This study focuses on the case of Cairo’s downtown corniche, which was originally designed as an urban showcase of Cairo, influenced by the perception of the Gulf countries way of life. Over the last decades the Cairo downtown cornice gradually became one of the favourite gathering places of the popular social layers. Taking an evening walk on the cornice constitutes a way to take ownership of a space which was originally designed for upper social classes, contributing in having the latter live in selected private spaces in order to avoid social mixing. The accelerated building programmes of luxury hotels that started under Sadat’s presidency attest to public policies willing to make a prestigious urban focal pointout of the corniche through the urban transcription of the master plan of Gulf cities. While well-off people commonly gather in new-built towers, the avenue is invaded every evening by families, young people and itinerant vendors from lower social classes. During the social claiming in early 2013, the corniche was blocked, leading frustrated groups of teenagers to overrun the Semiramis hotel. However, these events stopped neither the upper nor the lower classes to return once the situation calmed down. How much does the ‘gulfization’ of the corniche influence its attraction? Does the Gulf way of life today symbolize social achievement for Egyptians of all social classes?
Maïa Sinno is a PhD Student in economic and political geography at Sorbonne University (Paris) in partnership with the CEDEJ in Cairo where she spent the last two years. Her research focuses on the influence of Gulf countries’ investments in Egypt.