views updated Jun 11 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Cairo, Egypt, Africa

Founded: a.d. 969
Location: Near the head of the Nile River delta, Egypt; northeastern Africa
Time Zone: 2 pm Cairo time = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Elevation: 194 m (636 ft)
Latitude and Longitude: 43°40'N, 79°22'W
Coastline: (Greater Cairo) approximately 27 km (17 mi)
Climate: Desert climate, with hot summers and mild winters; rain is rare, and hamsin dust storms can occur in the spring.
Annual Mean Temperature: January -4°C (24°F); July 21.7°C (71°F)
Seasonal Average Snowfall: 141 cm (55.5 in)
Average Annual Precipitation (total of rainfall and melted snow): 81.3 cm (32 in)
Government: governor-council
Weights and Measures: Metric
Monetary Units: Egyptian pounds
Telephone Area Codes: 20 (Egypt), 02 (Cairo)

1. Introduction

Located on the banks of the Nile River, Cairo is Africa's largest city, as well as the largest city in the Arab world. In the course of its thousand-year history it has been the capital of the great Egyptian dynasties of the Middle Ages, a British colonial enclave, and a modern industrialized city. Today it is a teeming, vibrant national capital with one of the world's highest population densities per square mile. Even as the city struggles with the social and environmental effects of overcrowding, it dominates Egypt politically, economically, and culturally and remains a prime tourist destination in spite of a campaign of terrorist activity by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize the country's government.

2. Getting There

Cairo, the largest city in Africa, is located on the Nile River, 160 kilometers (100 miles) inland from the Mediterranean Sea and 135 kilometers (80 miles) west of the Red Sea.


Cairo is connected by highway with all other major cities in Egypt. The Desert Road links Cairo and Alexandria; there are main roads connecting Cairo with Ismailiyyah and Luxor. In addition, there is the Red Sea Highway, completed in the early 1990s. Roads connect Cairo with Libya to the west and Israel to the east (however, special permission must be obtained to enter Egypt from Israel in a private vehicle).

Bus and Railroad Service

Rail service is available between Cairo and all areas of the Nile River Valley. An air-conditioned nonstop express train, the turbino, makes three trips daily between Cairo and Alexandria. Cairo's main railway station is located at Maydan Ramsis. Several bus companies offer inter-city bus service between Cairo and Alexandria, the Nile Valley, the Red Sea, Sinai Peninsula, the Suez Canal, and other destinations. There is nonstop bus service between Cairo and Alexandria, and buses run between Cairo and all major towns.


Cairo International Airport, an important connecting point between Europe, Asia, and Africa, offers regular service by most major airlines. EgyptAir offers both domestic flights to Luxor, Aswan, and Hurghada and international service.


Although it is located on the Nile River, Cairo is not one of Egypt's major shipping cities, all of which have ports on the Mediterranean (Alexandria, Suez, and Port Said).

3. Getting Around

Greater Cairo is spread out over both banks of the Nile River, which runs north-south through the center of the city. The neighborhoods of Gizah, Aguza, Mohandisin are on the west bank, the districts of Gazirah and Geziret Al-Rawdah on islands in the river, and the major urban center on the east bank, together with a number of suburbs. Downtown Cairo's streets and avenues are laid out around a series of traffic circlesMaydan Talaat Harb, Maydan Orabi, Maydan Mustafa Kamel, and, at the heart of the city, Maydan Tahrir.

Cairo Population Profile

City Proper

Population: 9,690,000
Area: 20 sq km (7.7 sq mi)
Nicknames: Mother of the World, The Well-Guarded

Metropolitan Area

Population: 12,000,000
Description: Central Cairo, Giza, Shubra al-Khaymah, and parts of Giza and Qalyubiyah provinces
Area: 215 sq km (83 sq mi)
World population rank 1: 17
Percentage of national population 2: 16%
Average yearly growth rate: 2.1%

  1. The Cairo metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Egypt's total population living in the Cairo metropolitan area.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

Packed buses offer local service in Cairo, stopping at the Maydan Tahrir, the Maydan Ataba and Opera Square, the Pyramids Road, Ramses Station, and the Citadel. Minibuses offer more reliable and somewhat more expensive service. Also available are privately owned and operated 12-seat taxis. Cairo's commuter rail service, the Metro, runs both above-and underground. The trains are clean; service is efficient; and fares are reasonable.


Organized tours to Cairo's major tourist attractions, such as the Giza and Saqqara pyramids and the Sphinx, are offered by hotels, private guides, and travel agencies.

4. People

More than one-quarter of all Egyptians live in Cairo. The population of the city proper stood at 9,690,000 in 1998 while the population of the greater metropolitan area has been variously estimated between 12 and 18 million. The city's population is more homogenous today than during the colonial period when large numbers of Europeans lived in Cairo. Today about 95 percent of the city's residents were born in Egypt, and 90 percent are Muslims. Cairo's population also includes significant numbers of people from other African countries, especially Sudan (Sudanese are thought to number about 400,000). About 20,000 African Muslims from other countries are students at Al-Azhar University. Even more are refugees who fled their home-lands.

5. Neighborhoods

Downtown Cairo, whose center is the plaza of Maydan Tahrir, is a bustling district of shops, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial establishments, as well as museums, gardens, and art galleries. It also affords a scenic view of the Nile River.

To the east of central Cairo is the walled medieval section of the city known as Islamic Cairo, which includes poorer residential districts, historic architecture dating back over a thousand years, and the bustling Khan Khalili marketplace. Its main street, Shar'a Mu'iz, is lined with buildings from several eras of Egyptian history, including those of the early dynasties before the Ottoman Era.

Garden City, south of Maydan Tahrir, is an upscale district with expensive homes and numerous embassies. To the east is the area dominated by the Citadel, a medieval fortress that was home to Egypt's rulers for some 700 years. In the vicinity are three mosques and several museums.

Northeast of Cairo's central and historic districts is the wealthy residential suburb of Heliopolis, home to Egypt's former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Although named for an ancient Egyptian city, Heliopolis was actually planned and laid out with reference to European models and is more spacious than other parts of Cairo. (Egyptians generally call the suburb Masr al-Gedida, or New Cairo). Many members of the professional classes live in the neighborhood, which has a large Christian minority.

The exclusive residential suburb of ZamalekCairo's wealthiest neighborhoodis located on the island of Gazirah, occupying the northern two-thirds of the island; the remainder is the site of private sports clubs and parks.

The newer suburbs of Duqqi, Mohandisin, Aguza, Gizah, and Imbabah are located on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the older part of the city.

6. History

The first settlement in the region of present-day Cairo was al-Fustat, founded in A. D. 641 as a military encampment by the Arabic commander 'Amr ibn al-'As. Under the dynasties that ruled Egypt over the following centuries, the town grew into a major port city. In A. D. 969 Jawhar, the leader of an Islamic sect called the Fatimids, founded a new city near al-Fustat, initially naming it al-Mansuriyah (its name was later changed to al-Qahirah, or Cairo). When the Fatimids became the rulers of Egypt, founding a dynasty that lasted for two centuries, Cairo became their capital.

