Anthropologist Farha Ghannam Explains Significance of Cairo's Tahrir Square

Alisa Giardinelli

Anthropologist Farha Ghannam Explains 
Significance of Cairo's Tahrir Square

by Alisa Giardinelli
2/4/2011

Farha Ghannam
Associate Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam

Once a former bus depot, Cairo's Tahrir Square is the battleground on which the future of Egypt is being fought. According to anthropologist Farha Ghannam, it is a space rich with symbolism and meaning.

"What happens there determines what happens in Egypt," says Ghannam in a recent front page Philadelphia Inquirer article. "It's hard to believe that one small space could mean so much, but that's what's happening now."

Ghannam, the author of Remaking the Modern: Space, Relocation, and the Politics of Identity in a Global Cairo, describes the square as the center of a corrupt, inefficient bureaucracy that many Egyptians have come to hate. Yet across from the main government building on the square stands the Egyptian Museum - a juxtaposition that pits the symbol of a repressive regime against a representation of Egypt's ancient and glorious civilization.

"There's this feeling [among demonstrators] that 'if we lose at Tahrir Square, we're going to lose the fight,'"  adds Ghannam, who also spoke this week at a teach-in on the situation. Ghannam is an authority on contemporary Islamic practices and identities and gender and sexuality in the Middle East. She has conducted field work in Egypt for the last 17 years.