Cairobserver — Resident Perspective: Zamalek

Resident Perspective: Zamalek

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods.

Where in Cairo do you live?
Zamalek. A small island in the Nile with a mix of beautiful old buildings and ugly block apartment buildings that feels a bit more socially liberal than the rest of Cairo.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positives: A bit more socially tolerant than other parts of Cairo; easy to walk everywhere; lots of interesting cafes, restaurants and bars; some beautiful architecture; close to Downtown. Negatives: Dirty (like the rest of the city); increasingly expensive and limiting to all those except the elite; cars line the streets and A/C vents drip onto the sidewalks.

How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?
Metro, if I am going down to Maadi. Taxis everywhere else. Would love to see a more integrated public transportation network, with bus stops clearly marked, so that I could use two or more means of public transport to get somewhere if I need to.

How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
Everyone says that Zamalek is a bubble, which is because everything here caters to people with money. But Zamalek is a few minutes from Downtown, from Giza, and from Mohandeseen. It also has a metro stop by the Opera House, so its pretty accessible, and there are many people who don’t live here that come into the island to work everyday. I would actually love to see Zamalek have its own local government, that could deal with issues like zoning laws and waste management.

What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

1) Garbage/Dirt 2) Doesn’t seem to be much value for aesthetic beauty and architectural heritage 3) Foreigners almost never properly integrate into their communities, except maybe in Maadi, and are always viewed/treated as foreigners (walking money) I would decentralize government, so that residents of Maadi, Zamalek, Downtown etc. could make their own decisions on how their areas should be managed.

What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

1) The different ‘underground’ scenes (music, art) that have been around for a while and are starting to become more prominent 2) The weather 3) Architecture and heritage. My favorite places are Downtown and Zamalek.

Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

I find it fascinating, and I make an attempt to learn more about the areas I enjoy the most. I have no ‘civic pride’ because I feel and am treated like a foreigner, despite living here for years and speaking the language. I’m happy to live in Cairo but I’m not proud of how dirty and mismanaged it is, and how ugly it is becoming.

Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

I don’t have a great understanding of how Cairo is governed, except that it is clear the government has failed miserably. It could only be a good thing if residents from the community governed their own districts.

In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Green Space/Parks: Zamalek has a few, but they are dirty and mismanaged, and many times not open to the public. Cairo in general needs far more.

Gated communities:  Reminds me of living in Saudi Arabia. Sad development but completely understandable as a reaction to how difficult it has become to live in Cairo. If you want to live in a neighborhood that is managed well, clean and where you won’t be harassed for being a woman or a foreigner (things many people value), those communities are your only options really.

Museums: So many interesting ones, but so many that are in poor condition.

“Informal Areas”: An eyesore. In the absence of low-income housing for all the people who basically make this city run everyday, kind of unavoidable.

Downtown: So much potential to be even funner and more vibrant than it currently is. Reviving Downtown could save Cairo from becoming a Gulf-style city of gated communities.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
I would love to live in Downtown, and if I moved it would be there, although its far more chaotic than it should be. It would be great to hear the perspectives of residents living outside of the areas of Zamalek, Maadi, Heliopolis and Downtown.

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