EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 09 Jun 2021 | 17:00–18:30

Reading Dystopian Impulses in Contemporary Alexandria

Amro Ali (EUME Fellow of the Arab-German Young Academy 2021), Chair: Rim Naguib (EUME Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation 2020/21)

© Amro Ali
© Amro Ali

The seminar explores how the Egyptian city of Alexandria has long been subjected to utopian and dystopian tensions that permeate the arts, literature, architecture, history, and everyday language. One of the seeds of utopianism could be traced to Naguib Mahfouz’s novella Miramar (1967) that repositioned Alexandria as a welcoming safe haven and a cosmopolitan asylum that can bring back an Egyptian utopia and an alternative vision of the homeland, and made more vivid in films like Youssef Chahine’s Alexandria, Why? (1978) that aligned with the then growing trend that represented Alexandria as a utopian desire. The question of utopianism leaped into the political realm in the 1990s that saw Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the international community take an interest in Alexandria as a lost utopia that must somehow be restored through a Greco-Roman refashioning and an uncritical revival of cosmopolitan discourse. This was a useful guise for neoliberal economics with Alexandria being the laboratory for privatisation – later rejected through the 2011 revolution that led to, albeit temporary, forms of civic utopia emerging. Yet the road from utopia to dystopia was inevitable, and this seminar seeks to understand the growing dystopian impulses of recent years that are shaped by, and in turn shape, the coastal city’s thematic peculiarities: nihilism, mutant capitalism, climate change, nostalgia, among others, in illuminating the tendency towards dystopian motifs.

Amro Ali is a sociologist at the American University in Cairo, a member of the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and a visiting fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien (EUME) in Berlin. Previously, he was an Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the American University in Cairo, and a fellow at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). He received his doctorate from the University of Sydney which examined the role of Alexandria’s historical imaginaries and the changing public spaces. His research interests include Arab public spheres, Mediterranean studies, global studies, cities, citizenship, exile, technological modernity, and sociological-philosophy. His work can be found at

In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually via ZOOM. Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on SoundCloud.

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