Posts tagged gated communities

From Tahrir Square to Emaar Square


[Illustration of Emaar Square used for advertising and real estate promotion]

ترجمة عربية للمقال متاحة على هذا الرابط

In mid-February the Egypt subsidiary of the UAE-based Emaar signed a protocol with the Egyptian Defense Ministry which clears the way for the construction of Emaar Square, a mixed-use development with open-air shopping for international luxury brands. The development is part of the company’s exclusive Uptown Cairo. Emaar is the developer behind the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. The Egyptian Defense Ministry is in many ways Egypt’s largest land owner/manager and the massive property that is now being developed by Emaar with Uptown Cairo’s exclusive residential clusters and golf course is/was owned by the military and was previously unavailable to the market.

In the years leading up to 2011 visions of the future of Cairo as imagined by the former regime and its businessmen began to emerge. That vision, known as Cairo 2050, would have led to the mass eviction of thousands of families to transform the city into pockets of high-end residential development, golf courses and shopping centers. Much of the investment power for these projects were to come from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The former regime was intent to the Dubaization of Cairo and close ties between the money (Gulf capital) and power (the regime and the military) were being built. These projects were halted after the revolution took an unwanted turn (Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood coming to power and Qatar competing with Saudi/Kuwait/UAE for financial control in Egypt). Now, many projects are back on track, including the Maspero triangle and Uptown Cairo.

Those who celebrate the Dubai model and wish for its expansion across the region make the unethical choice of ignoring the fact that the Gulf cities of the last decade emerge out of a very specific relation between political power and capital (often one and the same). The expansion of such model into cities such as Cairo with vastly different demographics and where a military functions not as an institution of the state but as caretaker with unchallenged access both to politics and capital (in the form of assets such as land and resources for example), such a model in this context would have disastrous impact on the urban majority who will be marginalized in favor of serving an entrepreneurial transnational minority (perhaps working in Dubai and using their money to obtain property in Cairo’s Dubai-style enclaves), who will ultimately occupy the role of the colonial-era elites of the past. The urban majority will be moved out of the way when necessary and put to work under unacceptable conditions, with no power to mobilize and with little pay.

So why is this interesting? First, this is not a free market. When the military is arguably the biggest land owner with no civilian oversight makes a direct and opaque deal with a developer to build an exclusive and gated community in the heart of the capital, this is not a free market. The development is framed by the government as part of “building Egypt” and attracting investment while in fact all this is doing is creating more opportunity for private accumulated capital (buyers) to be locked into cages (gated development) with no access to democratic municipal management: those wealthy buyers won’t pressure the government for services, they will deal with a company instead.

Second (and not to state the obvious), this is not a democracy, and certainly not revolutionary. The protocol signed in Feb included the Housing Ministry, Local Development Ministry, Investment Ministry and the Governorate of Cairo. All these state institutions are partaking in one of Cairo’s most exclusive developments while the majority of the city’s population is abandoned. This cooperation between these state institutions will, for example, allow for Emaar to built a private road to link the Uptown Cairo/Emaar Square with Cairo’s road network. This private road will require the "cleansing" of Jabal al-Ahmar area (which is likely to mean the forced eviction of some poor people to get them out of the way). Egyptian state institutions, including the military, have a lengthy track record of forcibly evicting residents, and using lethal force to do it, in favor of private interests.

Why are so many state institutions failing to solve Egypt’s mounting urban problems, many of which are directly caused by these very institutions, why are they coming together to sign a protocol for a private highway to a private city? This is not the first time such uneven attention was paid by state institutions towards serving an exclusive minority with links to political and military power while turning a blind eye on the needs of the majority.


[The location of Uptown Cairo showing in yellow dotted lines the private roads linking to the city’s network. The land size of the development is comparable to the neighborhood of Zamalek]

This latest protocol went unnoticed in the news, in a way it is business as usual. So how did we get from Tahrir Square to Emaar Square?

In Egypt, urban space continues to be the stage for the struggle not only to shape the spaces of the city but also for creating new forms of democratic representation. The protests taking place in Egypt starting in 2011 and the ensuing political upheaval shed light on questions of space and political participation, particularly how spaces of the everyday have become sites of resistance, revolution and transformation. The underlying theme which has been consistent from the beginning of this most recent chapter in Egypt’s history of urban protest is the desire to (re)construct democracy from the bottom up.

The Egyptian revolt hasn’t been discussed in local and international media outlets as an urban struggle, or more specifically as a movement seeking to “overcome the isolations and to reshape the city in a different social image from that given by the powers of developers backed by finance, corporate capital, and an increasingly entrepreneurialy minded local state apparatus.”  The city has in fact been shaped by power and capital in ways which have manifested in the extreme unevenness of development resulting from the neglectful rule of the state towards the urban majority while providing concessions to international developers (namely Gulf real estate investment) or local entities, namely individuals, associations or corporations linked directly to the police and military state apparatus.

