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Mustafa Abdalla

Mustafa Abdalla holds a masters degree in anthropology from the American University in Cairo and a doctoral degree in anthropology from the Free University in Berlin. He conducts research both in Egypt and Mali focusing on health issues, gender, sexuality, migration and religion. Mustafa Abdalla is affiliated to the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, The Free University, Berlin and Casa das Africas, Sao Paulo Brazil. He received scholarships, research and conference grants from the American University in Cairo, Free University in Berlin and the German Research Organization, DFG.


Mustafa Avbdalla Taught seminars at the American University in Cairo and the Free University in Berlin related to health issues and contemporary transformations in Egyptian society and the Arab world. Before Joining the Center for Area Studies, CAS, as a post-doctoral fellow, he was a research associate at the Casa das Africas, Sao Paulo Brazil working on the research project: From Songho to Mecca: Resonance of Traveling. Pilgrimage Experience and Mobility in Africa. He also Provided lectures on the Arab spring in Casa das Africas, the University of Sao Paulo and the the Universidade Fedral Do Rio Grande Do Norte, Natal, Brazil.

Postdoctoral Research Project

Focus of Research

Medical Anthropology, Illness Behavior, Bioethics, Biological Citizenship, Poverty and Marginalization, Medical Education.


Postdoctoral Research Project

Working Title:

Productive Pathologies: The Professionalization of Patients and Disease in the Age of Biological Citizenship.


This post-doctoral research project stems from the need to follow up on some of the issues that have been raised during a period of fieldwork among medical students in Cairo. The previous research highlights that the professional patients’ phenomenon is widely spread in medical schools around Egypt. It demonstrates certain features of the professional patients’ phenomenon and clearly shows that some patients take advantage of their illness conditions to generate income among students.


This post-doctoral research investigates whether a new form of “biological citizenship” is emerging in Egyptian society on the basis of biological dysfunction. In her research based on the implications of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, Adriana Petryna argues, “the damaged biology of a population has become the grounds for social membership and the basis for staking citizenship claims” (2002: 5). However, the professional patients’ phenomenon is very complex. It is based on an illness experience which is socially, culturally, ethically and politically laden. The previous research falls short to provide an understanding to these aspects of the professional patients’ phenomenon, which share the characteristics of what Petryna describes as “biological citizenship” in her book, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl (2002).


This study is geared to examine the professional patients’ phenomenon from the lens of the “biological citizenship” theoretical framework. It aims at depicting illness behavior among this group, their reaction to disease and the different socio-cultural and economic factors that affect their decision to maintain their illness status. In light of this framework, the research argues that the onset of illness among this group leads to the emergence of a new kind of citizenship and the adoption of an identity that enables them to act professionally as patients. This new identity and the activities conducted under the new status as professional patients is conditioned to their biological dysfunction and making their bodies and their ailments available for medical scrutiny to be examined, investigated, analyzed and demonstrated to medical students and young professionals.


Previous research, mostly conducted in the West, shows that individuals turn to medical care services seeking solutions to their ailments in order to qualify to the sick role (Parsons 1951; Hughes 1958; Denton 1978; Comaroff 1982; Hahn 1995). In light of this research and by employing qualitative research methods, it is of vital importance to investigate the professional patients’ phenomenon in order to add another dimension to the illness behavior in an under-researched region, namely, Egypt and the larger Arab world.


Books and Edited Volumes     


2007 Beach Politics: Gender and Sexuality in Dahab. Cairo Papers in Social Sciences, The American University in Cairo Press.  Cairo, Egypt


2012 Spaces in Movement: New Perspectives on Migration in African Settings Mustafa Abdalla,Denise Dias Barros and Marina Berthet Ribeiro Editors. Cologne: Koeppe Verlag (Anticipated, October  2012).




2012 (With Denise Dias Barros) From Songho To Mecca: Resonance of Traveling; Pilgrimage Experience And Mobility In Africa. In Spaces in Movement: New Perspectives on Migration in African Settings. Abdalla, M., Dias Barros, D., and Berthet Ribeiro, M., Editors. Cologne: Koeppe Verlag (Anticipated, October  2012).


(Forthcoming 2012) Wasta and Connections: the Hidden Diseases of the Medical School in Cairo. Anthropology Today


(Forthcoming) Traditional Spaces in Modern Sciences: Anatomy Classes As Source of Knowledge and Anxiety among Medical Students in Cairo. Being prepared for Anthropology and Education Quarterly.


(Forthcoming) Professional Patients and their Role in the Learning Experience of Medical Students in Cairo. Submitted for Review: Medical Anthropology Quarterly.


2003 The Social Construction of Sexuality, Risk and Reproductive Health Among Young Men in Dahab. ITH- Tagungsberichte, Linz, Austria.


2003 Desire Across Boundaries: Marriage and Sexuality in a Transnational Context Conference proceedings, 10th Annual Research Conference: Globalization Revisited: Challenges and Opportunities. The American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt.