilities and indeterminacies that were manifest within them. Ultimately, the regime desires to eradicate the memory of assemblies entirely by annihilating the lives of those who insist on remembering, as well as emptying spaces where memories are cultivated, preserved, and defended. Situating memory as the grounds of revolutionary resistance means remaining open to the ways in which memory comes to affect the world in ways that we cannot anticipate. It means helping to create the conditions for the preservation, cultivation, translation, obfuscation, encryption, and proliferation of memory itself. The memory of possibility, and the revolution itself, endures in the lives of those who remember, together.

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.