Staging the State: Commemoration, Urban Space and the National Symbolic Order in 1970s Cairo

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This article investigates how commemorating practices are deployed to fix and affirm sovereignty and its ordering. Through conceptualizing commemorating practices as ‘national symbolic order’, this article focuses on Cairo’s monument of the Unknown Soldier as a tangled cluster of shifting attempts to signify urban space. Built shortly after the 1973 war, the monument expressed an approach to nationalist symbolism that was in line with how the Sadat regime came into its own because of the war. The article traces the influences on the style of the monument and the narrative of its construction. Ironically, six years later, the same monument became the resting place of Sadat after his assassination on the same site. How is urban space implicated in the construction of a national symbolic order? How is politics as death and mortality navigated and scripted in city space? In answering these questions, the article relies on interviews with the designer of the post-independence Monument of the Unknown Soldier conducted in 2015 and 2016, and his photographic collection. It proceeds in four sections discussing the significance of the October war of 1973 in shoring up the legitimacy of Sadat, imagining the monument, constructing the monument and, finally, the monument’s mediation of death and sovereignty. From the materiality and entanglements of one site, the article analyzes ‘state-making’ via ‘city-making’ after 1952 and well into 1970s. Ultimately, it follows the hesitations of deploying a national symbolic order in post-independence Egypt and of attempts at shoring up a shaky state apparatus in a common political space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321
Number of pages339
JournalMiddle East Critique
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes

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