When Saladin, a Sunni Muslim, defeated the Crusaders and founded the Ayyubid dynasty in the twelfth century, he retained Cairo as his capital, and it became the center of a vast empire. (Al-Fustat, however, was burned down as part of the "scorched earth" strategy that defeated the Crusaders.) In the thirteenth century, the Ayyubids were eclipsed by Turkish military conquerors known as the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt from A. D. 1260 to 1516. During the first hundred years of Mamluk rule, Cairo experienced its most illustrious period. Al-Azhar University, which had been founded in the tenth century, became the foremost center of learning in the Islamic world, and Cairo played a key role in the east-west spice trade. Most of its greatest buildings were constructed during this period.

City Fact Comparison
IndicatorCairoNew YorkRomeBeijing
(Egypt)(United States)(Italy)(China)
Population of urban area110,772,00016,626,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was foundedAD 9691613753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$193$198$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$56$44$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$14$26$15$16
Total daily costs (hotel, meals, incidentals)$173$244$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city13102011
Largest newspaperAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarThe Wall Street JournalLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper1,159,3391,740,450754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1944188919761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

Starting in the second half of the fourteenth century, Cairo experienced a decline, beginning with the scourge of the Black Death (1348) and other epidemics. By the end of the fifteenth century, new trade routes had broken the city's monopoly on the spice trade, and in 1517 the Ottoman sultan Selim I (r. 151220) conquered Egypt, defeating the Mamluk forces at Ar Raydaniyah, outside Cairo, and the city came under Turkish rule. Under the Ottomans, Cairo was reduced to a provincial capital, and by the end of the eighteenth century, its population had declined to under 300,000. The city was occupied by Napoleon's troops between 1798 and 1801 but then returned to Turkish rule.

The modernization of Egypt and its capital began under Mehemet 'Ali (c. 17691849), often called the "father of modern Egypt," who ruled the country for nearly half a century beginning in 1805, modernizing and strengthening it, and expanding its borders. Modernization of Cairo began in 1830, but the period of greatest progress occurred during the reign of Ismail Pasha (r. 1863-79). Pasha undertook a major modernization of the city modeled on the renovation of Paris under Napoleon III (18081873). To the west of the older, medieval part of Cairo (now called Islamic Cairo), a newer section of the city boasted wide avenues laid out around circular plazas in the style of a European city. The development of this area was also influenced by the growth of French and British colonial power in Egypt.

The advent of the twentieth century saw advances in bridge building and flood control, which encouraged riverfront development. By 1927, Cairo's population had reached one million. In the first half of the century, Cairo was dominated by foreign influences. During World War I (191418), it became the center for British military operations in the region, and British troops were headquartered in the city. The British military presence in Egypt was curtailed in the 1920s, but the country was reoccupied by British forces during World War II (19391945).

With the Egyptian Revolution in 1952, the colonial presence in Cairoand throughout the countrycame to an end. Since then, large numbers of Egyptians from other parts of the country have migrated to the capital, and the government has worked to accommodate a rapidly growing urban population by creating new, planned suburbs, including Nasr City, Muqattam City, and Engineers' City.

In recent decades, Cairo has become the nation's industrial, commercial, and cultural center, as well as the seat of its government.

7. Government

Cairo has only had a municipal government since 1950, and Egypt's central government plays a large role in administering the capital, controlling its budget and spending programs. The city's municipal government consists of a governor, who is appointed by the president of Egypt, and a council called the Popular Assembly, which includes both appointed and elected members. Only the elected members can vote.

8. Public Safety

Although Cairo is notorious for government corruption, it is known as a safe city with a much lower incidence of violent crime than most major Western cities. Petty theftespecially pick-pocketingis known to occur, and in recent years there have been some reports of armed robbery and sales of hard drugs.

However, the major form of violence to which Cairo has been subjected is terrorism. In 1992 Islamic extremists began a campaign of terrorism aimed at overthrowing the secular government of President Hosni Mubarak. Within the first four years, 920 people had died, including 25 foreign visitors.

Terrorism persisted in the latter part of the 1990s in spite of a government crackdown on extremist groups.

9. Economy

Cairo is the economic center of Egypt, with two-thirds of the country's gross national product generated in the greater metropolitan area. Industrialization, which began in the nineteenth century, grew rapidly following the 1952 revolution and revolved primarily around textiles (based on Egypt's traditional economic mainstay, long-staple cotton) and food processing. Other industries include iron and steel production and consumer goods. Today the majority of Cairo's work force is employed in service sector jobs, especially in government, financial services, and commerce. The tourism industry is a major source of revenue for the country, along with weapons sales, petroleum, and Suez Canal tariffs (following nationalization of the canal on July 26, 1956). Foreign aid from other countries is also an important source of income.

Although government agricultural subsidies, cheap public transportation, and low-cost medical care help keep Cairo's cost of living relatively low, the average Cairene still struggle to make ends meet, often holding down two or more jobs, or going overseas to find work and send money home. The poorest are forced to send their children to work as early as eight or nine years of age, often in "sweatshops" producing manufactured goods.

10. Environment

Industrial and vehicular emissions combine to give Cairo a serious air pollution problem. Thousands of old vehicles crowd the city streets without government regulation of emission levels, and the city's factories create additional environmental hazards. Levels of both lead and particulate emissions far exceed internationally acceptable standards. In the 1990s the Egyptian government began a serious effort to improve the city's air quality, with legislation requiring air filters in factories as well as an air-quality-improvement project, the Cairo Air Improvement Project (CAIP), designed to reduce pollution from lead and particulates. CAIP's goals included development of a vehicle emission testing and certification program; increasing the use of compressed natural gas a fuel in municipal buses; the upgrading and relocation of secondary lead smelters; and air quality monitoring and analysis.

11. Shopping

Cairo's most famous shopping venue is the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, a large open-air market located amid medieval ruins. Featured among its wares is the handiwork of local craftsmen working in gold, silver, copper, brass, ivory, and leather, as well as such items as carpets and perfumes. The Tentmakers' Bazaar (Khiyamiyyah) in the old part of the city is known for its appliqué. In both the Khan al-Khalili and the myriad of other bazaars in the city, bargaining is a universal practice, for both tourists and locals alike. Other items available in the city's bazaars and boutiques include handwoven rugs, ceramics, glassware, inlaid boxes, hand-woven goods made from rattan and palm fiber, antiques, and a variety of clothing. A number of artisans sell high-quality crafts at their own shops or galleries.

12. Education

Primary education is free and compulsory in Cairo, as elsewhere in Egypt, and university tuition has been free since 1962. In the 1990s, Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, spearheaded a program to improve literacy that included the creation of new public libraries; the "Reading for All" program to make inexpensive juvenile books available to children throughout the country; and a series of international book fairs. The Children's Cultural Center was officially opened by Mrs. Mubarak in Heliopolis in 1997.

Founded in the tenth century, Al-Azhar University, the premier center of religious instruction in the Islamic world, is said to be the oldest continuously operating university in the world. Cairo University, founded in 1908, produces the country's largest number of college graduates and college-educated professionals. It has about 155,000 students and 3,158 faculty members, operates some 100 research institutes and offers programs in agriculture, medicine, nursing, economics, political science, the arts, and other fields. Most facilities of the university's main campus are located to the southeast of downtown Cairo, and it operates branches in Al Fayyum and Bani Suwayf, as well as Khartoum (Sudan).

Cairo's third major institution of higher learning is Ain Shams University. Located in the heart of the city, it enrolls approximately 100,000 undergraduates and 30,000 graduate students and has a faculty of 3,700.

