The Weight of Hope: Independent Music Production Under Authoritarianism in Egypt

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This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the independent music scene in Cairo, in which music producers and cultural entrepreneurs who came of age during the 2011 revolution and 2013 counterrevolution hope to constitute alternative music cultures and markets in the neoliberal digital age under an authoritarian regime.

This media culture is in part defined by its refusal of the dominant urban middle- class social values, the values and aesthetics of the established media industry, and the authoritarian state’s control of media cultures. Yet independent music producers do not present their scene as a political one. Rather than confronting post-2013 authoritarianism head-on, the producers of the independent music scene invest their hopes in entrepreneurial practices and artistic labor that attempt to constitute an alternative media culture beyond the ambit of the state. These independent music producers are consistently engaged in an ongoing tug-of-war with the authoritarian state over the control of the affect of hope. On the one hand, independent music producers’ aspirations push them to undertake collective endeavors to create artwork, music enterprises, concert venues, and events that expand the independent music scene. On the other hand, the arbitrary manner in which the state has wielded its power since the 2013 counterrevolution makes it impossible for the musicians to ever feel entirely safe from potential state interference. This fosters a climate of uncertainty, ambivalence, and a sense of stuckedness in the lives of independent music producers, which impedes their entrepreneurial hopes and expansions into public life. Thus in this study I ask: How is hope mediated through the process of independent music production under authoritarianism in Egypt? By tracing the ways independent music producers attempt to cultivate hope in their entrepreneurial practices under authoritarianism in Egypt, I suggest that we can unveil a field of affective politics, in which we can examine the formation of political imaginaries and the structures that undergird or impede the social production of hope. And by gaining a deep understanding of the hopes animated by the 2011 revolution, we can also examine the thickness of independent music producers’ lives as they bear the brunt of despair under authoritarianism in Egypt.

This research is based on thirty-three months of fieldwork in Cairo among the musicians, studio and venue managers, cultural entrepreneurs, and fans of the independent music scene, between 2011 and 2018. The analysis pays close attention to the forms of labor, entrepreneurial practices, and aesthetic forms by which social actors anticipate their futures. As such, the study is organized along three affective registers— ambivalence, aspirations, and fantasies—which capture the journeys of the social actors who strive to endure and practice hope in spite of the despair propagated by authoritarianism. By bridging between affect theory and Arendtian political theory, I explain how the spreading of affective forces of hope constitutes alternative publics beyond the control of the state, revealing some of the factors that contribute to the crisis and persistence of authoritarianism in Egypt.





Abdelmagid, Yakein (2018). The Weight of Hope: Independent Music Production Under Authoritarianism in Egypt. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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