The struggle in Egypt manifest in urban space since 2011 is one directly linked to the ways in which power and capital have produced socially and economically unjust urban experiences. In Egypt the more generic terms of “corporate capital,” “finance,” and “state apparatus” aren’t helpful to put into relief the specific interlinking of power and economy accessible to the military and police, state institutions with a monopoly over violence in the name of the state, which have functioned in ways similar to corporations in other contexts, thus bearing weapons in civilian spaces and having direct access to capital and assets such as land and building materials that directly shape cities and their development.


[Image circulated in social media last month purporting to show the “Israeli-style separation wall” construction to enclose Uptown Cairo from its surroundings. It would be useful to think of this wall while contemplating the wall caging Tahrir Square]

The city, as Egyptians have come to know it, is the result of the political and economic structures protected by the regime. Cities, in this current political economy in Egypt, have lost their vital role as places of economic possibilities for the majority of the population. Instead, since the 1970s the state has fallen short of providing services, creating effective systems of urban management, producing plans for urban expansion and where capital can be invested into the production of new urban environments that allow for local private capital to grow while protecting the sanctity of the common, the public sphere and its manifestation in public spaces shared by a wide segment of the urban population.

During this time the military continually protected its grasp on Egypt’s economy leading to a 1997 presidential decree that gave the military the right to all undeveloped lands in the country, making it the largest landowner in Egypt’s history. Land is one of many commodities monopolized by the military, which it then utilizes in opaque sales operations with international investment for exclusive gated communities, beach resorts or shopping malls. The Egyptian military as an institution is perhaps the main beneficiary of Egypt’s political and economic status quo, which has produced the current urban environment. In addition to land, the military produces building materials such as cement and brick, the essential construction materials in Egypt used for everything from luxury condos in gated communities to new residential buildings in informally planned districts expanding onto agricultural land. Finally, the military has access to an unpaid labor force through the country’s mandatory conscription. Often conscripts from lower social standing coming from the poorest parts of the country work in construction sites and in factories producing building materials. More explicitly “as the managers of a state-owned economic empire built on corruption and oppression of working classes, military leaders have become decisively complicit in repressing labor and violating their rights.” The spatial confrontations, often violent, in Egyptian squares between protesters/participants and soldiers/conscripts are in many ways vivid illustrations of Egypt’s struggle over its politics, economy and space, in other words, a struggle towards a more even urban development.

UPDATE 25 February, 2014: As the government suddenly resigned news emerged that the housing minister (his ministry participated in the above discussed protocol) will become Egypt’s next prime minister.

Update 26 February, 2014: According to Ahram Online “Egypt’s draft investment law contains provisions to prevent third parties from challenging contracts made between the government and an investor.” Such a law will protect contracts such as the one discussed above from scrutiny by the public using any legal channels to challenge them.

Update 28 February, 2014: For clarification a paragraph was added above starting with “Those who celebrate the Dubai…”.

Also, it has emerged that Mustafa Madbouli, who is chiefly responsible for the Cairo 2050 plan, was asked to become Housing Minister in the new government. The plan was simply waiting for the revolution to be killed and for the values of political participation (with the implications of such participation on the making of the urban environment) heard in Tahrir Square three years ago to be silenced.

Resident Perspective: Katameya

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?
Katameya. Peaceful, Green, a bubble away from the bustling traffic and the noise of Cairo. Also, an isolated island from cultural events, protests, and fine dining.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positive: Quiet, relaxing, green, specious. Negative: Far, bubble life.

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?
My car. I would love a metro or train to reach tagamo3 (New Cairo Fifth Settlement), it would change my life.

How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
It is isolated. The ring road is so dangerous and always crowded, and if there’s an accident, you can just kiss your day goodbye!!!!

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

Traffic, garbage, and sexual harassment.

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

What I like most about Cairo: it’s home, where my family and friends are. Favorite places in city: Khan el Khalili, Ibn Tulun (bayn elqasrein), Azhar Park, Felucca on the Nile.

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?

Yes, I love Cairo.

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)?

It would be better of course. The local city councils, “mahalleyat,” are zebala (garbage) and full of corruption and bribery. We need democracy from the bottom up.

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

Green Space/Parks: Unheard of, except Azhar Park.

Gated communities: A bubble.

Museums: Should be outsourced to private sector Because the government is doing such a lousy job (of managing them).

