Forum 2016 - Infrastructure Space - Detroit (Ruby Press)
117 116 There has been a historical tendency in Egypt to align the construction of monumental water projects with a narrative of national technological achievement, as Charlotte Malterre- Barthes explains with reference to the Mubarak administration’s Toshka Project as an example of contemporary biopolitics. Here, the political, social, national, and military battles of the Egyptian people materialize as the bulk of the great rock which blocked the old Nile waterway, to accumulate its waters into the biggest lake ever made by man, as a permanent source of prosperity. —Gamal Abdel Nasser, May 14, 1964 1 Wearing a dark suit and aviator sun- glasses, President Hosni Mubarak stands firmly, arm on the railing, overlooking blue waters. The pumping station that carries his name looms in the background. This scene occurred in 2005 during one of the many visits of the then President of Egypt to the Toshka Project, an infrastructural feat that includes the aforementioned pumping station—the largest in the world—and a 310-kilometer-long water channel, both of which aim to funnel water to one million hectares of irrigation fields for crops. The project is part of the “New Nile Valley”—a vision that encompasses three sche- mes (Toshka, Oweinat, and the New Valley oases) to convert part of the Western Desert into an agricultural and industrial area. President Mubarak inspected the site at the Toshka Depression in the desert region west of Lake Nasser at various stages of construction. His visits, spanning the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, attest to both the political relevance of water infrastructures for Egypt’s governing powers as well as the desire of the regime to express confidence in a plan posed to sol- ve water supply, food scarcity, and Biopolitics on the Nile: The Toshka Project Charlotte Malterre-Barthes Fig. 1: Mubarak Pumping Station, Lake Nasser, 2003 Inaugurated by and named for then President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak, it is the largest pumping station ever built. overpopulation issues through one large-scale enterprise. The construc- tion of the Toshka Project also places its instigator in the long lineage of Egyptian rulers who have embarked on similar schemes. In Egypt, there is a legacy of pre- senting monumental water projects as national technological achievements, as was the case with the High As- wan Dam. Scholars argue that these projects have served as governmen- tal instruments of political hegemony and social control, fostering national pride while diverting attention from other issues. 2 Toshka is one of the most recent additions to this extensive line of projects concerning irrigation and hydraulic infrastructures, most of which are partially inspired by colo- nial technocracy and associated with agricultural prosperity. Other examples include the Delta Barrages, Asyut Barrage, Low and High Aswan Dams, the Century Storage Scheme, and the Western Oasis Project. When consi- dered within the historical nation-buil- ding discourse of monumental Egyp- tian schemes, Toshka appears to be another political and territorial act im- plemented in the name of food security that involves both foreign and national actors and financial capital. The project functions as a spatially grounded bio- political instrument with social, econo- mic, and political factors affecting the built environment and shaping territory beyond the national scale. Foucault argued that biopolitics originated when politics ceased to be seen as an extension of war and instead began to be used as a tool to control, regulate, and manage the lives of populations in the service of the sta- te. The result of this is politics’ increa- sing concern with the administration of life itself. Food security has therefore become a regulatory instrument with which to politically control and manage life similar to the way in which cont- rol has long been exerted over food production and supply. 3 Toshka and its preceding modern water infrastruc- tures are the physical manifestations of this phenomenon; namely, how, under global pressure, the pursuit of national food self-sufficiency has been mag- nified to justify large-scale territorial DeltaBarrages Toshka Lakes Mubarak Pumping Station Sheik Zayed Canal Lake Nasser High Aswan Dam Low Aswan Dam Isna Barrage Naja Hammadi Barrage Assiut Barrage 0 Fig. 2: An Infrastructural chronicle of the River Nile in the Egyptian territory. Though politics often claim hydrological infrastructure as evidenc of nati nal technological achieveme t, Charlotte Malterre-Barthes uses Egypt's history of managing the Nile under the auspices of food security as the control not just of water but population and territory.