13. Health Care

Cairo is Egypt's major center for health care. It has the greatest concentration of medical facilities in the country, including government hospitals, such as Qasr al-Ayni and Dimardash; smaller private hospitals, such as the Anglo-American Hospital; and facilities affiliated with university medical programs. There are also hospitals and clinics for the treatment of specific types of problems, including several that specialize in eye disorders.

14. Media

Cairo is the only city in Egypt with daily newspapers, of which it has four (all distributed nationally). The oldest and best known is Al-Ahram, founded in 1876 in Alexandria. Others include Al-Alam al-Yom, a newer and livelier paper with a strong business focus, and a local edition of the Arabic world daily, Al-Hayat. Daily newspapers are also published in English (The Egyptian Gazette ) and French (Le Progrès Egyptien and Le Journal d'Égypte ). Two English-language weeklies also appear: Al-Ahram Weekly and Middle East Times. A monthly magazine, Egypt Today, features general-interest articles and events listings and is affiliated with two other monthlies, Sports & Fitness and Business Today.

Three government-operated television stations broadcast in Arabic and are supplemented by at least a half-dozen private stations, and satellite and cable TV are also available at some locations. Both AM and FM radio stations are in operation throughout the week.

15. Sports

Soccer is Cairo's (and Egypt's) most popular sport, boasting players of international stature. Matches are played every weekend to sell-out crowds, and the city's residents eagerly follow games by its two leading teams, Zamalek and Ahli. The soccer season runs from September to May, and matches are held in Cairo Stadium. Horse racing can be seen at the Heliopolis Hippodrome. Every year the city hosts the Cairo Classic, a running and cycling event.

16. Parks and Recreation

The Zoological Garden (Hadiiqat al-Hayawaan), located in the southern suburb of Giza, is over 100 years old. When it was founded in 1891, it contained the private menagerie of Egyptian ruler Khedive Ismail, and for years it was one of the world's premier zoos. Although the zoological garden no longer serves as a noteworthy botanical or zoological attraction, it remains a popular recreation area for local residents, who use it for sports, picnics, and other activities. There are several parks, as well as sporting clubs, located in the southern part of the island of Gazirah, whose northern section is occupied by the suburb of Zamalek.

With their warm climate, Cairo residents enjoy spending their leisure time in outdoor activities, from strolling and window shopping to swimming and picnicking in open areas surrounding the city.

The best venues for participant sports are the city's exclusive sports clubs, made up of middle-and upper-class Cairenes. The most prestigious is the Gazirah Sporting club, which offers facilities for basketball, squash, and tennis, as well as a golf course, two swimming pools, a running track, and a croquet lawn. Skeet shooting is offered at the neighboring Shooting Club in Dokki. Cairo also has a rugby club, yacht clubs, and a diving club.

17. Performing Arts

The new Cairo Opera House (National Cultural Centre), rebuilt in the 1980s after the nineteenth-century original was destroyed by fire in 1971, is the city's principal performing-arts venue. The Cairo Opera House presents touring theater and ballet troupes and musical groups, as well as local performers, including the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and the Cairo Orchestra. Located in the parklike setting of the Gazirah Exhibition Grounds on the island of Gazirah, the opera house complex includes an open-air theater and amphitheater, as well as two indoor halls (a main one and a smaller one). A newer facility, the 2,500-seat Cairo International Conference Centre in the suburb of Madinat Nasr, was a gift from the Chinese in 1991. It opened the following year with a performance by the Grigorovich Ballet of Russia's Bolshoi Theatre.

Popular performance sites in Islamic Cairo, especially during the holiday period of Ramadan, are the House of Zeinab Khatoun and the Al-Ghouri complex. Plays and recitals are also presented at the Ewart Hall and Wallace Theater on the campus of American University in Cairo.

Cairo is a center of legitimate Arabic theater, although performances are subject to government censorship. Both ballet and modern dance are exceptionally popular in Cairo, whose ballet company (the Cairo Ballet) was founded in 1960 with help from the Soviet Union, which sent its own dance teachers to help train the members of the company. However with the expulsion of Soviet advisers from Egypt in 1972, the Russian presence at the ballet ended. The quality of the troupe is subsequently said to have declined, and in 1991 it was bolstered by the addition of dancers from Russia and Italy.

Cairo is the film capital of the Arabic world, although its film industry has declined since its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to strict censorship and economic factors. However, Cairo's residents are avid filmgoers and flock to both Egyptian and foreign movies.

The Cairo Puppet Theater performs at the Ezbekiyya Gardens north of Ataba from October through May.

18. Libraries and Museums

The Greater Cairo Library, housed in a restored villa in Zamalek, is over 100 years old. Its holdings include books in Arabic, German, French, and English. A research library, its collection contains only non-circulating items, but its operating hours are extensive. It has good collections in the areas of art and science, as well as international periodicals. Included in its map collection are hand-drawn maps of Cairo dating back to 1480.

The Mubarak Library is located in Giza. Opened in 1995, it provides a popular library of circulating materials, with a large collection of books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, cassettes, and videos. Special services include story hours and puppet shows for preschoolers. There are also two libraries in the suburb of Heliopolis. The older Heliopolis Public Library offers organized programs for children and has a high-tech multimedia auditorium. The newer El Mustaqbal Library has only non-circulating materials. English-language books are available in libraries at the British Council and the American Cultural Centre. Cairo University has a central library, additional libraries for various disciplines, and some 100 scientific research centers.

Cairo's cultural legacy is evident in its rich and varied museum collections. The Egyptian Museum at Maydan Tahrir houses the city's premier collection of over 100,000 artifacts from nearly every period of Egyptian history. The museum's neoclassical building, which dates from 1902, has received updated security and lighting following a daring 1996 robbery attempt, and there has long been talk of building a new facility that can more adequately house the museum's voluminous holdings. Among these holdings are the treasures of Tutankhamun (d. c. 1340 B. C. ), a royal mummy room, artifacts from the Old and Middle kingdoms, jewelry rooms, and animal mummies.

The Coptic Museum, located in Misr al-Qadimah, displays items from the pre-Islamic period, including textiles, stones, and religious icons. A church on the museum grounds, popularly known as the Hanging Church, is said to date back to the fourth century A. D. and is thought to be the earliest place of Christian worship in Cairo. The renovated Museum of Islamic Art, in Bab Zuweyla, houses brass, wood, glass, inlaid items, textiles, carpets, and fountains from the Mamluk and Ottoman eras, as well as Mamluk Korans and illuminated manuscripts.

Other museums in Cairo include the War Museum, the Egyptian National Railways Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and National Military Museum, as well as a post office Museum, an agricultural museum, and a carriage museum.

19. Tourism

Popular for its warm climate and famous as the home of King Tutankhamun's treasures, Cairo is Egypt's most popular tourist city, and tourism is central to the local economy. Roughly one-third of Egypt's hotels (including three Hilton hotels) are located in the city, and souvenir shops and restaurants cater to travelers and locals alike.

In the 1990s, Egypt's $4.1 billion dollar per year tourist industry was threatened by terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists seeking to overthrow the secular government of Hosni Mubarak. In 1996 terrorists killed 18 members of a Greek tour group as they left a hotel on the outskirts of the city, bound for the Pyramids. The following year, nine German tourists were killed in an assault on a tour bus in front of the Egyptian Museum.