Downtown: WAAALLLLSSS (The cement block walls erected post-revolution around the Parliament, Interior Ministry, etc.). NO PARKING - A MESS.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
Nowhere, I love Katameya.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Two recent conferences, between national policy and urban reality


دينا لطفي

مؤتمر: مستقبل المُجتمعات العمرانية الخاصة" نحو تنمية عمرانية مستدامة، يونيو 2013

بالمركز القومي لبحوث الاسكان والبناء

علي مدار ثلاثة أيام، وبعد عدة جلسات وأوراق بحثية قُدّمت من باحثي المركز القومي لبحوث الاسكان والبناء وبعض باحثي الجامعات المصرية، اتضح بشكل كبير الفكر السائد في المؤسسات الرسمية وخاصةً المؤسسات المعنية بالإسكان، وذلك من خلال الموضوعات المطروحة في تلك الجلسات، والتي وإن تنوعت في الشكل والمضمون، كان الانطباع المهيمن عليها واحداً تقريباً -فيما عدا عدد قليل من الأبحاث خارج هذا السياق- ؛ وهو تأييد فكرة الانغلاق داخل المجتمعات، مع اعتبار المجتمعات المُسَوَّرة أو المُغلقة أو الـ Gated Communities ؛ حلاً جيدا ربما يشوبه فقط بعض السلبيات، مثل الانعزال والطبقية وتعارضها مع الاستدامة الاجتماعية، والتي غالباً ما كانت تُذكر علي استحياء في آخر سطر من البحث، والتي اعتبرها أيضاً معظم الباحثين مشكلات لها حلول أو أنه يمكن الحدّ من تأثيراتها السلبية عن طريق التشريعات والقوانين.

شملت الأبحاث دراسة عن الوضع الراهن لمدينة الشيخ زايد وقد تبيّن أن 70% من اسكان مدينة الشيخ زايد حالياً اسكان فاخر وأنها تضم حوالي 50 تجمع سكني مُغلق تتراوح مسطحاتها بين 170- 588 فدان، وذلك بالرغم من أن منحة الشيخ زايد في الأساس كانت من أجل انشاء إسكان اقتصادي للفقراء.

شملت الأبحاث أيضاً دراسة لأسباب تَحوّل المُجتمعات لفكر الانغلاق في بعض دول العالم، والتي غالباً لا تخرج عن البحث عن جودة الحياة، الوجاهة الاجتماعية، والشعور بالأمن. وقد قام أحد الأبحاث بتوضيح أمثلة مدن انتشرت فيها الجريمة في جنوب افريقيا، والصين والولايات المتحدة الأمريكية وذكر البحث أن الانغلاق أدّي بالفعل الي انخفاض معدّلات الجريمة في تلك المدن.

كما شملت الأبحاث دراسة عن نشأة وتطور المُجتمعات المُغلقة في الولايات المتحدة وكندا ودول أمريكا اللاتينية وأوروبا، ورصد وتقييم تجربة أوروبا الشرقية بعد انهيار الشيوعية وتأثرها بفكر العولمة وظهور المجتمعات المُغلقة تأثراً بأمريكا مما أدي الي طفرة عقارية سكنية" علي حد تعبير الباحث، واعتبار هذه التجربة تحديداً نموذجاً يمكن الاستفادة منه في ظل تأثرنا بالعولمة والتحولات الاقتصادية وتقلّص دور الدولة في قطاع الاسكان، وذلك من خلال المشاركة بين القطاع العام والخاص في مجال التطوير العقاري.

تناول أحد الأبحاث أيضاً بعض النماذج لمجتمعات مُغلقة خضراء في الولايات المتحدة والهند وهولندا؛ ومن توصيات البحث أن تقوم الدولة بتشجيع القطاع الخاص علي الاتجاه للعمارة الخضراء في مشروعات المُجتمعات المُغلقة عن طريق حوافز مادية سواء كانت اعفاءات أو تسهيلات.

حضر بعض الأساتذة للتعقيب علي الأبحاث من معارضي فكرة المُجتمعات المُغلقة، وكان من أبرزهم أ.د. أبوزيد راجح، الرئيس السابق للمركز القومي لبحوث الاسكان والبناء، والذي اعتبرها ظاهرة تعبر عن خلل اجتماعي واقتصادي شديد، كما انتقد اهدار الطاقة في تلك المجتمعات التي أطلق عليها مجتمعات الوفرة، وذكر علي سبيل المثال أن ريّ فدان واحد من ملاعب الجولف يكفي لري أفدنة زراعية، كما أن استخدام تلك المشروعات للرصيد القومي من المياه الجوفية في بعض الأحيان يمثل اهداراً لموارد الدولة. ورأي أن جودة الحياة في هذه المُجتمعات بها مبالغة شديدة وتتمتع برفاهية زائدة عن امكانية المجتمع وأن الطبقات الفقيرة هي التي تدفع الثمن وحدها.

