A Wake up Call – Cairo Slums

A Wake up Call – Cairo Slums

CAIRO, the biggest city and metropolis in the Middle East and Africa -with a population of 16-20 millions- is  a city that has the culture, the history, the nightlife, the year round warm climate, the strategic location, and the educational facilities that have supplied Egyptians and all neighboring Arabs and Africans with higher level learning for decades.  As some might think, Cairo does have it all. What some of us do know, this is not the only face of Cairo.  The city has a behind-the-scenes side, a dark one; a study by the UN has revealed that 25-35 % of Cairo’s population live in slums within and around it.

slum, as defined by the United Nations agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. The term has traditionally referred to housing areas that were once relatively affluent but which deteriorated as the original dwellers moved on to newer and better parts of the city, but has come to include the vast informal settlements found in cities in the developing world.

Slums in Cairo started to rise in the 1960s with little to no formal attention or control over its crawl, the city’s slum has grown to accommodate 3-5 million inhabitants of Greater Cairo today.  The spread of these run-down areas have taken a very alarming sequence, where every moderate and high class district of the city is surrounded or neighbored by a slum, in which the slum residents make their living through parasitic services and activities in the more prosperous areas (as wiping cars and selling Chinese goods (or bads) at stop lights, helping you park on the streets by acting as your personal navigation system, or simply begging for any change you can spare).  Of course the scene of homeless kids sleeping on a sidewalk, a donkey carriage of garbage making its way through business district traffic, or plain harassments are more of a norm in Cairo today.

Slums ranging from low level housing to cottages

Cairo ghetto

More on the serious side, people living in slums (or the Shade – as they refer to themselves) suffer extreme poverty, illiteracy, demeaning healthcare, no infrastructure and social services, yet costing the country -that once turned its back on them- a fortune, with no benefit out of their production or taxes. This all is causing the country a great loss to its human resources. No education, no proper job (if at all), no production, no development, rise in crime rates, possible spread of diseases through unhealthy living conditions; you name it, it’s all there!

Pig farms and garbage recycling is a main activity in "Mansheit Nasser" (Garbage City of Cairo). All the pig farms in Cairo received a death sentence by the government at the rise of swine flu in 2009/2010

Filtering trash gathered from around the city to sell recyclable materials - Garbage city - Cairo

Don’t get me wrong, as an Egyptian I would never want to negatively influence my city’s or country’s image (some stereotypes would say, this is not helping tourism, we should point out our good sides only to attract travelers), sorry, I want to point out reality; we solve this, and bragging about it later would be well deserved. Anyone who’s been to or lived in Cairo knows that it has everything, the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the historical, the modern, the clean, the dirty, the luxurious and the simple  all in one place, which as a fact gives a surprising sense of contrast and excitement to visitors.

Yet, Slums are time bombs that cannot be denied.  Look at it this way, ONE uneducated uncivilized unhealthy unemployed ignorant man produces 4-6 children raised under the same behavior and inhumane conditions!  Multiply this case by millions! And you can foresee the consequences. So, it’s either Egyptians face this cancerous activity within their society, or the ambition of a modernized and developed “NewEgypt” -that already have the richest history possible- is quiet ruined. It’s never too late Cairo. Now is definitely the time for new hope.

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Share your thoughts

  • Mai

    Your essay, although evidently well-meaning, its lack of any self-consciousness on your part of your complete classicism is so vulgar and symptomatic. I am appalled.

    • http://urbanpeek.com Rashed

      Thank you for your interest in my article, although its purpose wasn’t by any means meant to be classist, a certain problem is never realized unless pointed out (sweet cannot be defined unless compared to bitter). Slums over the world are the ache of any economy, and people living in them are the direct victims. From an urban point of view, rehabilitating a country’s human resources is what make nations rise, slum residents are potential doctors, engineers, technicians, scientists or even Nobel prize winners, if given the proper living and educational conditions, which so far -as a fact- they have been denied of, and this exactly is what I tried pointing out along with the resulting negative impact, hoping to take a tiny role in eliminating denial towards areas suffering extreme poverty. At the end our role in ‘Urban Peek’ is to point out the negative sides along with the positive ones of our urban world in an effort to always learn and develop.

      • Kaylee

        As an American, I don’t find this essay of yours elitist at all. What’s elitist is brushing it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist, like what governments tend to do. Cairo is seem as a world-class city with so much history and culture that I’m surprised conditions are at this level, to be honest. These slums are rivaling the favelas of Brazil. The bottom groups of society are consistently ignored and then we, as a people, wonder what they’re problem is. No human should be expected to live in conditions like that. Those kids shouldn’t have to grow up like that. I’m not saying everyone should be handed a mansion, but having somewhere clean and safe to go at night is something all humans should have. I’m sure it’s idealistic, but situations like these aren’t going to solve themselves. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Khaled el salawy

      I think the article shows the reall truth what is happening on the other side Of Cairo , although we all ( I guess the author as well) Agree that it is not people’s fault what is happening down there but if we didn’t find a quick and good solution to solve this matter it will be a time bomb yes sir.
      I don’t think the article show any kind of classiness but it shows how ugly the truth-which we all by someway are part of The problem not the solution till now.
      That’s why from here this this web site and specially this article we will all be glade to work on a conceptual project to solve the problem to be part of the solution and not the problem to act not watch
      To save our city country from it’s ugly image
      My fellow Egyptians we deserve better
      Cheers for opening our eyes on the problems
      On Behalf of my fellow country men that think like I do
      I salute you.

  • Sherif Taher

    The potential threat the city slums are posing for this country is immense. We have seen the sadistic carnage imposed by its inhabitants on the nations’ cities in the first few weeks of the revolution. Due to extreme poverty and the lack of basic human needs, the slum dwellers along with the escaped prison convicts, ravished large foreign investments institutions such as Carfour, attacked large apartment buildings in several districts, and they are still mugging and highway robberies that occur everyday. They are not to blamed thou, they way they live would make the most ethical adhering man turn vagabond. But the slum problem is like a cancer that has to be removed from our cities, and the people who live there should be moved to humane places of living with a basic infrastructure to suit their everyday needs. And the slum areas are to be leveled, rebuilt, and turned into city districts to support housing for an ever growing population. Denial and having to weep with words in order to address the issue isn’t going to help those people. Factual addressing of the topic and looking for implementable solutions is what should be done here. I believe the article was right on point and describing the sometimes ridiculous things those poor people do everyday for a 1 pound coin.

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