In 1996, visitors to Egypt numbered 3,895,942.

20. Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day
Cairo Book Fair

Sinai Liberation Day
Images Festival of Independent Film and Video

May Day

Revolution Day

Experimental Theatre Festival

National Day
Pharaohs' Rally

Arabic Music Festival

Cairo International Film Festival

21. Famous Citizens

Auguste Mariette (18211881), Frenchborn archaeologist.

Saad Zaghlul (18571927), early nationalist leader.

Taha Husayn (18891973), controversial historian.

Naguib Mahfouz (b. 1911), Nobel Prizewinning novelist.

Abbas al-Aqqad (18891964), poet.

Tawfiq al-Hakim (18981987), playwright and leading figure in modern Egyptian literature.

Yusuf Idris (19271991), groundbreaking playwright and short-story writer.

King Faruk (19201965), Egypt's last ruling monarch.

22. For Further Study


Egypt World Wide Web Index. [Online] Available (accessed October 7, 1999).

Egyptian Ministry of Tourism. [Online] Available (accessed October 7, 1999).

Middle East Times. [Online] Available (accessed October 7, 1999).

Government Offices

Cairo Chamber of Commerce
4 Maydan Falaki
Bab al-Luq
Cairo, Egypt

Embassy of the United States of America
5 Latin America Street
Garden City
Cairo, Egypt

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Egyptian Ministry of Tourism
Misr Travel Tower
Abbassia Square
Cairo, Egypt

Tourist Friends Association
33 Qasr el-Nil, 9th Floor
Cairo, Egypt


Al Ahram
Sharia al-Galaa
Post No.11511
Cairo, Egypt

Al Hayat
1 Latin America St.
Garden City
Cairo, Egypt

Egyptian Gazette
24-26 Sharia Zakaria Ahmed St.
Al Tahir
Cairo, Egypt


Abu Lughod, Janet. Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The Beauty of Cairo: A Historical Guide to the Chief Islamic and Coptic Monuments. London: East-West Publications, 1981.

Gaston, Wiet. Cairo: City of Art and Commerce. Trans. Seymour Feiler. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Ghosh, Amitav. In an Antique Land. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

Raafat, Samir. Maadi 19041962: Society and History in a Cairo Suburb. Cairo: Palm Press, 1994.

Roberts, Paul William. River in the Desert: Modern Travels in Ancient Egypt. New York: Random House, 1993.

Rodenbeck, Max. Cairo: The City Victorious. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Stewart, Desmond. Cairo: 5500 Years. New York: Crowell, 1968.

Wikan, Unni. Tomorrow, God-willing: Self-made Destinies in Cairo. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: A Practical Guide. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1993.


Egypt 1 [videorecording] : Cairo & the Pyramids. Derry, NH: Chip Taylor Communications, 1991. 1 videocassette (16 min.): sd., col.; 1/2 in. "Exploring the World" series. Travel magazine.


views updated May 08 2018


CAIRO , capital of *Egypt. The presence of Jews in Cairo can be traced to a very early date. Fustat (old Cairo) was founded in 641 by the Arab conqueror of Egypt, ʿAmr ibn al-ʿÂṣ, near the Byzantine fortress "Babylon." It is almost certain that Jews settled there shortly afterward, or possibly even at the time of its foundation. The town was inhabited by native Egyptian Christians and Yemenite Arabs who had come with the conquering army. It became the capital of the Muslim rulers of Egypt and rapidly developed into a large city and flourishing economic center, which attracted many immigrants. At first, the Jewish quarter and the oldest synagogues were situated in the ancient Byzantine stronghold. A Christian source indicates that in 882, during the reign of King Aḥmad ibn Tūlūn, the Coptic patriarch was forced to sell a church in Fustat to the Jews and that it then became a synagogue. During the 10th century many immigrants arrived from Iraq (Babylonia). This resulted in the formation of two Jewish communities, the Palestinian (the Jerusalemites – al-Shāmiyyūn) and the Iraqians (the Babylonians – al-Iraqiyyūn) in Fustat. Each community

had its own synagogue and received guidance from the leaders of the yeshivot in Iraq and Palestine. It is thought that the synagogue of the Palestinian community was the former Coptic Church acquired in 882. Some evidence shows, however, that the Coptic Church was acquired by the newcomers from Iraq, while the synagogue of the Palestinians was pre-Islamic, as reported by Muslim chroniclers. It was later known as the Synagogue of Ezra the Scribe and it was there that the famous *Genizah was discovered. The synagogue of the Babylonian community was in the same area, as was the synagogue of the Karaites, who had a large community in Fustat by the tenth century. After the conquest of Egypt by the Fatimid army in 969, the newer town of Cairo was founded north of Fustat. The Jews immediately settled there and built their synagogues. It seems that at first the Jews dwelt in two quarters: al-Jawdariyya in the southern part of the town, south of as-Sikka al-Jadīda Street; and in Zuwayla north of al-Jadīda and between it and Khurunfush Street. The Jews were removed from the al-Jawdariyya quarter by the caliph al-Ḥākim at the beginning of the eleventh century, and after that they were concentrated in the area north of it, which became known as the Jewish Quarter. The Karaites settled in the eastern section of the quarter, where they remained until modern times. At the end of the tenth century the community of Cairo became the religious and cultural center of all the communities in Egypt. *Shemariah b. Elhanan, a pupil of R. *Sherira Gaon, founded a Bet Midrash, which continued to exist after his death in 1011, but did not replace the Palestinian yeshivah till the end of the 11th century, when Palestine was occupied by the Crusaders.

The leaders of Cairo-Fustat in the first half of the 11th century were distinguished scholars. In the Palestinian community they bore the title ḥaver, and in the Babylonian one, allūf. The Palestinian leader Ephraim b. Shemariah and the Babylonian leader *Sahlān b. Abraham wrote both religious and secular poetry. They were in close contact with the geonim of the yeshivot in Palestine and Babylon. *Maẓli'aḥ b. Solomonha-Kohen, a member of the Palestinian family which directed the yeshivah in Palestine as gaon, arrived in Cairo during the first half of the 12th century. He tried to found a yeshivah that would replace the Palestinian yeshivah. These efforts continued to exist until the end of the century (see Mann, Texts, 1 (1931), 255ff.). During the second half of the century, the yeshivah, was headed by *Nethanel b. Moses ha-Levi and later by his brother Sar Shalom ha-Levi. The 12th-century traveler *Benjamin of Tudela relates that when he visited Cairo there were 7,000 Jews there, but this figure seems to be an exaggeration as there were probably not more than 1,500 Jews in Cairo (see E. Ashtor's notes in jqr, 50 (1959/60), 57ff.). The second half of the 12th century marked the decline of Fustat. In 1168 the Egyptians set the town on fire to prevent its seizure by the Crusaders; after its destruction it was not restored to its former state. While some Jews remained in Fustat, many of them left for the new Cairo. It seems that Maimonides lived in Fustat in the years 1171–1204.