مؤتمر: دروس من القاهرة؛ وجهات نظر عالمية، ورؤي مستقبلية، ابريل 2013

بالجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة، وبمبادرة عدد من العاملين والمهتمين بمهنة العمارة في المجتمع المدني

علي مدار ثلاثة أيام أيضاً وقبل المؤتمر سالف الذكر بشهرين تحديداً، عُقد مؤتمر دروس من القاهرة، حيث كان الدافع مختلف، والانحياز مُختلف أيضاً. فقد كانت الأفكار المطروحة في المُجمل توضح تجارب سعت بشكل ما لتحقيق عدالة اجتماعية عن طريق مهنة العمارة، سواء كانت من تاريخ القاهرة أو من خلال تجارب دولية من مدن في الهند، وجنوب افريقيا وفنزويلا.

اشتمل المؤتمر أيضاً علي زيارات ميدانية لعدة مواقع في مدينة القاهرة وما حولها؛ قلب القاهرة، بعض المناطق غير الرسمية، و بعض المدن الصحراوية، ثم القيام بعقد جلسات متوازية عن قضايا متنوعة؛ المناطق غير الرسمية، الإزالات والاخلاء القسري ومبدأ المواطنة، الابتكار والتطوير العمراني، النشاطات المُجتمعية وسُبل المشاركة، الأمن والفصل والحدود، وأخيراً التدخّلات البحثية والتصميمية في المدينة غير الرسمية.

وكان أحد أهداف هذا المؤتمر محاولة إدراك واقع المدينة، والاستعانة بتجارب مشابهة الي حد ما في الظروف الاقتصادية والاجتماعية، مع محاولة لرصد ودراسة واقع القاهرة والأغلبية السكانية الفقيرة التي تعاني أكثر من غيرها، والتفكير في حلول تحقق الأهداف بما لا يؤثر سلباً علي نسيج المُجتمع.

لم يحضر هذا المؤتمر أي من ممثلي الجهات الرسمية المعنية بالاسكان؛ سواء من وزارة الاسكان أو المحافظة، وذلك علي الرغم من دعوتهم -علي حد قول أحد المنظمين. وقد اتضح الانفصال بين واقع الدولة وسياسة الدولة علي سبيل المثال عند الحديث بشكل عام عن فكرة المخالفات أوالتعدّيات" في كلا المؤتمرين، ففي المؤتمر الرسمي" كان الحديث عنها يتسم بالصرامة، حيث وجّه البعض نداءه للدولة بسرعة توفير جهاز يقوم بتنفيذ الإزالات طالما أن جهاز الداخلية لا يقوم بهذا الدور بشكل فعّال. أما في المؤتمر الآخر فكان الحديث أولاً عن مدي دقة تعريف مخالِف" أو تعدّي" أو غير رسمي، وأي من الحالات يمكن اعتبارها مخالفة، وكون 80% من الاسكان في القاهرة يُعد مخالفاً جعل الباحثين يتسائلون؛ أيُّهما يمكننا اعتباره غير واقعي، هل هو القانون" أم المُنفّذ المخالِف؟

كما اتضح أيضاً أن الجهات الرسمية لم تدرك بَعد واقع المدينة الحقيقي، وما زالت انحيازاتها لصالح الأقلية من الطبقة فوق المتوسطة والعليا، علي حساب الطبقات الأقل دخلاً، مع تأييد واضح لفكرة تقليص دور الدولة وتنازلها بشكل كبير عن دورها التنفيذي لصالح القطاع الخاص الذي يهدف الي الربح والربح فقط، من خلال سياسات الخصخصة التي توفّر جودة الحياة التي تسعي اليها تلك الطبقات، برغم من التأثير السلبي لتلك السياسات علي اقتصاد الدولة وإهدار الموارد من الأرض والطاقة.

وإننا من هذا المنطلق نتساءل؛

هل يُعتبر السكن الآدمي" بكل ما يشمل من مواصفات وجودة ومرافق وبنية تحتية؛ كهرباء ومياه وصرف وغاز وطرق ومواصلات؛ ومناطق خضراء وأماكن عامة وأماكن للتنزّه وخدمات؛ هل يعتبر سِلعة" ترجع الي سوق العرض والطلب وتوافر الامكانيات المادية؟ أم هو حَقّ لكل مواطن" كما ينص الدستور المصري؟

وهل حقاً الدولة لا تملك ما تستطيع به تحقيق هذا التوازن، أم أن الأمر هو عدالة غائبة وسوء توزيع؟

Resident Perspective: Cairo-Alex desert road

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?
In a small gated community at the beginning of Cairo-Alexandria desert road.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positive: it’s a quiet area, unlike most of Cairo’s neighborhoods - the area is booming so we have a lot of new places and activities to do there, so I don’t always have to leave the area.

