In focusing on Ain el-Sira, a low-income neighbourhood of Cairo, this article challenges development theorists' ideas that civil society as a development partner is best able to promote women's empowerment, community development and justice. This article contests that development can avoid the machinations of the state or ignore the power imbalances that litter the relationships between state, civil society, citizens and donors! In Egypt, where the state relegates its development duties to civil society, women in Ain el-Sira experience service initiatives which are duplicated, microcredit loans they often cannot afford to repay, and benefit criteria which are strict and limiting. Programmes remain unchanged for years and long-term plans to relieve the burdens of disempowerment and destitution are non-existent. To achieve real gendered justice which provides women with the assets and capabilities to make choices requires citizenship rights. This can only be gained by engaging critically with state and civil society dynamics and challenging the structures that obstruct empowerment.