Participatory development has become the new buzzword in development and almost every project boasts of using participatory methods and aiming at empowerment. There have been a lot of criticisms directed against the approach though and most importantly, a criticism that will be focused on in this thesis is that which points to the fact that such methods often ignore the wider political context in which a project is taking place. Thus, an exploration of how the concept of empowerment through participation operates within an authoritarian political context will constitute a major concern throughout the thesis. This thesis concentrates on the Egyptian political context and the participatory projects that have taken place within the community of the garbage collectors of Greater Cairo. It aims at answering two main questions: Can participatory projects empower a community within an authoritarian context? More importantly, to what extent can this empowerment benefit a community at a moment of crisis - in a confrontation with the state? The garbage collectors or the zabaleen of Greater Cairo have been chosen as the case study as the recent decision to privatize the solid waste sector and hand it over to foreign companies has greatly affected their source of livelihood and their reaction to that decision sets a suitable context in which to examine to what extent their "empowerment", from a variety of preceding participatory projects, helped them in confronting the state and the privatization of their livelihood.

The thesis will show that although the community was empowered it could only use its empowerment to a certain extent within the authoritarian political context that did not live up to the expectations of the zabaleen or the NGOs working with them. This raises the limitations of empowerment in various contexts and the way in which the term is used by various development agencies while implementing participatory projects within a community. It creates a need to contextualize projects in such a way so as to make communities fully aware of the limits to participation and what can be expected.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Political Science Department

Degree Name

MA in Political Science

Date of Award


Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Pandeli Glavanis

Committee Member 1

Pandeli Glavanis

Committee Member 2

Ibrahim Nur

Committee Member 3

Maye Kassem

Document Type



115 leaves

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Refuse collectors

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Refuse collectors

Library of Congress Subject Heading 3

Ben Jelloun, Tahar,;Farah, Nuruddin,;Okri, Ben.


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Call Number

Thesis 2004/44