Negative: I love cycling and taking long walks, which is not very easy to do there, so I have to go Downtown to do that - we don’t have any grocery stores in a walking distance, so I always have to take my car when I need to buy something - The ring road is crowded most of the time, so I always get stuck when I am trying to go anywhere outside the area.

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?
I use my car most of the time, but I recently started using a bike every now and then. - I would love to see more people using bikes. When you are on a bike, you start seeing the city in a different way. You started noticing things and places that you might not notice when you are locked inside your car. But, as a female, I would just have to live with the sexual harassment and ignore it when I am on my bike, if I really want to enjoy cycling.

How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
It seems more like ‘an accessible’ neighborhood, but I see it rather a connected one: - it’s relatively close to three ring roads (mehwar, the other rind road from Lebanon Sq. and Maadi/Giza ring road) - close to Faisal and Haram and Giza pyramids -13kms to downtown Cairo - 10 minutes away from the Cairo/Alexandria toll station -almost 60kms away from Fayoum.

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

Absence of proper sidewalks, sexual harassment, the absence of the cycling culture (a lot of people think riding a bike gives an image that you don’t have money or if you are a female, then it’s like you are looking to get sexually harassed).

Solutions: - the government should have proper sidewalks to allow people to use them instead of walking in the middle of cars. And, have proper traffic lights as well. - as for sexual harassment, I don’t see a solution to it in the near future.

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

Architecture in some areas, the weather (apart from the pollution), the feeling of the ancient city.

Favorite places: Downtown Cairo (especially Cafe Riche), Azhar, Ghouri, Al Moez Street area, Maadi.

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?

Yes, I relate to the historic heritage in Cairo in general and I think I have a good sense of the city’s history.

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)?

My community is not really representative of the city because it’s a small community of less than 50 houses, but I think it would be better if we had better residents involved in the local government.

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

Green Space/Parks: I don’t feel it exists in Cairo, we need to have a lot more green space/parks.

Gated communities:  Booming (most of the newly weds I know move to gated communities).

Museums: They are there, but many Egyptians are not aware they exist or just never interested to visit them.

Downtown: People in my circle either started going there after the protests or most of them haven’t been there since they were kids. For them, it’s just an area they pass by on their way to another place. I know few people like me who enjoy going there.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
Downtown, maybe somewhere around Talaat Harb square.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Cairo’s colonial cities

Overshadowed by the continuing events in Tahrir Square yesterday (the Egyptian Army’s full war against civilian Egyptians in their own country), is another piece of news that would typically have been major: There was no water in many parts across central Cairo from Abasiyya to Zamalek. This is a very rare situation in this part of the city while it maybe not that unusual to the Mubarak satellite cities such as 6th of October. Those cities are on higher ground (water must be pumped up), built on absolute dry desert, with low density while using some of the highest quantities of water per day in Egypt due to the lush gardens and golf courses that are hardly used but remain an important symbol of status. Despite being home to some of Cairo’s most expensive real estate water problems in such areas is not unusual. Yet for water to be unavailable in the center of the city, which is in the Nile Valley (low ground) and where water is readily available, is a catastrophe. Apparently the water cut was due to a ruptured water pipe near Ramses Square which was so serious that trains at the station had to be redirected to Giza Station.

Meanwhile, while civilians in Tarir Square were showered with tear gas canisters and while large chunks of the city center was water-less, construction work continued on a new gated development also with a golf course in the heart of the city. Uptown Cairo is an Emaar development whose tagline is “be above it all” and which sits atop the Muqattam hills overlooking the Citadel with sweeping views over the city. Water for the golf course above this desert plateau will also need to be pumped up to maintain a green turf centered between 4000 multi-million pound homes.

The land was owned by the army, as is all land around the city which later became desert gated communities. These sales are opaque and are marred in mystery. Uptown Cairo land is said to have been sold for LE92 a square meter when it was valued at LE2200. The logic typically is that this kind of project is good for Egypt, good for Cairo, looks like progress and therefore it should be promoted with the sale or (give away) of land. In reality such projects create a further and deeper division in Egyptian society, and rewards the wealthy while punishing the rest of society whose share of resources is under threat by the rich minority who are given priority.

Directly at the base of Muqattam Hills is one of Cairo’s densest areas, Manshyiet Nasr, also known as Garbage Village where about %90 of Cairo’s recyclable trash is processed. The total area of Uptown Cairo is about three times the area of Manshyiet Nasr which has a population of roughly 450-500,000 inhabitants (compared with Uptown Cairo which is to house 20-25,000). Where is the social justice in these numbers?

The government and the army have fully subsidized desert cities placing all their efforts and weight behind the notion that Cairo as it is can not be dealt with and therefore the desert cities are the only escape. Furthermore these developments are fully geared towards private car ownership (while only %15 of Cairo households own private cars) and absolutely no investment in improving existing modes of public transport or providing new ones to service those new desert communities.

