“I’m gonna go where the desert sun is
Go where I know the fun is…”
My husband and I are studying downtown, but last week we had to go obtain our university ID cards (which flatteringly said “graduate student” – made me feel young again!) at the American University in Cairo’s new campus. It’s located in the middle of nowhere, in a new desert development about 40 km east of downtown Cairo.
As the university’s web site tactfully points out, the suburb of “New Cairo” (not to be confused with old New Cairo, Masr al-Gadida, i.e. Heliopolis) is “designed to be a predominantly middle-to-high-income residential community with schools, cultural facilities, commercial enterprises, government agencies, hotels, open spaces and parks, with the AUC campus at its center.” Students and faculty enjoy either a safe but boring life on or near the new campus, or a 1- to 1 1/2-hour commute from the city. Fortunately, the university has contracted with a company to provide highly punctual, air-conditioned, wifi-enabled buses from many parts of the city, so commuters need never look up from their laptops.
But I was glued to the window. A huge Christian cemetery:
A shiny new building for (ironically?) a Housing and Development Bank.
Tons of unfinished construction on very fancy-looking gated communities. (Some of these had pretty elaborate guard towers too. They could be taken for high-security prisons, except I suppose that if they were ever inhabited, the guards in the towers would aim their guns outwards rather than in.)
The curious thing about these construction sites was that, driving by mid-morning on a weekday, we did not see any actual construction occurring on any of them. Were they halted because of the legal gray area that has followed the revolution? Or did they run out of capital long before that? Anyway, it doesn’t matter much; I’m sure it will fill in eventually, and the congestion and pollution will get as bad out there as they are in the city center now. Or what are they going to have, zoning laws?
As my husband points out, Cairenes have a history of this sort of behavior. Fustat getting too small? Repurpose it as a garbage dump and build a new capital a little further north. New dynasty? Build another one.
The university itself is quite lovely, apparently well-designed for an undergraduate experience, full of food courts and cheerfully interacting students, and also, at the moment (even as it largely vacates its Tahrir campus), trying hard to associate itself with the Jan 25 Tahrir movement through an enormous display of artwork based on iconic photos of the revolution.