A Coup and its Impact

Professor Omnia Khalil’s Journey from Architect to Scholar


A Coup and its Impact: Professor Omnia Khalil’s Journey from Architect to Scholar

Omnia Khalil

Please share something about your personal and professional background, and what brought you to CCNY and the Colin Powell School.
I was an architect, who was highly interested in community action planning to upgrade the urbanely deteriorated neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt. I then studied anthropology to fulfill a professional engagement with communities by learning to be an ethnographer and an engaged scholar, which was a journey I spent with my professors at American University in Cairo, especially Hanan Sabea, Martina Rieker, and Reem Saad. While I started my Ph.D. studies at the Graduate Center, I continued the journey with the encouragement of my advisor Jeff Maskovsky, who always helped me to be on the same track of being an engaged scholar, along with the amazing mentorship of professors Madana Limbert, Gary Wilder, and Paul Amar. Being at the Graduate Center, CUNY, made me politically and intellectually familiar with CUNY system and its contribution to the diversity of students who come from lower social classes, LGBTQ+, Muslim communities, and POC. The pedagogical philosophy of many professors I have met and worked with made working at CUNY the right political thing to do, that meets my social justice values, along with feminist Marxism, as a scholar. Joining CCNY and the Colin Powell School was special, not only as a CUNY institution of teaching and learning but also due to the number of people in this school who are concerned with achieving a social justice perspective, not only by teaching in the classrooms but also extend to activities and tremendous support and resources to the students. 

How did you decide to pursue a Ph.D. and discover a passion for your field?
My MA in Egypt was focusing on questions of gentrification, labor, and space in one neighborhood in Cairo. This was back in 2012 and 2013, which met the political upheavals of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. When I finished, the political sphere changed due to the 2013 coup, which led to tremendous oppression and backlash against revolutionary groups in Egypt. My questions about space and labor shifted to questions about violence and urban development as many mega projects started to be implemented in Egypt, which caused massive forced evictions to poor urban neighborhoods. The passion for the Ph.D. research project was to continue questioning the phenomenon of urban transformations and their political meanings in that contemporary moment in Egypt.

Can you please briefly describe your scholarly work and findings? What’s most meaningful to your field — and to you — about your work?
My scholarly work investigates the rise of the securitization regime in Cairo, Egypt, in the aftermath of the 2013 coup. I conducted 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Bulaq Abule’lla, a district in central Cairo that the Egyptian state targeted for residential and commercial redevelopment because of its high land values and neighborhood access to the Nile River. Adjacent to Tahrir Square, it was also a significant site of revolutionary activity during the 2011 revolution. In my work, I trace residents’ responses to the Egyptian state's rollout of new security measures and redevelopment schemes, focusing in particular on the three sites of Wikalet el-Balah, Maspero Triangle, and Ramlet Bulaq. My findings show how security is being accumulated via counterinsurgency efforts resulting from collaboration between state security and the residents of poor neighborhoods. My contribution to the field has to do with showing contradictions in communities who live in unregulated economies, and how subjectivities are shaped in such political contexts, it is a dialectical understanding of geography, counterinsurgency, and violence.

Can you say a bit about what you like about CCNY and the Colin Powell School? Perhaps speak to your work with students.
The best thing about CCNY and Colin Powell School is the diversity of the students we have, They come from a variety of social, economic, and political backgrounds, which enrich the classroom with questions related to their lives. International students, immigrants, and different nationalities enrich the classroom by making comparisons internationally between contexts, and not answering their concerns of social justice and political ideologies through one lens of analysis. In our conversations, we learn a lot about other countries and regions around the world, along with other histories to grasp the meaning of some other worlds towards an imagination of our present worlds, and future ones in political economy, gender, and human life.

Share something about your plans — regarding research, teaching, and engagement — for the next couple of years.
I am preparing my book manuscript The Making of Counter-Insurgent Geographies in Post-Revolutionary Cairo, Baltaga and Maslaha at Bulaq Abule’lla, which is based on my Ph.D. research project and findings, along with an Arabic book titled The Disappearance of Cairo about the neighborhoods that were evicted in Cairo, and meanings of place and politics. Regarding my teaching, I look forward to designing more classes about geography and security, along with the global social theory and introduction to international studies and anthropology classes. I look forward also to engaging more with students who come from Middle Eastern backgrounds and plan for activities to enrich their presence at the Colin Powell School and their intellectual growth.

What would you want to make sure everyone knows about what makes the Colin Powell School special?
What makes the Colin Powell School special is the number of engaged scholars who work alongside the students. Most of the faculty members are engaged both academically, and practically with communities around them to implement policies and solutions towards a more socially just future. In many classrooms, the assignments do encourage students to engage with their surroundings, to prepare them for a future of engaging with their communities to find ways in which to achieve collaborations. The preparation of students at Colin Powell School is not only about learning and teaching academic works but also encouraging the students to think of how to change our present from a position that they discover themselves in their future.

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