Cairo Living History
Dividing the book in four parts was not easy as all subjects intertwine. Yet for clarity purposes, it was found more appropriate to group articles in a way that can offer the readership a more comprehensive view of the points discussed, whether converging or diverging.
The first part brings an architectural perspective. In fact, it deals with the cement and mortar element turned housing, palaces, or slums. Cairo of yesteryears and beyond provides an account of three eras of history, the formation of old and new matrices. It talks about what Cairo once had and is now missing and what city planners aspire to achieve for urban harmony and to preserve its impressive cultural heritage; but, more than often, they are confronted with lack of public awareness of the value of conversation and no incentives that can induce people to forego material profit.
The second part conveys the social perspective, where dichotomies in ways of life and values have intensified due to greater divides, policies that were often misconceived or misused by authorities without a grasp of the factor of inequity such policies embody, nor an understanding of the cultural heritage they tread on. It even touches on democracy, which does not stop at the ballot, but is to transpire in every decision that affects people’s life, and here comes the duty of municipalities to respect their communities and take their opinion before execution, when it becomes too late for remedy. Finally, this second part gives a glimpse of what dark future awaits youth if left to live in slums and the ordeal of life on the street by its unfortunate tenants: street children and street vendors.
The third part brings us to environmental and sustainability concerns which are very much on the international agenda, but that also very much require to gain priority on the national agenda. Here, the Minister of State for the Environment offers a new paradigm coined “inclusive environment” through which she proposes to play a role in achieving socio-economic justice. Experts also propose solutions to the ever-growing waste management problems that are bound to affect a metropolis whose population was 2 millions by mid-20th century, and that has now reached the alarming figure of 16 million inhabitants. The issue of neglect or killing of trees and what this meant to quality life in urban neighborhoods is brought up by civil society struggling with an administration blind to the wellbeing of humans and the environment. Finally, part three ends with innovative thinking by the eminent scientist and first executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who proposes to shift production from the material to the virtual for a cleaner environment and for sustainability.
The fourth and last part, leads us to the only way for Cairo to survive the burden of overcrowding and noise, and that is to stop rural-urban migration into the metropolis. Options are not always attractive, nor easy to adopt. A Cairo born poet laments estrangement from the roots. A scientist of international renown offers a mega scheme to move into the Sahara. Cautionary lessons from past experience are also exposed for informed decision.