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Like a precious stone in a shabby packaging

Mohamed Salheen, architect and planner, about the current challenges of Kairo
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bpb: Cairo is a city of around 12 million people. It is a chaotic, deeply polluted and still booming city. How would you describe Cairo?

Salheen: Cairo is a city which offers its inhabitants more than what they expect but less than what they deserve. Around the clock, you can always find something interesting to do in Cairo, but it may not be in the best environment. It is like a precious stone in a shabby packaging. Once you noticed the precious stone, this overcomes the rough packaging and in some cases people who adore Cairo no matter what, think that this rough packaging is an important part of what Cairo is.

bpb: The capital of Egypt is full of historical sites. But parts of the old city lost importance, buildings are falling into disrepair. How can Cairo protect its identity as an Islamic-oriental city?

Salheen: It is unfair to say that Cairo is just an Islamic-oriental city. History in Cairo has various overlaying layers. Each one of these layers has its own value and the composition of these layers and their intermingling is the one quality that could be fairly said to be the identity of Cairo.

bpb: In some districts the rate of illiteracy accounts up to 40 percent. Today, there is a huge gap between rich and poor people in Cairo. What can be done to reduce this imbalance?

Salheen: More social services are to be provided beside more fair work opportunities. By that I mean opportunities that allow for a social upgrade and not only fulfill the basic needs with the social status being at standstill. Not being able to upgrade in the social structure generally creates frustration and depression which both are direct causes for a wider gap between the society groups.

bpb: The Governorate of Cairo as well as the adjoining Governorates try to stop informal settlements by building huge suburbs in the desert, like for example "New Cairo City". Is that policy adequate to control the urban growth?

Salheen: I would like to correct this question: These governorates "used" to do so until the policy changed in 1993 and these lands that were supposed to be offered to lowincome were instead offered to highincome individuals, groups and investors. This of course resulted in the complete opposite of "controlling of urban growth", but rather the area of Greater Cairo region was doubled in less than ten years since this policy was introduced.

bpb: Still, the internal migration to the capital is huge. It accounts for up to 50 percent of the population increase of the Greater Cairo region. There is the idea to create a new capital as an administrative and alternative development center. How realistic are such plans?

Salheen: It was realistic may be until the seventies, when the relative weight of Cairo as a capital could be somehow balanced with better quality of life in a new capital and with the support of some political decisions, but currently, Cairo reached an irreversible point of maximum concentration of power that can not be compromised.

bpb: Mr. Salheen, what do you like most about Cairo?

Salheen: I like Cairo at night, when you really can experience the charm of a genius atmosphere. I also like Cairenes who despite the difficult life they live can always offer the stranger a smile and a warm welcome.

Interview by Sonja Ernst

Mohamed Salheen

Mohamed Salheen Zur Person

Mohamed Salheen

Mohamed Salheen, born 1971 in Cairo, is an architect and city planner. He is professor at the Ain Shams University in Cairo. He is also the managing director of the Consultancy for Urban Design and Urban Planning (CUPUD), at Ain Shams University. Furthermore, Mohamed Salheen runs his own practice-related "Integrated Development Group" (IDG) in Cairo.

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