Urban Studies Cairo
Joseph Ben Prestel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0034


Much like the vibrant city on the Nile itself, scholarship on Cairo has seen many changes in recent years. The continued growth of the Egyptian capital, the transformation of its cityscape, as well as the political transitions of the last decade have contributed to shifting depictions of the city. Between the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the rise of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the Egyptian presidency, a few years could fundamentally change authors’ perspectives. The magnitude of change is probably best reflected in the new capital that the Egyptian government is building approximately 40 kilometers east of Cairo. Scholars have described this project as an “anti-Cairo” and its conclusion is set to affect the city. Demographic developments add to the image of transformation. Since the publication of Janet Abu-Lughod’s groundbreaking study The City Victorious in 1971, Cairo’s number of inhabitants has grown from around seven million to between fifteen and twenty-five million. In tandem with demographic growth, the city has been expanding into neighboring governorates along the Nile. Real estate companies and the state have also continued to develop new satellite cities at a distance from previously urbanized land. The Egyptian capital now extends much further along the Nile and also reaches deeper into the desert west and east of the city than it did five decades ago. While mapping is a politically fraught issue, David Sims estimated in 2010 that the newly planned towns around Cairo alone extend over a combined area of 1,174 square kilometers (Sims 2010, p. 172). This shifting terrain sets limits to any attempt at a comprehensive overview of literature about Cairo. Instead, the present bibliography seeks to capture continuity and change in scholarly literature on the city. It contains older works, which still inspire thinking about Cairo, as well as studies that focus on the city’s recent transformation over the past ten years. The bibliography is split into eight parts: General Overviews; Urban Planning, Architecture, and the Cityscape; The State and Urban Politics; Economy and Inequality; History; Neighborhoods; Gender and Sexuality; and Religion. This division reflects some of the priorities of scholarship about the city; it illustrates under which headings scholars have thought about Cairo. Such priorities have themselves invited criticism. Several titles in the categories of history or gender and sexuality demonstrate how the focus of scholarship has changed over time. In some studies, the dividing line between research on Cairo and Egypt also tends to become blurred. The particular political, cultural, and economic centralization of the country contributes to publications that are largely based on observations in Cairo, but are framed in terms of analyses of the whole country. It is therefore important to highlight that the city’s centrality endows it with an especially prominent place in studies of Egypt at large.

General Overviews

The number of scholarly books that provide a comprehensive overview of Cairo beyond a single discipline is fairly limited. A long history of stereotyped portrayals of Cairo has proven immensely influential in depictions of the city. The scholarship cited in this section has helped to move beyond oft-cited clichés about a “megacity” in the Global South or essentializing depictions of the “Islamic City.” Instead, the studies of Abu-Lughod 1971 (cited under History), Sims 2010, and Sims 2014 present a thorough engagement with specific processes of change in the Egyptian capital; as Abu-Lughod’s book appeared in the 1970s and provides little insight into developments during the past fifty years, it is placed in the history part of this bibliography. Sims 2010 and Sims 2014 are among the most comprehensive and influential efforts of thinking about the city as a whole. Challenging myths and popular labels associated with Cairo, such as “chaotic” and “disorganized”, Sims provides an in-depth understanding of dynamics that have been shaping the city.

  • Sims, David. Understanding Cairo: The Logics of a City Out of Control. Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 2010.

    This book represents one of the most influential attempts at understanding Cairo as a whole. Sims seeks to move beyond commonly assumed clichés about the Egyptian capital as a chaotic metropolis. Instead, he lines out a detailed analysis of recent changes in the city, such as urban growth, increasing informality, and the development of new housing projects in the desert.

  • Sims, David. Egypt’s Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster? Cairo, Egypt: The American University in Cairo Press, 2014.

    In this book, Sims analyzes the recent proliferation of newly planned cities in Egypt’s desert. As he accounts for this phenomenon, Sims presents motivating factors and interests that fuel the creation of these cities. The book bears relevance to Cairo, as the Egyptian capital itself has been affected by the development of new desert cities, including Sixth of October City and the more recent project for a new capital.

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