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Urbanization in Egypt

Cairo / Photo Shutterstock

The north of Egypt, where the major cities are located and most economic activity takes place, is generally more prosperous than the south. This leads to substantial migration from the rural south to urban areas in the north, particularly Cairo. Overall, 42.6 percent of the population lives in urban areas, the same proportion as ten years ago. Out of the total population, 11 percent (7.8 million) live in Cairo, 9 percent (6.3 million) in its sister-city Giza, and 6 percent (4.1 million) in Alexandria.

In attempting to relieve the pressure on urban areas, the government has encouraged migration to reclaimed lands in the desert. This strategy has not proven very successful, because the newly irrigated agricultural lands need a great deal of financial investment from farmers and tend to be unattractive because of their remote location.

In general, more people still move from rural land to urban areas than the other way round. Despite high unemployment and lack of housing in the cities, young people still believe the urban environment provides more opportunities. Recent governments have made progress in providing rural areas with more electricity, drinking water, and roads, but the main obstacle facing the development of rural areas remains the lack of job opportunities, pushing many (mainly young men) in those areas to migrate to larger cities.

A recent phenomenon is that of the so-called satellite cities. Although several were developed under the rule of Anwar Sadat, in order to find solutions to the overpopulation of the country’s capital, they increased prodigiously during the last years of Mubarak’s regime. Unused desert land was sold to wealthy businessmen who developed the new satellite cities. These differ greatly from those built during the Sadat era, in that they are developed exclusively for middle- and upper-middle-class families. These families have gradually left the city seeking clean air and luxury in gated, controlled environments that offer more resources than the inhabitants need or can sustain. As more than 1 million had already moved by the last year of Mubarak’s rule, Cairo became more and more the city of the marginalized poor, and slums and crime increased. It is speculated that this segregation of the poor contributed to the pervasive sense of discontent leading up to the revolution of 25 January. Businesses and investments have also moved outside the city, creating a void in the capital. Moreover, as these settlements are located on desert land but offer such luxuries as parks, gardens, and pools, they are steadily creating shortages of water and power.

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