Much of the literature about Cairo or Egyptian architecture in general is produced in Western academia for Western academia. Although some of these books have become classics among English or French reading audiences, they remain unknown to a wider Egyptian audience. Although many Egyptian university students are capable of reading second languages, classic works dealing with Cairo’s architecture and urban history must be made available in Arabic and thus readable to an audience that inhabits the very spaces these books describe and analyze.
1. Janet Abu-Lughod’s Cairo:1001 years of the city victorious (Princeton University Press, 1971). Forty-one years have lapsed since Abu-Lughod’s book was published, yet it remains the classic source for the history of Cairo’s urban development from the city’s founding until the middle of the twentieth century. No other book has narrated and analyzed Cairo’s urban and sociological history across the time span covered in this book as well as Abu-Lughod has done. It is inexcusable that the prime biography of the city has not been translated into Arabic and made available to Cairo’s residents four decades after it has been published.
2. Mercedes Volait’s Architectes et Architectures de l’Egypte moderne (1830-1950) (Maisonneuve et Larose, 2005) is the best and most comprehensive history of Egypt’s modern architects and their architecture. Volait is truly a trailblazer in the field of Egyptian architectural history as she set the course for future research projects that aim to highlight Egypt’s architecture from the modern period, which has been ignored in scholarship until recently. Egypt’s rich architectural past prior to the 19th century has monopolized academic scholarship leaving behind a rich and illustrative period from the early 19th century until the middle of the 20th century. Volait uncovers architects, projects and plans that are unknown to Western and Egyptian audiences and places Egypt in the context of evolving modern architecture in Europe and the region. The book is not available in English nor Arabic. Egyptian audiences need to have access to this book in Arabic, which sheds light on a fast disappearing heritage from the modern period.
3. David Sims’ Understanding Cairo: The logic of a city out of control (AUC Press, 2011). Forwarded by Janet Abu-Lughod, this book reads like the missing final chapter from her own 1971 work, above. In a time when many Egyptians are beginning to understand the physical environment in which they live and its political and economic dimensions, few books are available that paint an up-to-date and easy to read explanation of the current situation. The book focuses on the most dramatic period in Cairo’s urban transformation in modern history, the 1950s to the present. Unobstructed by academic jargon and free of romantic narratives, Sims’ book paints a matter-of-fact image of contemporary Cairo and highlights the key issues, players, and policies that shape the city today. Egyptians have been kept in the dark about the very policies and political decisions that affect their daily lives in Cairo. A translated version of this book made available to a wider audience has the potential to dramatically transform the future of urban policy in Egypt as Egyptians realize that what they took for granted as a reflection of their disjointed society is actually the product of carefully orchestrated ill-intentioned urban policies and deeply rooted corruption.
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