The following analysis provides a theoretically informed explanation of how Cairo‘s Zabbaleen (informal trash collectors) fit into the political story of economic development in Egypt. Egypt presently faces much uncertainty as its citizens call for change during an era of political reordering. Their demands stem largely from the breakdown of the ―authoritarian bargain‖ that once characterized state-society relations, as since the 1970s, the government has promoted economic liberalization and abandoned social welfare provision as a fundamental objective. This move limited opportunities available to the urban poor through the public and private sectors, leading to escalated growth in the informal economy and the third sector of non-governmental organizations. The informal sector has offered greater opportunities for employment, even as social welfare provision became the responsibility of NGOs, whose influence is strongly apparent among Egypt‘s poor. As a dispossessed societal group, the Zabbaleen offer a useful lens through which to evaluate the effects of policy change upon one segment of the populace; many of the risks they face as informal workers have been partially mitigated by the efforts of numerous NGOs that support them. Yet the uncertainty that continues to characterize the condition of the Zabbaleen also provides insight into tensions inherent within the coexistence of the authoritarian state system and an extensive informal economy and third sector. More generally, greater understanding of the Zabbaleen narrative in relation to these two other sets of actors – the municipal and state governments and the NGOs that work within their communities – gives students of development politics a more nuanced perspective into the intricate relationships that thwart the advancement of simple solutions for poverty alleviation and economic growth in one developing country governed by an authoritarian regime.
Informality, NGOs, and Cairo’s Trash Collectors: Economic and Social Welfare Policy in the Authoritarian Egyptian State.
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