Public housing built in desert cities include tens of thousands of units. Such projects have completely failed as the state give a plot of land to a contractor and demands a certain number of units with a limited budget to be fit within that plot. Without an overall urban plan, the contractor then is obliged to fit the required units within the plot in such a way that has no relationship with the city or context and which does not make for a cohesive city plan. This in addition to lack of basic services, work and transport options.

On the other hand, gated communities evolve as an escape for the new middle class (a class that emerged from the 1970s under Sadat’s open door policies and which isn’t a continuation of the middle and upper class that existed before the 70s). The new middle and upper class developed a serious case of hate against Cairo and its people adopting racist, almost colonialist, attitudes towards the lower classes. Along with this attitude towards the common people of the city, a stigma was attached to historic urban areas such as downtown and “Islamic Cairo.” It is the result of a defeated class, willfully forgetting history and heritage and aiming to forge a new identity in the desert.

This marks a serious departure for Cairo’s urban history along class lines. All throughout Cairo’s history, the wealthy always lived within the city core or in accessible areas to all social classes. The urban elite was invested in the city as a cohesive unit and supported various urban projects including the city’s extensive tram network. When the wealthy wanted to build a new city in the nineteenth century they wanted it to link to the old city at Azbakiyya. And later when private companies developed neighborhoods for the wealthy at Heliopolis, Garden City and Maadi, there were no walls or gates built around them. The class division created in Urban Cairo with new gated colonies is a disturbing, unhealthy and unsustainable development in Egyptian cities and society. The below comment is posted in response to the video at the top of this post and it encapsulates a common sentiment among Egypt’s middle, upper middle and upper class.

Colonization and colonial cities were not only about racial difference! Cairo’s gated colonies are on par with colonial urbanism: a favored minority creating zones of exclusivity benefiting from special benefits from the state, direct access to resources, using cheap labor of the locals and are backed and protected by a militarized government. WE ARE WITNESSING NOTHING SHORT OF COLONIZATION. Unfortunately Egypt’s elite are growing further away from Egypt while living in it. They are growing more ignorant of their own people, their own rich urban heritage and its potential. Golf courses must stop because when the water dries up everyone will suffer. Gated communities have proven to be a disaster to Egyptian society and to Cairo as they create a further divided society and city and promote avoiding confronting our national and societal problems. The moneyed and educated elite need to reconsider this social and urban model.

Desert Storm

Vast building sites on the outskirts of Cairo are a legacy of Mubarak’s corrupt regime. What will happen to these satellite towns now? Jack Shenker pays a visit

The Guardian- Jack Shenker

When news of President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall first washed over the crowds in Tahrir Square, protesters began to jostle in front of the watching TV cameras and hold aloft handmade signs. Amid a thicket of slogans, one stood out: “A kilo of meat costs 100 pounds, yet a square metre in Madinaty costs half a pound,” it read in Arabic. For most of the foreign journalists, those words meant nothing. For most Egyptians, they meant everything.

If you had to tell the story of Egypt's popular revolt through one patch of land, that patch of land would be Madinaty – a dust-blown wasteland deep in the desert to the east of the capital, and eventual home to a $3bn commercial complex featuring 80,000 villas and townhouses, as well as new hotels, hospitals and schools.

Madinaty is just one of a rash of desert developments taking shape on Cairo’s sandy fringes, where signature Greg Norman golf courses sprout from some of the most arid land imaginable and Zaha Hadid-designed office blocks are winched skyward at addresses that can be expressed only in kilometre distance-markers. These are the satellite cities: half-built emblems of the country’s institutionalised corruption under Mubarak. Both the cities and the gated compounds within them mushroomed on the back of dirt-cheap land sales by the state; deals signed as food inflation spiralled and the most basic daily staples were put beyond the reach of millions of ordinary Egyptians.

"You may call them satellite cities, but they’re not satellites any more – now they’ve become the planets themselves," claimed former minister Adel Naguib in an interview with the Guardian last year. At the time, he was senior vice president of Cairo’s New Urban Communities Authority. Twelve months on, most of Naguib’s senior colleagues are in jail, and, along with several other real estate developers, the firm behind Madinaty is being dragged through the courts.

Yet in a country where 42% of the population lives below the poverty line, glossy promotional catalogues for residential developments in the desert continue to proliferate, promising 14 different underfloor-heated bathroom configurations and urging prospective customers to buy into the surrounding desert and, more importantly, into the concept of an exclusive, secluded future.

For 14 centuries, Cairo grew only within the natural confines of the Moqattam clifftops to the east and the Saharan desert to the west. Now it is one of the densest urban areas in the world; today, Cairo – the biggest city in Africa and the Middle East – creaks under the weight of up to 20 million people, more than the populations of Libya, Lebanon and Jordan combined.

