Egyptian Cosmopolitans After September 11: Bonus Chapter
“I was cooking dinner on Sept. 11th 2001, wondering why my wife and children were so late coming home, when the airplanes crashed into the World Trade center.
Dinner was cold by the time they finally arrived, well past seven p.m. local time in Cairo, although it was still morning in America…”
On the tenth anniversary of September 11th, here is a bonus chapter of Connected in Cairo that looks at the experiences of cosmopolitan Egyptians in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks in the United States.
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In Connected in Cairo I argue that the delicate balance between being fully Egyptian and fully modern is fraught at every level with the possibility that in some context a person will come to be seen, by themselves as well as by others, as too local (which is to say, provincial and backward), or too foreign (which is to say, too Westernized).
To make this balancing act even more difficult, the imagined global others with whom one creates indexical links are themselves unstable. Fashions change, Consumer fads change. And the political and cultural fields that gives signs of foreignness particular values change with historical events such as September 11, the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq..
Because local cosmopolitan identities are forged through indexical links to the greater world outside Egypt, they are always contingent on shifts in how that world, or parts of it, are conceived and interpreted both by those who seek to create such identities and the larger social communities in which they are embedded. Even as upper middle and upper class Egyptians seek to frame themselves as cosmopolitans by using consumption practices to link themselves with the wider world, events can transform what those links mean, both to themselves and others, requiring sudden efforts to repair the breaches in the frames.
In this bonus chapter, I examine some of the ways Egyptian cosmopolitans rapidly remade themselves in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. I argue that these cosmopolitan Egyptians restyled themselves through sets of practices designed either to rebalance their relationship to the West, and especially to the U.S., or to reconfigure the meanings of the indexical signs by which they linked themselves to foreign places, or both. This effort involved not only efforts to rapidly remake self-identities but required rapid reassessments of what Sept. 11 itself meant for those links, and for the global and local worlds they construct.