Apparently his son Abraham and his grandson David still lived in Fustat but the late negidim from the Maimonides family all lived in New Cairo. It would seem though that Fustat declined only slowly. Under the rule of the Fatimids until 1171 and the Ayyubids from 1171 to 1250 the Jews enjoyed a certain amount of tolerance, but they suffered many persecutions during the reign of the *Mamluks from 1250 to 1517. Naturally, the decrees of the sultans against the non-Muslim communities were at first applied with severity in the capital. Sometimes the non-Muslims of Cairo were the only victims of this persecution, while the Christians and Jews in other places were exempted. These activities were most often directed against the Copts, the largest non-Muslim community in the Egypto-Syrian Mamluk kingdom, and were then extended to the Jews. In 1265 the Christians of Cairo were accused of setting buildings on fire to avenge the defeat of the Franks by the Muslim rulers of Palestine. According to Muslim chroniclers, Sultan Baybars (1233–77) gathered the Christians and Jews of Cairo under the citadel walls and threatened to burn them alive unless they agreed to pay a large sum of money, which they finally did over many years. In 1301 the general persecution of non-Muslims was renewed; those who suffered most were the Christians and Jews of Cairo. Christian and Jewish houses of prayer were closed down, and some of them were not reopened for many years, though one synagogue reopened in 1310. In 1316 the non-Muslim places of worship were again closed, but they were reopened after a short while. A severe persecution of non-Muslims took place in 1354. According

to Muslim authors, there were riots in Cairo during which the fanatical mob destroyed all non-Muslim homes that were higher than the Muslim ones. During the 15th century the sultans made even greater efforts to prove their piety by persecuting the non-Muslims, and Muslim records of that time give much information on the attacks against Jews and Christians. From time to time searches for wine were carried out in their neighborhoods, and all the barrels found were poured out into the street. The Muslim fanatics often directed their attention toward the synagogues, accusing the Jews of having built additions to the synagogues, which were forbidden according to Islamic law; detailed searches were carried out and senseless accusations were brought against them. In 1442 there was a general investigation of all non-Muslim places of worship to ascertain whether any new portions had been added to the buildings. As a result of the accusation that the Jews had written the name of Muhammad on the floor where the ḥazzan stood, the Muslims destroyed the almemar ("pulpit") of a synagogue in Fustat and maltreated the Jews. Later, the Muslim judges decided that a Karaite synagogue and a Rabbanite bet midrash in the Zuwayla neighborhood should be confiscated because they had been private houses that had been turned into places of worship without authorization. Finally, the government demanded a solemn promise from non-Muslims that no alterations would be made in any of their community buildings.

During the reign of Sultan Ināl (1453–1461), after rumors had spread that the non-Muslims had built new places of worship, a further investigation took place. It was only rarely, as in 1473, that the Muslim authorities consented even to the repair of places of worship. During the whole of this period there existed a relatively powerful Karaite community in Cairo whose relations with the Rabbanites were not always good. A great dispute broke out between the two communities in 1465, when a newly arrived group of Spanish Marranos wanted to join the Karaites. The case was brought before the Muslim authorities and the son of the sultan tried to use the occasion to extort money from the Jews. However, the case was peacefully concluded; the two communities reached an agreement, and the sultan ordered his son not to interfere with the Jews. The Mamluk rule not only brought harsh legislation and persecution on the Jews of Cairo, but also barred most of them from commerce in spices and other Indian and Far Eastern products, which had become the monopoly of a wealthy group of merchants. The economic status of the Jews, who had been a middle class of artisans and merchants under the Fatimids and Ayyubids, was now undermined, even though there remained a small privileged group employed in the royal mint and in banking affairs. Meshullam of *Volterra, who was in Egypt in 1481, reports that at that time there were 800 Jewish households in Cairo, in addition to 150 Karaite and 50 Samaritan families. R. Obadiah of *Bertinoro, who visited Cairo in 1488, reports 500 Rabbanite families, 100 Karaite, and 50 Samaritan. According to the Muslim chronicler al-Maqrīzī (d. 1442), there were five synagogues in the new Cairo in the first half of the 15th century: two belonged to the Rabbanites, two to the Karaites, and one to the Samaritans.

At the beginning of the 16th century many refugees came from Spain. Three distinct congregations were then formed: *Mustaʿrabs (native Arabic-speaking Jews), Maghribim (Jews of North African origin), and Spanish. Among these congregations, each of which had its own bet din and charitable institutions, there was occasional conflict, such as the great dispute of 1527 between the Mustaʿrabs and the Maghribim over precedents in the common synagogue. The Spanish exiles surpassed the other communities, both in Jewish scholarship and generally; their scholars were even appointed as rabbis in the other communities. Such was the case with R. Joseph Iskandari, who, although of Spanish origin, became rabbi of the Mustaʿrabs. Generally, in the course of time the Mustaʿrabs accepted the customs of the Spanish Jews in their prayers, while in time the descendants of the Spanish exiles became assimilated with the majority of the Jewish population and to a great extent stopped speaking Spanish. During the 16th century eminent scholars filled the rabbinical positions of Cairo. Most of them were of Spanish origin, but their halakhic decisions were universally accepted. During the first half of that century R. *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra was the foremost rabbinical author in Cairo. R. Moses b. Isaac *Alashkar and R. Jacob *Berab were his contemporaries. After Ibn Abi Zimra emigrated to Palestine, R. Bezalel *Ashkenazi became the recognized authority. During the second half of the century, R. Jacob *Castro, R. Ḥayyim Kafusi, and R. Solomon di Trani lived in Cairo.

The Turks, who conquered Egypt in 1517, did not usually interfere with the Jews in religious matters. Nevertheless, there were occasions when they were influenced by the accusations of the Muslim fanatics, as in 1545 when the central synagogue was closed down and not reopened until 1548. Also, Muslim mobs often attacked Jewish funeral processions on their way to the cemetery in Basātīn, some distance from the town. As a result, the dead were sometimes buried without procession, or the funerals were held at night, and at other times Muslim guards were hired. However, the greatest oppression of the Jews was economic. On the one hand, the Turkish governors delegated financial administration, such as the operation of the mint and the collection of taxes and customs to Jews, but on the other hand, they were jealous of the wealth of these Jewish bankers and from time to time maltreated them. The first such case occurred in 1524, when governor Ahmed Pasha extorted a large sum of money from Abraham *Castro, the director of the mint, and threatened to slaughter all the Jews of Cairo unless they provided him with a large sum of money. However, on the day appointed for payment, he was killed by some soldiers who opposed his plan to rebel against the sultan. This day of salvation was commemorated as an annual Purim Miẓrayim ("Purim of Egypt"). Often false accusations were brought against the Çelebis (treasury officials of the governors, who were also Jewish community leaders), and several of them were executed. Others were executed without any pretext. Many Cairo Jews who were closely related to these wealthy officials also suffered greatly. The tyranny and extortion of the Turkish governors worsened during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the process of decline and corruption in the Turkish government also had an effect on the condition of the large community in the capital of Egypt. The standard of Jewish learning fell, even though some of the community's rabbis were eminent halakhic authorities. The most important rabbis were the following: in the 17th century, Isaac Castro, Samuel *Vital (the son of R. Ḥayyim *Vital), Mordecai ha-Levi and his son Abraham; in the 18th century, Solomon *Algazi; and in the 19th century, Moses Algazi, Elijah Israel, his cousin Moses, and Raphael Aaron *Ben Simeon, author of the works Tuv Miẓrayim and Nehar Miẓrayim.

