Last week the NGO Shagara shared a powerful image on its Facebook page that illustrates the massive loss of fertile agricultural land and the explosive unregulated growth of urban areas around Cairo. The two images combined show satellite views of the city in 1972 and in 2011. In the 39 years of Sadat and Mubarak rule, the West’s favored presidents of Egypt, the agricultural and urban planning situation had spiraled out of control leading to unprecedented poverty, loss of food independence for Egypt, and the missed opportunity for organized and planned urban growth. Both presidents followed infitah, or open door economy: promotion of consumption of Western goods, importation of wheat and lack of support for Egypt’s cash crop, Cotton, and the image of free market capitalism that was not capitalist, nor free. In addition, the collapse of state planning, both urban and rural, has led to the disastrous situation of the present.
Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote last year about the relationship between rural and urban Egypt:
Historically, there has been a symbiotic relationship between Egypt’s urban and rural economies. One simple example of that relatively successful relationship was the Awqaf system, where profits from agricultural land, which fed both urban and rural societies, were used to maintain urban properties. All the land on Cairo’s west bank (Giza) was Awqaf land that paid for the maintenance of Cairo’s buildings on the other side. That system has been canceled since the 1952 regime took over and new urban areas were planned on that land such as Mohandisseen. With the right global and local politics Egypt has the potential to feed itself and at the same time control its urban development patterns.
For the full article “Bread and Urbanism” on Midan Masr, click here.
So Why is Egypt’s agricultural land diminishing and why is rural-to-urban migration continuing and transforming Cairo into an endless self-initiated urban mass? Watch this video, the latest by Mosireen for some clues:
UPDATE: The Union of Egyptian Farmers (إتحاد الفلاحين المصريين) announced its refusal to accept the current draft constitution which they argue gives the 40 million Egyptians living in rural areas or who depend on agricultural land for their livelihood no more than 50 words in the entirety of the current draft.
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