Skip to main content

Politics in the Crevices: Urban Design and the Making of Property Markets in Cairo and Istanbul



In Politics in the Crevices, Sarah El-Kazaz takes readers into the world of urban planning and design practices in Istanbul and Cairo. In this transnational ethnography of neighborhoods undergoing contested rapid transformations, she reveals how the battle for housing has shifted away from traditional political arenas onto private crevices of the city. She outlines how multiple actors—from highly capitalized international NGOs and corporations to city dwellers, bureaucrats, and planning experts—use careful urban design to empower conflicting agendas, whether manipulating property markets to protect affordable housing or corner luxury real estate. El-Kazaz shows that such contemporary politicizations of urban design stem from unresolved struggles at the heart of messy transitions from the welfare state to neoliberalism, which have shifted the politics of redistribution from contested political arenas to design practices operating withinmarket logics, ultimately relocating political struggles onto the city’s most intimate crevices. In so doing, she raises critical questions about the role of market reforms in redistributing resources and challenges readers to rethink neoliberalism and the fundamental ways it shapes cities and polities.


  • Dr. Sarah El-Kazaz is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East at SOAS, University of London. Her research interests include: comparative political economy, urbanism in the Global South, infrastructure, the politics of science and technology, and ethnography. Her upcoming book, Building Politics: Urban Transformation and (Un)Making Markets in Cairo and Istanbul (with Duke University Press) examines the political economy of redistribution and property market-(un)making in neoliberalizing economies through the lens of architectural politics and urban transformation in contemporary Cairo and Istanbul. Her next book project investigates the politics of digital infrastructures by following the physical and infrastructural materialization of “Cloud” technologies across the Global South, with a focus on South Africa and Bahrain. She co-edited a special issue on “The Un-Exceptional Middle Eastern City” with City and Society. She is also a co-book review editor at the Arab Studies Journal. Her work appears in Comparative Studies in Society and History, International Journal of Middle East Studies, and City and Society, among other venues.

  • Dr. Mona Atia is Associate Professor of Geography and International Affairs at the George Washington University and Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies. She is a critical development geographer whose areas of expertise include Islamic charity and finance, philanthropy and humanitarianism, housing/urban development, the production of poverty knowledge and the spatial politics of marginalization.