In independent Egypt under Muhammad Ali (1805–48) a new era of development for the Jewish community began. In 1840 Moses *Montefiore, Adolphe *Crémieux, and Solomon *Munk visited Cairo, and founded schools in which Jewish youth were educated according to European standards. The economic development of Egypt attracted Jews from other Mediterranean countries, many of whom settled in Cairo. Even so, the number of Jews did not exceed 4,000 until the middle of the 19th century. In 1882 there were 5,000 Jews in Cairo, and by 1897, 10,000 including 1,000 Karaites. In 1917 there were approximately 29,000 Jews. Among these immigrants there were some Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe who founded their own synagogue, but also collaborated with the existing community. The economic situation of the Jewish community improved and many of its members, such as the*Suarez, *Mosseri, and Cicurel families, prospered in commerce and banking. The greater part of the community moved from the ancient Jewish quarter and built houses in the newer districts of Zamālik, Heliopolis, and the "Garden City." The Jews became active in public affairs and some of them were appointed to the legislative assemblies and government institutions. R. Yom Tov Israel was appointed to the Legislative Assembly by Khedive Ismail Pasha, and Jacob *Cattaui became the khedive's private banker and the chief revenue officer of Egypt. His son Joseph became minister of finance in 1923, while another son Moses was president of the Cairo community for 40 years. Chief Rabbi Haim *Nahoum was appointed a member of the Egyptian Academy of Science in 1925.

The Zionist movement found supporters among the Jews of Cairo. From the beginning of the 20th century Zionist societies and newspapers were established in the city. In 1900 the weekly newspaper Miẓrayim ("Egypt") was published in Ladino, in 1907–08 the Yiddish periodical Die Zeit appeared, and in 1908 the French weekly L'Aurore was founded. The last appeared until World War ii. In 1919 the French weekly Israel was founded and in 1939 it amalgamated with the La Tribune Juive, which was published in Alexandria until 1948. From 1934 to 1948 there was also an Arab weekly, al-Shams. The Karaite community published the Arabic weekly al-Kalīm from 1945.

[Eliyahu Ashtor]

Hebrew Printing In Cairo

The first Hebrew printing press in Cairo, which was also the first one in the whole Middle East outside of Palestine, was founded in 1657 by Gershom b. Eliezer *Soncino. He was the last printer of a famous family of printers; he had previously worked in his father's press in Constantinople. Two of his books printed in this year are known: Refu'ot ha-Talmud, a book of remedies, and Pitron Ḥalomot ("Interpretation of Dreams"), attributed to R. *Hai Gaon. A second printing press was founded in Cairo in 1740 by Abraham b. Moses Yatom, who had also previously worked as a printer in Constantinople. He printed only one book, the first edition of Ḥok le-Yisrael, edited by R. Isaac Baruch of Cairo. This work was later reprinted in many editions. The renewal of Hebrew printing in Cairo took place in 1905, and after that year there were five Hebrew printing presses. They were principally used for commercial purposes, with the printing of books as a secondary activity. Up to World War ii, they printed over 50 books, most of which served the needs of the Egyptian communities or were the works of authors living in Egypt.

[Avraham Yaari]

Contemporary Period

According to the 1947 population census in Egypt, there were 41,860 Jews in Cairo (constituting 64% of Egyptian Jewry), of whom 58.8% were merchants, and 17.9% were in industry. Although it contained a few wealthy Jews, the Cairo community was poorer than that of Alexandria. After the arrests of Cairo Jews in 1948–49 and the deportations of 1956–57, only 5,587 Jews remained, according to the census of 1960. In 1968, after the *Six-Day War, the population numbered only about 1,500 and by 1970 had dwindled to a few hundred. At the beginning of the 21st century fewer than 200 remained, mostly elderly and poor. While some inhabited the Jewish quarter in the older part of the town, most Jews lived in mixed neighborhoods, particularly in the new suburb of Heliopolis.

In 1948 riots broke out as a result of the un decision to partition Palestine, which was a tremendous political defeat for the Arab League. A mob was aroused and joined by shouting gangs of students in attacks on Jews and Jewish property and businesses. In December of the same year, the Arab League met in Cairo to consider its defeat against the background of vast demonstrations. Afterward reports leaked out of Egypt that in August, 150 Jews had been murdered in a particularly violent pogrom during which three rabbis were killed in Cairo's slaughterhouse. The real estate of many Jews was confiscated and transferred to the administration of a trustee for confiscated Jewish property (this occurred again after the Sinai Campaign in 1956). Many Jewish shops and businesses were damaged during the rioting of January 1952, when property valued at £10,000,000 – including the Jewish school in the ʿAbbāsiyya quarter and the chain of stores belonging to the Cicurel family – was destroyed or stolen. The chairman of the Cairo Community Council, Salvador Cicurel, resigned in protest against the rioting, returning to his post only in January 1953.

Mass arrests of Egyptian Jews began in June and July 1954. Those arrested, numbering about 100, were brought to two concentration camps. Many of the inmates of these camps were subsequently released, and only a minority of 10 to 15 were brought to trial. Much attention was attracted to the trial of 13 Jews charged with spying for Israel. The trial was opened on Dec. 11, 1954, and the court concluded its sessions on Jan. 5, 1955. Two defendants were condemned to death, two others received life sentences, and the rest were sentenced to imprisonment (see *Egypt; Moshe *Marzouk; Pinḥas *Lavon).

In late 1956 Cicurel left Egypt and was succeeded as chairman of the Cairo Community Council by Albert Romano. The council administered the institutions of the community, which included schools (four in 1954 containing 700 pupils) and a hospital. The government confiscated the hospital in November 1956 and agreed to pay an annual rent to the council, which was also responsible for the charitable organizations and synagogues. Ashkenazi Jews had their own council, synagogues, and charitable organizations. The 3,105 *Karaites living in Cairo in 1947 had dwindled to only a few hundred by 1968. Cairo's chief rabbi, Haim Nahoum, was also the chief rabbi of the country; upon his death in 1960, he was succeeded by Ḥayyim Duwayk who left in 1972.

[Haim J. Cohen]


Mann, Egypt; Ashtor, Toledot; J.M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969); Ben-Ze'ev, in: Sefunot, 1 (1956), 7–24; A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ, 1 (1937), 53–55, 57–67; idem, in: ks, 24 (1947/48), 67–69; H.D. Friedberg, Toledotha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah ve-Togarmah, 2 (1956), 45; Cowley, in: Festschrift… A. Freimann (1935), 89f. add. bibliography: S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 6 vols. (1967–93); Y. Meital, Jewish Sites in Egypt (1995); E. Bareket, Fustat on the Nile (1999).


views updated May 18 2018


the capital of egypt, the largest city in the middle east and africa, and a major political, religious, and cultural hub for the arab, islamic, and african worlds.

A city with fertile hinterland and a crossroads location for river, sea, and land trade has flourished near the juncture of the Nile valley of Upper Egypt and the delta of Lower Egypt for five thousand years. In 640 c.e. the conquering Muslim Arabs founded al-Fustat (now Old Cairo to Westerners), which superseded the Babylon of the Romans and its predecessor across the river, the Memphis of the pharaohs. In 969 the invading Fatimids founded al-Qahira (the Victorious), and Cairo acquired its current name and resumed its ancient role as an imperial center. (In Arabic, Misr has long been used interchangeably for both Egypt and Cairo.) The Fatimids established the renowned mosque-university alAzhar, and Salah al-Din (Saladin) of the Ayyubid dynasty built the hilltop Citadel, which remained the seat of power until the mid-nineteenth century.

