The Nile Valley covers merely 5% of Egypt’s territory, while providing a living environment for 95% of the country’s population. This thousand kilometer long and fertile strip of land embedded in smooth valley topography bordering the desert allowed the genesis of civilizations dating back as far as 3000 B.C. Today, the sublime beauty of this ‘linear oasis’ meandering through the Sahara is still recognizable, a testament to the extraordinary achievements of its ancient cultures. Throughout the 19th and the 20th centuries, modernization processes have tremendously transformed Egypt and the Nile Valley with multiple layers of urbanization and new technologies in agriculture and water management. This growth reflected the significant political and economical breaks that society repeatedly underwent, from the period of Muhammad Ali, to the British protectorate, to independence under Nasser, Sadat, and since 1981, Hosni Mubarak.
Today, Egypt is considered a developing country drawing main economic revenue from pass-tolls of the Suez Canal, the real estate market, and the tourist sector. However, main challenges to the country’s development still remain the scarcity of water, land, and above all, a rapid population growth of more than one million people each year. Egyptian society is also experiencing an increasing social and economic divide, with the formation of new and affluent elites, while much of the population continue to live in poverty. Governmental apparatus and economic management are strongly centralized and concentrated on the Greater Region of Cairo. In contrast, the major agricultural regions of Upper Egypt and in the Nile Valley seem to hold less political power and legal means for controlling their future. In this situation, various informal energies emerge and coalesce into a vital, self-sustaining mechanism. Informal housing composes much of new construction in Egypt and the Nile Valley, executed in a way that appears more advanced than elsewhere in the developing world. The massive demand for housing is also not met through the so-called New Town or New Settlement program, run by the state since the 1970s. Developed through three generations of cities spread along the Nile Valley on desert land, the program continues to target an upper middle class and is incompatible with actual family needs.
This research project examines the Nile Valley as neither a rural nor urban condition. Rather, the region is seen as an example of contemporary changing urbanization within a complete economic stasis. It is an urbanization paradox in which a rapidly increasing population coupled with extremely limited economic means creates an environment forced to ‘move forward within its stagnation’.
Christian Mueller Inderbitzin