SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Building Politics: Urban Transformation and (Un)Making Markets in Istanbul and Cairo

Sarah El-Kazaaz. Discussant: Matt Eagleton-Pierce

Date: 3 March 2021Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 3 March 2021Time: 5:00 PM


Type of Event: Book Launch


Challenging the notion that redistributive politics have disappeared in a neoliberalizing Middle East, in my upcoming book Building Politics I argue that neoliberalization has shifted rather than decimated the terrain upon which redistributive struggles are unfolding. As the space for endorsing extra-market redistributive policies such as housing subsidies, rent control or service provision dwindles, seemingly de-politicized urban design practices such as fostering “community,” heritage preservation and disaster anticipation are being deployed to intervene in market dynamics and wage redistributive struggles. Pro-poor development agencies and corporate developers alike are turning to urban redesign to manipulate the “market value” of property in a way that renders affordable housing worthy of protection or corners real estate for luxury clienteles in Cairo and Istanbul. Redistributive politics are unfolding from within the logics of the market as a struggle over how that (property) value is defined, experienced and claimed in the city.

In the talk I unpack this argument through focusing on how heritage preservation was mobilized as a pro-poor practice to safeguard affordable housing in Istanbul. I trace the unlikely coalitions and the work through which heritage preservation was being de-politicized as a practice and deployed to manipulate real estate markets, as well as how that work was being challenged through tactics of re-politicization. As urban dwellers re-invested heritage with the ethnic, religious and class politics at stake in its preservation, they chipped away at its power to manipulate real estate markets and worked to unmake the market as the hegemonic logic through which political battles were waged/masked in a neoliberalizing Istanbul.


Sarah El-Kazaz is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East at SOAS. Her research interests include: political economy, urbanism, infrastructure and digital politics. Her upcoming book, Building Politics: Urban Transformation and (Un)Making Markets in Cairo and Istanbul examines the political economy of urban transformation in neoliberalizing Istanbul and Cairo. Her next book project investigates the politics of digital infrastructures by following “Cloud” technologies across the Global South. Her work appears in peer-reviewed journals including: Comparative Studies in Society and History, and City and Society. She previously taught at Oberlin College, and completed a PhD at Princeton University, MA at NYU and BA at the American University in Cairo.