Its population weakened by epidemics and the ruling Mamluks' internecine warfare, Cairo fell to the Ottomans in 1517. By the seventeenth century the Cape of Good Hope route had deprived Cairo (reduced once more to the status of a provincial city) of much of its spice trade. Europeans no longer spoke with awe of the city Egyptians called the Mother of the World. In 1798 the cartographers of Napoléon Bonaparte's military expedition found a city of a quarter of a million people, half of the population of Cairo at its fourteenth-century peak. The narrow, irregular streets of the preindustrial city served pedestrians, riders, and pack animals well enough, and balconies provided welcome shade. Gates that closed at night and dead-end alleys marked off city quarters, which were defined mainly along religious, ethnic, and occupational lines. Waqf endowments supported mosques, schools, Sufi lodges, baths, fountains, and hospitals.

The military, economic, administrative, and educational reforms introduced during Muhammad Ali's reign (18051848) left few external marks on Cairo, and the city's population, checked by epidemics and competition from burgeoning Alexandria,

remained stagnant until the middle of the century. After 1850, however, the population grew because of lower mortality rates, an influx of people from the countryside, and the immigration of European and Levantine entrepreneurs. The Alexandria-Cairo Railroad and the Suez Canal, whose construction was completed respectively in 1855 and 1869, quickened the pace of life in Cairo. The city's share of Egypt's total population, which had dipped from 5.8 percent in 1800 to a low of 4.7 percent in 1865 (when Alexandria was in full bloom), rose to 6.9 percent in 1897. Today it accounts for over a quarter of the total population of Egypt.

Under Muhammad Ali's grandson Ismaʿil (r. 18631879) and the British occupation (18821922), the unused space between Cairo and its river ports Bulaq and Old Cairo was developed. Inspired by the municipal improvements effected in Paris by Baron Georges Haussmann and determined to impress the Europeans at the ceremonies celebrating the Suez Canal's completion, Ismaʿil instructed engineer Ali Mubarak to equip the suburb Ismaʿiliyya with Parisian-style boulevards, traffic hubs, gardens, palaces, and even an opera house. Ismaʿil had two boulevards for vehicle traffic cut through the old city before the bankruptcy of Egypt intervened and cost him the throne. European connoisseurs of "Oriental Cairo" persuaded his successor to found the Comité de Preservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe (1881), and preservationists still fight to save some monuments and neighborhoods in Cairo from relentless overpopulation, decay, and demolition for urban renewal.

Under the British, Cairo's European population (30,000, or 6 percent of the city's population in 1897) dominated big business and filled the fashionable new quarters of Heliopolis, Garden City, Maʿadi, and Zamalek with their Mediterranean-style villas. European concessionaires developed the

water, gas, electricity, telephone, and tramway services, and built the bridges across the Nile. Bridges made accessible the first artery to the West Bank in 1872. By 1914 the access provided by additional bridges to more arteries to the West Bank and to the islands of Rawda and Gazira resulted in rapid development. Between 1896 and 1914 electric tramways (soon replaced by motor vehicles) revolutionized transportation within the city and made possible the swift development of suburbs to the northeast (Abbasiyya, Heliopolis), the north (Shubra), and the west (Rawda, Zamalik, Giza).

Between 1922 and 1952 the domination by Europeans of economic and political life in Egypt ebbed. In 1949 the closing of the Mixed Courts put an end to special privileges for Westerners, and Cairo belatedly acquired a municipal government that was distinct from the national ministries. Life in the old city deteriorated (see the masterful portrayal of this time by novelist Najib Mahfuz). Well-to-do Egyptians left for the suburbs, Egyptians from rural parts of the country crowded in, and the overflow of tens of thousands of inhabitants spilled over into the cemeteries of the City of the Dead.

Cairo Population Estimates
sources: abu-lughod, janet. cairo: 1,001 years of the city victorious. princeton, nj: princeton university press, 1971; world almanac 2004. new york: world almanac education group.

Under Gamal Abdel Nasser (r. 19521970) there was an acceleration of both planned and unplanned urban development. Private utility and transport concessions reverted to the state, waqf reform freed land for development, a new airport opened, and a revamped road network briefly alleviated some of the traffic congestion. The Corniche exposed Cairo to the river, and Maydan al-Tahrir became the city center. The Nile Hilton and the new Shepheard's were the first of many luxury hotels built to cater to the expanding tourist trade. Heavy industry was set up in suburban Hilwan and Shubra al-Khayma. The 1956 Master Plan for Cairo recommended that the city limit its population to 3.5 million (a maximum that had already been exceeded) and advocated planned satellite communities and development on desert rather than on agricultural land. The resulting Nasr Citywith government offices, housing blocks, schools, a 100,000-seat stadium, and a new campus for al-Azharwas a success, but Muqattam City, perched high on the desert cliffs, was not.

Since 1970 the Hilwanal-Marj metro line has been opened in Cairo, sewer and telephone systems have been upgraded, and more satellite cities have been built in the desert (Sadat City, 10th Ramadan, 6th October, al-Ubur, 15th May). The population crush nevertheless threatens to dwarf such efforts. The runaway sprawl into agricultural lands in the delta and Giza continues while the problem-plagued desert satellite cities sit half empty and a purple cloud of polluted air regularly hangs over Cairo. Opportunities for jobs, schooling, housing, and healthcare are better in Cairo than in the teeming countryside, and people from rural areas keep pouring in. Shanty towns proliferate. One out of every four Egyptians lives in this Third-World megalopolis of seventeen million people.

Cairo remains the cultural capital of the Arab world. Its assets include al-Azhar and four modern universities, twenty-odd museums, a major movie industry and playhouses, a radio and television industry, bookshops and publishing houses, al-Ahram and other periodicals, a zoo, a new opera house, the headquarters of the Arab League, and the Academy of the Arabic Language.

see also azhar, al-; bonaparte, napolÉon; cairo university; egypt; mahfuz, najib; mamluks; mixed courts; muhammad ali; nasser, gamal abdel; suez canal; waqf.


Abu-Lughod, Janet. Cairo: 1,001 Years of the City Victorious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

André, Raymond. Cairo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Francy, Claire E. Cairo: The Practical Guide, 2003. Cairo: American University in Cairo, 2002.

Rodenbeck, Max. Cairo: The City Victorious. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Seton-Williams, Veronica; Stocks, Peter; and Seton-Williams, M. V. The Blue Guide Egypt, 3d edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Staffa, Susan Jane. Conquest and Fusion: The Social Evolution of Cairo, A.D. 6421850. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1977.

Stewart, Desmond. Great Cairo: Mother of the World, 3d edition. Cairo: American University in Cairo, 1996.

Donald Malcolm Reid


views updated Jun 08 2018


The foundations of present-day Cairo rest upon the ancient capital of Memphis, one of the oldest urban settlements in the world, which flourished between 5000 and 2500 b.c.e. Memphis was finally surpassed by the seaport of Alexandria when Egypt became a Mediterranean colony of the Greeks, but its strategic position ensured continuous settlement. As a result, the city was still thriving at the time of the Roman conquest around 24 b.c.e. Although the region was contested by the Romans and Persians at the opening of the seventh century c.e., it was finally the Arabs who prevailed, thereby setting into motion the genesis of Cairo or al-Qahira, The Victorious City, as it is still referred to in Arabic. Cairo would in time grow into one of the most important religious, cultural, and political centers of the Muslim world.

The urban centers that sprouted under Islamic civilization surfaced from either army camps, that eventually developed into permanent cities, or princely towns established to commemorate new dynasties and to affirm their authority. Cairo was conceived out of an amalgamation of such regions, in which an army camp settlement fused with the princely centers established at its periphery. As such, the successive stages of Cairo's genesis also capture the histories of her past masters.

In 640 c.e. the forces of the illustrious Arab general ˓Amr ibn al-˓As reached what is present-day Cairo. He set up camp there and established the first mosque in Africa, which still stands and is one of the most important religious icons of Cairo today. The settlement itself came to be known as Fustat, which simply means "entrenchment," and eventually developed into a burgeoning city. The first major dynastic shift in the Muslim empire left its mark upon the Egyptian landscape as well and the Abbasid victory over the Ummayads in 750 c.e. gave rise to the princely town of al-˓Askar (the Cantonment). In the century that followed the communities of Fustat and al-˓Askar fused to form a combined settlement stretching along the axis of the Nile River. The atmosphere of growing provincial autonomy in the period that followed fueled the ambitions of Ahmad ibn Tulun, a man of Turkish extraction appointed as deputy for the governor of Egypt. He founded his own princely city slightly to the north of al-˓Askar in 870 c.e., which was called al-Qata˒i˓ (the Wards), reflecting its feudal base. The awesome mosque of Ibn Tulun, built between 876 and 878, is one of the most prominent legacies inherited from that era and still stands, surrounded by the crowded metropolis of today.

The most significant event in the genesis of Cairo is undoubtedly the rise of the Shi˓ite Fatimid dynasty in Tunisia at the beginning of the tenth century. The Fatimid caliphate reached its full expression on Egyptian soil and it was its fourth caliph, Mu˓izz al-Din, who gained sovereignty over the area in 969. His brilliant general Jawhar led the campaign and almost immediately began staking out the walls of a new palace city after his arrival. The city was initially called al-Mansuriyya but was renamed al-Qahira al-Mu˓izziyya four years later, to commemorate and celebrate the arrival of the caliph. With the coming of Mu˓izz al-Din, Cairo or al-Qahirah was formally inducted into world history.

Al-Qahirah was developed into a city of lavish beauty and intellectual vitality under the Fatimids. But the city remained largely inaccessible to common people from areas like Fustat, who could only enter the royal enclosure by special permit. Ironically, the al-Azhar University, which is today recognized as one of the most important intellectual centers of Sunni Islam, was established by the Fatimids to promote their Shi˓ite doctrine.

The closing of the eleventh century marked the beginning of the first Crusade and also the decline of the Fatimid dynasty. In the period between 1164 and 1169 Cairo became a pawn in the power struggle between the Seljuks of Syria and the Christian forces in Jerusalem. Although still nominally ruled by the Fatimids, true control of the city eventually fell into the hands of the young Sunni governor Saladin (Salah al-Din) al-Ayyubi, sent to defend Cairo against the Crusader campaigns. Saladin in time established the Ayyubid dynasty and even reconquered Jerusalem. His mercurial rise contributed once again to the further transformation of Cairo. Under him, the mosque of ˓Amr was restored and al-Azhar University was purged of its Shi˓ite bias. A madrasa (school) was founded at the tomb of Imam al-Shafi i soon after the Ayyubid conquest of Egypt and a mausoleum commemorating the great imam is still in existence today. But Saladin's most important and long-lived addition to the city was the Citadel, built for him in 1176 as a place of refuge and continuously expanded upon by later generations.

By the fourteenth century Cairo was recognized as a world capital, reaching its zenith under the Mamluks. Cairo's greatest growth and development took place in this period. In spite of constant forays against the Crusaders and Mongols, the Mamluk rulers still devoted energies to the development of the city. For example, Sultan Qalawun erected his famous hospital in the heart of the city during this era. Although the Cairo of the fifteenth century still surpassed any European city in terms of urban development and population, this period also marks the beginning of its decline. Cairo's economic prosperity was reduced considerably due to Vasco da Gama's successful circumnavigation of Africa and his arrival in India in 1498. The East-West Oriental spice trade with Europe, which passed through Egypt, was thereby severed, stranding Cairo in a backwater of the rapidly changing global map. Not even the Ottomans, who finally ousted the Mamluks in 1517, were able to hamper the city's downward spiral.

The modernizing reforms instituted by Isma˓il Pasha in the late nineteenth century ultimately breathed life back into Cairo. These reforms ironically were inspired by the urban developments of modern-day Europe. Cairo is today the largest metropolis in the Middle East and is now being stifled by overurbanization resulting from overcentralization. This is but the latest challenge facing the City Victorious. Having always been at the forefront of Arab and Islamic trends, it is a challenge to which Cairo will surely rise.

See alsoSultanates: Ayyubids ; Sultanates: Ghaznavid ; Sultanates: Mamluk ; Sultanates: Seljuk .


Abu-Lughod, Janet. Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Ibrahim, Saad Eddin; Sobhi, Hoda M; and El-Ahwal, Abdel K. "Problems of Over-Urbanization: The Case of Cairo." In The Middle East City: Ancient Traditions Confront a Modern World. Edited by Abdulaziz Y. Saqqaf. New York: Paragon House Publisher, 1987.

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Aslam Farouk-Alli


views updated Jun 27 2018

Cairo (Al-Qahirah) Capital of Egypt and port on the River Nile. The largest city in Africa, Cairo was founded in ad 969 by the Fatimid dynasty and subsequently fortified by Saladin. Medieval Cairo became capital of the Mamluk empire, but declined under Turkish rule. During the 20th century it grew dramatically in population and area. Nearby are world-famous archaeological sites, the sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza; museums include the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and Museum of Islamic Art. Old Cairo is a world heritage site containing over 400 mosques and other fine examples of Islamic art and architecture. Its five universities include the world's oldest, housed in the mosque of Al Azhar (972) and the centre of Shi'ite Koranic study. Industries: tourism, textiles, leather, iron and steel, sugar refining. Pop. (2002 est.) 7,764,700. See also Egyptian architecture


views updated May 23 2018

Cairo (Arab., al-Qāhira, ‘the victorious’, but also from al-Qāhir, Mars, the city of Mars). Capital city of the Fāṭimids, established by al-Muʿizz in 969 (AH 358). It was originally called al-Manṣūriyya until al-Muʿizz entered it, and only then was it called ‘the victorious city of al-Muʿizz’. Under the Mamluke dynasty (1250–1517 (AH 648–922)), many of the great mosques were built, including al-Azhar.


views updated May 29 2018

Cairo ★★ 1942

War correspondent Young lands in Cairo where he is supposed to pass along classified information to a Nazi spy posing as a Brit. He meets and falls in love with American movie queen thought to be enemy agent (Mac-Donald) and a race across the desert follows when Young is trapped in a pyramid. Catchy tunes can't save this cheesy WWII spy spoof that marked the end of Mac-Donald's MGM contract. 101m/B VHS . Jeanette MacDonald, Robert Young, Ethel Waters, Reginald Owen, Grant Mitchell, Lionel Atwill, Eduardo Ciannelli, Mitchell Lewis; D: Woodbridge S. Van Dyke; W: John McClain; M: Herbert Stothart.