A Photographic Survey of Cairo’s Informal Settlements
For the past three years I have been traveling to Egypt to photograph Cairo’s ongoing housing crisis. I have created a meaningful and thought-provoking body of work that critically depicts the urban crisis of the megacity today. So far I have been able to self-fund my project but the work is still not done. There is an absolute urgency to complete this project at the present time. With Egypt’s future balanced precariously it is necessary to understand Cairo’s current housing dilemma during its revolution and initiate alternatives for people who are striving for a better life. The project will help to focus and educate on the policies that brought about the crisis and will aid in building a brighter future for Egypt and it is for me, as an expatriate, an opportunity to make a contribution to this future.
Under President Hosni Mubarak a master plan was initiated for Cairo’s development. It divided the city into sixteen districts, each with an independent administrative apparatus attempting to ‘modernize’ the city. Exclusive residential communities with enclaves of leisure and consumption that offer security and the illusion of escape from a polluted and over crowded Cairo were thought to be the solution for the city’s upgrade. Despite the fact that Cairo’s experts tried to direct the city’s development, informal settlements, or ‘ashwai’yyat, began to grow and continue to expand unfettered in agricultural and desert areas around the city.
“Although the informal city has been around for decades and houses almost two-thirds of the population of Greater Cairo, in the minds of most comfortably established Egyptians 'ashwa'i Cairo remains a remote and marginal part of the metropolis. If thought of at all, the informal city is usually considered a repository of poverty, backwardness, crime, misery, and all that is wrong with Cairo. It is in addition, a cancer that is gobbling up precious agricultural land. In films and books and journalistic articles such areas are portrayed, if at all, as sinkholes of unrelieved poverty and social deviation, or even breeding grounds for fundamentalist extremism and terrorism.” *
As Cairo’s ‘ashwai’yyat have expanded, deeper divisions have thus appeared in the changing social fabric of an already divided city.
As I return once again to Cairo to continue my photography work, I reach out to all of you for help. Through your generosity I will complete the production of this work on my next trip to Cairo, which will take place around the time of elections this winter. Ultimately the study will be published as a bilingual book, in English and Arabic which will contain scholarly essay contributions from Egyptian architects and urbanists, in an attempt to influence the largest possible audience and be used both as a tool for rebuilding Cairo’s physical space and archiving the current conditions as a historic document. Your contribution to my fundraising campaign will be used for film and processing (yes! I still use film with my large format camera). Each person who donates to my effort will receive something in return. If you can contribute, that’s great, if you can’t you can still contribute by passing this on to those who can and spread the word that the struggle continues.
Thank you so much for reading this and I hope that you can join me on this once in a lifetime adventure.
For more information on this project and my other works please visit the links below:
* David Sims Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City out of Control (Cairo: American University Press, 2010), page 92.
- (36 days)