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The Lost Land of Egypt. Egyptians call their desert country “the protected” (al-mahrousa) in homage to its longevity and the idiosyncratic features that have consistently saved it from destitution: a geostrategic location, Nile-fed farmland, and a stunning array of in situ antiquities.

The Lost Land of Egypt

While much has remained unchanged in Egypt since the 2011 uprising, including the authoritarian nature of its government, alarming quantities of the country’s precious agricultural and archeological land have been vanishing to make way for cheaply-built homes of low-income citizens. This trend is due to a lack of proper policing since 2011 and the chronic absence of viable housing policies.

Letter from Cairo – LARB. “Why are we destroying our own city with our own hands?”

Letter from Cairo – LARB

The architect Nairy Hampikian asked last month in Magaz, an Egyptian design magazine. She was speaking of the decades of poor planning and infrastructure in Cairo under Hosni Mubarak’s regime. In the same publication, architect May al-Ibrashy wrote, “Cairo, always fast, has now become furious. Stadiums as battlegrounds… buildings as burning effigies (the list is endless but the unrivaled favorite seems to be Ministry of Interior buildings)…” Both writers may have been anticipating the urban conflict to come: in the battle for Egypt between protestors determined to be heard and a military determined to silence them, space, and who controls it, is as much the focus of the contest as anything else.

This month’s battles between military police and protesters outside the cabinet and parliament buildings, just south of Tahrir Square, are a prime example. Paris was never along the Nile. Warning: I’m about to throw a brick at the glass house where a lot of people live.

Paris was never along the Nile

The expression “Paris along the Nile” is popular among nostalgists and Orientalists alike. It has gained currency among a growing bourgeoisie who view contemporary Cairo with discontent and find a fragment of its imagined past to be a redeeming escape only because it maybe referenced via Paris, the “capital of modernity.” Contemporary Orientalists also use the expression to further emphasize the notion that Europe, namely Paris, monopolized the very idea of 19th century urban modernity.

The straight boulevard is thus a Parisian invention and if one exists in Cairo or any other city, particularly non-European cities, then credit is due: “Thank you Paris, thank you Haussmann, what would our cities have become if it weren’t for you?” Where is Cairo headed?  The shape that Cairo is taking--physically and in people's imaginations--is something that has interested me for a long time.

Where is Cairo headed? 

I've long been fascinated with the two extremes that seem to represent the future of the capital: the عشوائيات, the so called "informal" neighborhoods where as man as two-thirds of all Cairenes live; and the new private gated cities in the desert, whose recent, staggering spread is altering the dimensions and relations of the city. Hoda, 26, Imbaba resident. Photo by Dana Smillie. AUC Press - Understanding Cairo. Political Life in Cairo’s New Quarters. Singerman - Cairo Contested. How David Sims Understands Cairo. 2050 Or Bust. David Sims' "Understanding Cairo" Abu-Lughod, J.L.: Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious. Histories of a City: the many hands that shaped today's Cairo.

One of Jean-Léon Gérôme's most famous Orientalist paintings, Prayer on the Rooftops of Cairo, is backwards.

Histories of a City: the many hands that shaped today's Cairo

The men in the scene are facing north in prayer, not south-east towards Mecca. Under the shadow of two Mamluk minarets with the mosque of Mohammed Ali in the distance, perched atop the Citadel, the Cairenes on the canvas pray just after sunset, with a sliver of the moon in the sky. It's an idyllic, invented scene that Gérôme, one of the most accomplished Orientalists of his day, painted in his studio in France, embellishing it to suit his viewers' desire for the exotic. Its inaccuracy was beside the point. This painting, like so many that Gérôme made in the late 19th century, captivated its European audience. Nezar AlSayyad includes a large detail of this painting spread over two pages in Cairo: Histories of a City.

Bread and Urbanism. {*style:<b>العيش و العشوائيات: العلاقة بين رغيف العيش و النمو العمراني في المدن المصرية </b>*} Egypt, once the breadbasket of the Mediterranean, is the world’s biggest importer of wheat and grains. Egyptians are the world’s biggest consumers of bread per capita. Over the years Egypt’s dependency on imported wheat has steadily increased with no sign of reversal.

Egypt’s population , currently 81 million, is growing at 2 percent a year. Rising population will mean less land available for agriculture, and if upstream usage of Nile river water increases, as appears likely, there could be less water for Egyptian farmers in the years ahead. This population growth also means more need for housing, and more need for land to urbanize.

CairObserver. Cairobserver is the start of a conversation about Cairo’s architecture and building, urban fabric and city life.


Cairo is one of the greatest cities in the world with a rich history and a fascinating contemporary condition that makes it an ideal site for urban and architectural investigation. Cairobserver is dedicated to presenting visitors and residents with lucid analysis, commentary and information about Cairo’s architecture and urbanism.