But over the past decade, the contours of this megacity have changed. Within the next five years, the two biggest hubs of desert development – 6th October City to the west and New Cairo to the east – are each set to house up to 5 million people. By 2030, when Greater Cairo’s population is predicted to top 30 million, government estimates suggest that half of those residents will live not in Cairo itself, but in a satellite city. No matter which direction you look out of Cairo, the pace of construction is breathtaking. “If you leave the area for two months and then come back, the whole place is unrecognisable,” says one project manager at a major New Cairo development. “This is probably the fastest-growing urban area you’ll see in your life.”

Next Move is Egypt’s biggest annual property expo, and last year’s event saw Ferraris, speedboats and string quartets wheeled out by competing companies looking to broaden their share of a real estate market that has been growing by 22% per annum in recent years and that contributes $16bn annually to the country’s GDP. Of the 67 major construction projects represented, only three were in Cairo “proper”, the rest lying in the desert beyond.

It’s a far cry from the early 1990s, when New Cairo consisted of little more than a ragtag settlement at Katameya, inhabited by a handful of Egyptians relocated there by the government after their homes were lost in a devastating earthquake. That was when Khaled and Tarek Abu Talib bought 250 acres of remote desert land and announced plans to build an 18-hole golf course and residential complex on the site. Most people thought they were mad. Today, their private gated compound is one of the ritziest in the country and its pool terrace looks out over an ocean of busily twitching cranes. The name Katameya Heights, like other developments that sprung up at the same time – Beverly Hills, Dreamland, Utopia – is now synonymous with the best in upper-class living; nearly a third of Egyptian children may be malnourished, but you wouldn’t know it from these toy-town driveways, where clubhouse membership packages start at $22,000.

The suburban drift of the Cairene elite has been going on for the best part of two decades, but in the past few years it has accelerated sharply. Whereas older developments were strictly for the extravagantly wealthy, today’s are targeted at a wider band of Egyptians, many of whom need little persuasion to vacate the choked city centre. When asked why they wanted to relocate, customers at the Next Move conference used the same word time and again: zahma, meaning “traffic” or “crowds”.

It was Gamal Abdel Nasser's policy of handing out an acre of agricultural land to each nuclear family in the aftermath of his coup against British rule in 1952 that sowed the seeds of Cairo's demographic explosion; as rural families grew bigger and dwindling land supplies got spliced up between children, waves of migration began into the capital, swelling its already saturated streets. Much of the construction that took place to accommodate these newcomers was informal; without a parallel upgrade in infrastructure, pressure on public services has been at a critical stage for years. Traffic congestion means it can take more than an hour to cross the Nile; green space is in such short supply that picnicking families have nowhere to gather but on the threadbare grass verges beside the city's highways. “Years ago my home was a nice place, but now I barely recognise it,” says Anton Girgis, a telecoms engineer living in Giza. “The whole city has been transformed into one big shanty town.”

On the clifftop above Cairo’s imposing 12th century Citadel, a new fortress is taking shape. It is being built by the Egyptian arm of Emaar, a Dubai-based company responsible for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Their project here is called Uptown, and the long approach to its sales centre is lined by giant pictures of light-skinned families having barbecues and parking their Mercedes in the garage.

The biggest challenge facing architects of the new urban communities was always the need to rebrand the desert into a hospitable zone of aspiration, rather than condemnation. “It’s where children can play safely, where neighbours foster long-lasting relationships, and where the community really cares,” declares a sign at the Emaar Misr sales centre above the maquette of Mivida, a $1bn Emaar villa complex in New Cairo. Every developer I spoke to insisted that the satellite cities represented a return to community, not an escape from it; the desert project reconstituted not as an act of elite self-interest, but rather as a progressive national mission for all Egyptians.

The current development is cited as the latest effort in a continuous line of post-independence expansion; both Nasser and Sadat, the argument goes, initiated building projects that were infused with a revolutionary legitimacy – industrial zones and workers’ compounds taming the wilderness into green pastures for a newly independent country. Yet the notion of the heroic desert pioneer hardly fits the satellite city dweller of today, sequestered behind high walls over which most of Cairo’s residents will never get to glimpse – unless they happen to work there as guards, nannies or cleaners.

On the second storey of a skeleton-villa in a New Cairo compound named La Reve, I spoke to labourer Mohammed Sayed Mohammed, kefiya-clad and busy directing a team of seven workers – all relatives of his from the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag. “We make the villas and move on,” said Mohammed, who is paid $15 per square metre of construction – money that is then split between the family members assisting him. “I have no idea who will end up living here – someone higher than me! After I finish this villa, I’ll be lucky ever to be allowed back in; that’s why the owner is paying so much, to get away from the people.” He poured some water over his face and motioned his barefoot cousins to take a break from their bricklaying and plastering. “The people who will end up living here, they want the calm. It makes sense; everyone wants a corner of the world to themselves.”

