Jason Larkin: Cairo Divided

Mohamed Ashraf begins his 10-hour shift as a security guard on one of the main roads leading into a large desert development east of Cairo. Many developers hire private security firms to prevent building materials being stolen

Palm Hills Village in New Cairo comprises 26 acres of residential apartments and a three-storey mall with a retractable roof. The development is targeted at students from the American University in Cairo, which relocated to the urban edge after 90 years in central Cairo

Most capitals are magnets, says British-born Jason Larkin, who moved to Cairo after completing his studies in photography in 2007. The speed with which Cairo has grown in the last century—from 600,000 in 1900 to around 18 million—is, however, testament to both its remarkable centripetal power and surrounding vacuum of opportunity. Africa’s largest urban metropolitan area, Cairo is home to nearly a quarter of all Egyptians. Slums are a pervasive feature of its cityscapes. The Ministry of Planning says there is a need for 5.3 million housing units to accommodate the expected increase in population to 23 million. Cairo’s growth is however constrained by the arid geography that surrounds it. This has not stopped Cairo’s elites from acting on their dreams of escape. “Cairo’s future, it seems, lies outside the city’s boundaries, in the desert, where it can be built from scratch,” says Larkin, who was drawn to Cairo’s desert periphery because of the construction currently taking place. “I was mesmerised by the exposed layers of new urban centres being developed among the desert dunes,” he says. “In focusing on these landscapes I wanted to capture the reality of fantasy lifestyles in mid-production, to document the extravagance of a few whose wealth put sharp focus on the fact that 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day. The surreal remodelling of the landscape shows little appreciation for the environment it is rapidly colonising. From the decisions of a few, Cairo is morphing its periphery into its core whilst condemning the previous centre to a life on the margins. I felt witness to a mass exit strategy taking shape, and with the camera, recorded the foundations of abandonment in pursuit of self-interest and exclusive isolation.” To continue reading subscribe or get  a copy of the print edition

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