From a population of one million at the beginning of the 20th Century to over 18 million today, Cairo’s expansion has been rapid. Most capitals are magnets, but the speed with which the Egyptian one has grown in the last century is testament to both its remarkable centripetal power and surrounding vacuum of opportunity.
For centuries, Cairo’s growth has been checked by geography, bounded by a narrow strip of fertile, Nile-irrigated land, with nothing but desert beyond. Now, faced with the city’s barely contained chaos and alarmed by the growing slums, Cairo’s elites have begun to dream of escape. Along the Ring Road, billboards advertise exclusive new private developments – Utopia, Dreamland, Palm Hills, Belle Ville and The Egypt of My Desires. Cairo’s future, it seems, lies outside the city’s boundaries, in the desert, where it can be built from scratch.
Drawn in to these vast spaces, and surrounded by the drone of construction, I was mesmerised by the exposed layers of new urban centers being developed among the desert dunes. 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 remodeling 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.