Mohammed is getting married this year. Although he currently lives at La Reve, should he and his new wife move to Cairo, they will doubtless end up in one of the city’s informal settlements known as ashwai’yat, an Arabic word that means random or haphazard. Out near the ring road, mile upon mile of these soaring redbrick apartment blocks jostle for space, all permanently unfinished, clumps of steel rebars sprouting from their rooftops ready to shoulder the next illegally constructed storey. They are home to 10 million of Cairo’s poorer residents, paying between £1 and £40 a month in rent per family.

The rise of the satellite cities and the consequent spread of the ashwa’iyat became two sides of the same coin under Mubarak; the two spaces could not be more different, and yet each is a result of the retreat of central government – an abandonment to privatised luxury on the one hand, and a virtually nonexistent infrastructure of crumbling public services on the other. In the desert’s gated communities, where a two-bedroom flat costs £60,000 and a villa anywhere between £500,000 and £10m, residents were encouraged to “vote” among themselves on what day to have their grass cut or trash collected, comfortably sheltered from the problems of less privileged Cairenes downtown.

"For any social system to flourish," claims Professor Ahmed Okasha, Egypt’s preeminent expert on mental health and a former president of the World Psychiatric Association, "you need different classes to have a symbiotic relationship. But here there has been a breakdown in social cohesion, which has gone hand in hand with the changes to land use engineered by the satellite cities. They intensify the gap between rich and poor, and that gap has produced a very dangerous situation for Egypt."

Mubarak’s dictatorship relied on a rhetoric of “stability” and the value of “security” over freedom. The satellite cities took this idea to its most extreme conclusion – little surprise, then, that they became an early target for those seeking to bring down his regime. Long before Egyptians took to the streets on 25 January this year, a campaigning lawyer named Hamdy El-Fakharany was attacking the new developments head on. Last September, judges were asked to rule on whether the Mubarak regime had broken the law by flogging desert land to developers without holding competitive auctions. Madinaty and its parent company, TMG, were first up. Already rocked by the arrest, trial and death sentence (subsequently commuted) of TMG director and leading light of the ruling National Democratic party, Hisham Talaat Moustafa,following the murder of his ex-girlfriend, the company’s lawyer argued that El-Fakharany’s legal challenges would frighten off investors and “open the gates of hell”. Prime minister Ahmed Nazif also weighed in, saying that Egypt would be committing “economic suicide” if any land sales were annulled. The judges were unmoved; Madinaty’s land acquisition was ruled illegal.

El-Fakharany, who saw the original contract, says it ensured that the state was entitled to 7% of the residential properties built, while Talaat Moustafa – a close friend of Gamal Mubarak, the former president’s son – would get 93%. The government had also agreed to exempt the developer from all taxes and fees incurred during construction and relinquished rights to any commercial or retail space. “The deal couldn’t have been any more slanted to the side of the developer against Egypt,” says El-Fakharany. “It was as if it was drafted by an enemy of the state.” A hasty government effort to reissue the relevant sales contracts, through a legal sleight of hand, was cut short by January’s popular uprising.

Now Mubarak has gone and Madinaty has been joined in the dock by another mega-developer, Palm Hills, prompting many other companies to try to ward off legal action by voluntarily handing back land to the state. Two former housing ministers have been put behind bars and public anger against property developers has reached a climax. And yet no coherent alternative to the satellite city project – and its correlating boom in the ashwa’iyat – has so far been articulated.

Driving down an empty highway on a recent visit to New Cairo, I was struck by the bleakness of the building sites, the craters rupturing the street, the water pipes, phone cables and traffic signs left strewn across the roadside. Central Cairo may, as the writer Maria Golia once put it, hang together only by rubber bands, but New Cairo is a mess.

The future of these reclaimed lands will depend largely on the government that is elected later this year; many want to see them set aside for affordable developments with a community-driven public services infrastructure. But it is also possible they will simply be re-auctioned and new gated compounds built. Whether Egyptians will accept that as a solution to Cairo’s housing crisis remains to be seen. The only thing certain is that this megacity will keep growing.

Photo by Jason Larkin, more here.

Jason Larkin: Cairo Divided

With a rich history stretching back over a millennium, Cairo has become one of the densest urban centers in the world and the largest metropolitan area in Africa. In this podcast, photographer Jason Larkin highlights new construction in Cairo’s desert outskirts. These satellite cities and private gated communities aim to provide exclusive isolation for the city’s elite while over 40% of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day.