Cramped spaces

10 dead in Cairo protest camp clearance

Ten Sudanese refugees, including a young girl, were killed today when Egyptian police fired water cannon and beat migrants with clubs to break up a protest camp in Cairo.

The clashes took place in the early hours after thousands of Egyptian riot police deployed around the ramshackle camp of plastic sheeting and cardboard where hundreds of people had lived for months.

In a standoff that lasted several hours, the protesters dismantled their camp outside UN offices on a main Cairo thoroughfare, but most refused to leave on the buses provided.

While negotiations between police and protesters were still ongoing, the security forces began firing water cannon and then invaded the camp en masse.

Reporters at the scene witnessed police officers beating the protesters with sticks, often as they were being dragged away to the buses. An Associated Press reporter said at least two adults and a young girl, apparently three or four years old, were carried away unconscious. An ambulance officer said the girl was dead.

Egypt’s interior ministry said ten Sudanese refugees were killed, but blamed the violence on the protesters.

“Attempts were made to convince them to disperse, but to no avail,” the ministry said in a statement. “The migrants’ leaders resorted to incitement and attacks against the police.”

The ministry claimed the clashes caused a stampede in which 30 people, mostly elderly and children, were wounded. Twenty-three police officers were also injured.

Reporters on the scene disputed the official version of events saying the unarmed protesters made no attempt to run away.

Up to 2,000 refugees had lived in the camp for three months, demanding that the UN refugee agency resettle them.

The sit-in began in September after the UN high commissioner for refugees stopped hearing the cases of Sudanese asylum seekers, a decision which followed the signing in January of a peace accord that ended Sudan’s 21-year civil war.

The UNHCR announced last week that it had reached a deal with some of the protest leaders, promising to resume hearing some cases and offering a one-off payment of up to $700 (£406) for housing. Most of those in the camp rejected the deal.

About 30,000 Sudanese people are registered as refugees in Egypt, with estimates of the number actually living in the country ranging from 200,000 to several million.

Egypt, which suffers from high unemployment and strained social services, offers the refugees little assistance, while the Sudanese complain of discrimination.

Nicholas Thoburn, in his excellent–so far; I’m only three chapters in–Deleuze, Marx and Politics writes about the “cramped spaces” in which political minorities operate, spaces sometimes bounded by plastic sheeting and cardboard. (Thanks to Nate for reminding me of Thoburn’s book and alerting me that it’s online.)

If the people are missing, minor politics begins not in a space of self-determined subjective plenitude and autonomy, but in ‘cramped space’ (K: 17), amongst oppressed, subaltern, minority peoples who find their movements and expressions ‘cramped’ on all sides. Minorities, in this sense, are those who are cut off, as Spivak (1996: 289) puts it, from the ‘lines of mobility’ of a culture. They lack the ready-made structures of history, narrative, and tradition, that would enable the easy passage of a demarcated autonomous identity through a culture. Life for minorities is thus somewhat complicated. Practice is thus not a simple case of self-expression along legitimate social routes within which one ‘fits’, but is a tentative manoeuvre around and within each situation. This cramped minority condition induces a particular response. In a manoeuvre that confronts liberal humanist notions of freedom and creativity (as a space of individual autonomy and self-expression) head on, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that it is precisely in cramped situations, in the enforced proximity of peoples, histories, and languages that creation occurs: ‘Creation takes place in choked passages’ (N: 133).7 Indeed, Deleuze goes so far as to write that ‘A creator who isn’t grabbed around the throat by a set of impossibilities is no creator’ (133). Thus, alongside a perceptual sensitivity to very real cramped minority conditions, in minor politics there is also a certain ‘willed poverty’ (K: 19) – a continual deferral of identity and plenitude – such that ‘one even strives to see [the boundary] before it is there, and often sees this limiting boundary everywhere’ (Kafka, cited in K: 17).8 This deferral not only serves to open minor politics to ‘everybody’ who would experience the molar standard as restrictive, but also acts as a mechanism to induce continuous experimentation. For, rather than allow the solidification of particular political and cultural routes, forms, and identities, such ‘willed poverty’ serves to draw thought and practice back into a milieu of contestation, debate, and engagement, and forces ever new forms of experimentation from the intimacy of cramped experience.

The minor is thus marked by a certain ‘impossibility’. Every movement presents a boundary or an impasse to movement rather than a simple possibility or option. There is no identity that is not ‘impossible’ to inhabit unproblematically. Yet the impossibility of action is matched with the impossibility of passivity if anything is to be lived. As in Beckett’s (1979: 382) formula, ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’,9 creation thus becomes a process of ‘tracing a path between impossibilities’ (N: 133).

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