Aristotle said in his book “Politics” that society undergoes successive phases that reflect its evolution. In the beginning, there was the family, which was the first group formed by nature in order to satisfy basic needs. Then came the village, which consisted of several families in order to satisfy needs that are not just basic. And then came the city, which was economically independent and self sufficient.
I believe Aristotle's theory still prevails today as a socio-economic reference for urban and rural areas, with regards to the development of an economic and productive transition into a cultural shift.
The rural economy is based on agriculture and affects culture and behavior differently than the more complex industrial economy of urban areas.
In the 1970s, Egypt went in the opposite direction of development. Instead of capitalizing on the industrial development that took place from 1919 to 1969, and instead of developing agriculture with mechanization, Egypt adopted unproductive economic policies that depended on imports and foreign investments.
Consequently, the city was no longer a city in an industrial sense, and the village did not advance one step forward. People from the villages left to live in the cities, which subsequently became congested and overcrowded.
Incidentally, population increase is a state associated with developmental decline and urban degradation.
So what was the solution?
The solution was temporary housing in areas where there was no infrastructure or services. And soon the temporary housing turned into permanent housing, and the areas turned into slums.
These areas then became a fertile environment for those who “politicize” religion or “religionize” politics.
Slowly, cities turned into extensions of these slums, borders between villages and cities were lost and the distinctive features of each melted away.
Consequently, the elite began to live in gated communities, a concept that is well-known in the United States, where people are provided with a luxurious and safe residence.
But here in Egypt, these are not just residential places, they are more a representation of a social transformation. And thus, communities of parasitically profitable economies were divided between resorts and slums, while the productive villages and cities have almost disappeared.
I saw this transformation on several Ramadan TV series this year. They reflect on what has happened to contemporary Egypt, as most of the stories take place in slums or gated communities.
The only exception is the series “The Jewish Quarter” where you will notice that the residents of that area in Cairo came from a well-defined social class of productive professionals and traders, unlike the residents of the alleys in the slums of today who have services that make parasitical profit from cafes or kiosks that charge mobile phone cards and download ringtones and songs.
Even the neighborhoods that have historically been known as an extension of urban communities, have lost their traditional productive activities. Today, the main economic activity of Bein Al-Sarayat, which is a neighborhood close to Cairo University, comes from kiosks that photocopy notes for the students, an activity unknown anywhere else in the world.
As to the other series, such as “Baad Al-Bedaya” and “Halet Eshk,” all the events take place either in slums or in gated communities.
This does not preclude other areas of urban nature that are still preserved from this polarization, such as in the series “Ostaz Wa Rais Qesm.”
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm