Rights on the Ground

Report | The future of a museumifyed Cairo

Al-Fustat was Egypt’s first capital, built under Amr Ibn al-‘Aas rule, founded in AD 641. Fustat remained a protagonist under the Islamic caliphate, and in between various revolts from Abbasids to Umayyads amongst others in history. However, it retained its central role in its administrative and economic power. The city’s wealth was largely dependent on its great commerce and glass and ceramic industries. In 1168, al-Fustat was burnt down to prevent conquest by the enemies. Rebuilt by Salah el-Deen, the city was united with Cairo into one city.

Today, a lot of a past Fustat is lost. It still contains parts such as Ibn Tulun mosque and Amr Ibn el-‘Aas mosque, in addition to, some buildings reconstructed and preserved. However, the neighborhood became a site visibilizing a past civilization meeting a precarious present with old buildings, neglected streets, and informal residential and commercial areas. Currently, al-Fustat is undergoing a national megaproject to develop and revive it as a ‘civilized’ face for the capital.
The project plans to turn the space into a major tourist attraction, reviving its “old state” including projects of conservation of the present heritage sites, and building six new bridges to link it with Salah Salem road, Autostrad, and the ring road. The project is currently undergoing the removal of neighboring informal areas, developing and hygienizing Ayn al-Syyra lake, transferring the graveyard, transferring the traditional craftsmen from Majra alOyoun wall, and providing alternatives to the locals, ranging from possible alternative housing in Madinet Badr and Asmarat, while moving craftsmen to alRobeiki.

In trying to understand the current transformations that al-Fustat is currently undergoing, one must understand two processes embedded within it: gentrification and museumification. In the backdrop of the neoliberal phenomena, that Egypt has been living since the onset of the nineties; urban development has taken a different shape, whereby one of its main accompanying processes unfolding is gentrification. Gentrification entails the process of changing the social, economic and cultural fabric of certain neighborhoods; in order to increase their economic value, de facto abolish their socio-economic diversity. Perhaps one of Egypt’s interesting present-time cases of this gentrification is al-Fustat. Al-Fustat or Khedival Cairo, is one of the 22 projects within the larger strategic plan ‘Strategic Plan for the Development of the GCR’, aiming at raising the living standards for Egyptians through a redistribution of populations, development of both urban and rural areas amongst other developmental polices. Various neighborhoods were targeted for displacement under the national objective of boosting tourism to bolster the national economy and increase the economic value of these neighborhoods.

 

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