How do we explore the relationship between the urban poor and large-scale revolutions? What kind of politics do they espouse in such extraordinary times? In this article I narrate the story of the poor people’s struggles for sustenance and citizenship during and after the Arab uprisings, focusing on Egypt and Tunisia. I suggest that while the abject poor and rural migrants avoid direct involvement in large-scale uprisings, the nature of which they do not comprehend, the “middle-class poor,” a product of the neoliberal restructuring, tend to engage in and lead others to these broader revolts. But most take advantage of the collapse of state control to extend their everyday struggles to secure life chances in their immediate environs-neighborhoods and work sites. This is also a time when they engage in extraordinary mobilization and organized protests to demand collective consumption and recognition as legitimate citizens of the city. Yet in the aftermath of the revolutions, when the new elites show their inability or unwillingness to respond to the rising demands, the subaltern retreat to their strategy of “quiet encroachment,” but with new capability and clout.
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