Nicholas Simcik-Arese

Nicholas Simcik-Arese is a PhD candidate in Geography and Ali Pachachi Scholar of the Modern Middle East at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.  He is also Postgraduate Associate at the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities.  His interests fall at the intersection of socio-cultural, legal, architectural and linguistic practices in the production and appropriation of the city, with particular attention to poverty and migration.  For the past year he has been living in suburban Cairo with a community of slum-dwellers squatting a middle-class gated community.  His ethnography documents narratives of revolution and marginality in new squatters movements at the urban frontier, the relevance of trickery and idleness for sustaining the commons, and the forms of governance that emerge in fully private urban spaces at times of high political uncertainty.Nicholas holds Bachelor’s degrees in Political Economy and in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master’s in Contemporary Urbanism from the London School of Economics, and an AADiploma/RIBA Part 2 from the Architectural Association. He has experience working for UN-Habitat, for various livelihood focused non-governmental organisations, and as an international elections observer.

Nicholas Simcik-Arese’s project:

Common-ing the Compound: Conceptions of Citizenship and Ownership as Poverty Frontierism in the Squatting of Cairo’s Gated Suburbs

On October 27th 2011, far away from cyclical occupations of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, 1800 people collectively invaded and squatted Orascom’s Haram City, one of many ‘fully-integrated’ private communities dotting Cairo’s state-built satellite cities. Angered that UNDP promoted, privately operated housing on publicly subsidised land is selling to an upper-middleclass market, the group travelled from central Cairo’s impoverished Duweiqa district to claim 891 flats, connecting utilities, converting villa facades into storefronts, and building a market with a microbus terminal for transport to the city-centre.

Presented by Orascom as the “slum-ification” of its gated-community, the accidental integration of new consumerist aspirations with shaabi (popular/common) survival in a tabula rasa masterplan defies a central epistemological formal/informal binary of contemporary urban development practice and scholarship.  Research on ways the urban poor constitute the city, entrenching livelihoods in spatial practices and creating economies around shelter, stands to benefit from case-studies of cross-class economic consolidation and shifting conceptions of place ownership or housing tenure.

This ethnography re-evaluates James Holston’s research on insurgent claims at the urban periphery in terms of an instrumentalisation of categories such as ‘activist’ and ‘middle class’ by residents as strategies for consolidating territory against eviction in a fully privatised landscape.  It explores how Egyptian street subjectivities of figures ‘appearing to succeed in life without trying or doing’ combine with the popularisation of revolutionary social justice discourses across the great psycho-social exodus from urban to suburban Cairo (described by one participant as an “internal immigration”).

As deep economic ties grow between Haram City’s extremes, public stances stressing the appearance of idle behavior elide with a perceived threat of collective violence to sustain a temporary commons, contingent on taut antagonisms yet outlasting all major political shifts of the last three years.




OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Barbara Bishay (June 25, 2014). Nicholas Simcik-Arese. eume-city. Retrieved July 21, 2024 from

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