Cairo and the super rich

November 16, 2011

By Alan Selby

Forty percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day, and Egypt receives an average of $2 billion a year in foreign aid. Yet millions of people are preparing to migrate away from the centre of Cairo and into newly constructed suburbs for the super rich.

Jason Larkin, a photojournalist, and Jack Shenker, the Guardian’s Egypt correspondent, spent two years collaborating on Cairo Divided, an in-depth project documenting this increasing disparity between rich and poor in Egypt’s capital.

Larkin presented the work in an event moderated by Max Houghton, co-editor of 8 magazine and once his photojournalism tutor at the University of Westminster. He gave an astonishing insight into what was largely an unreported area of the world until this year’s uprisings (of which Shenker’s coverage won an award). His real concerns were for what was going on in plain sight, but not being discussed at all by either the public or the media. He said:

"This is the largest city in the middle east, and five million people could move into these new districts, which represent an area twice the size of central Paris on either side of Cairo. Villas are fetching between $700,000 and $1.4 million each, but the average wage is around £20 a month – it’s astonishing that there are enough people who can afford these plots, but they do exist. Some of these developers have $80 million in deposits before they’ve even dug the land. This is an exit strategy, but only for a few people. This is what we wanted to explore."

In addition to presenting and discussing some of the most telling images from his time in Cairo, he also spoke about some of the issues facing photojournalists today, and the difficulty in getting Cairo Divided published:

"Magazines and newspapers tend to follow each other, and I wanted to present a different side of the story. The Guardian and Internazionale Magazine both eventually published versions of it, which helped recoup some of the costs, but it had already been rejected by National Geographic, The New Yorker and Harper’s Bazaar – some of the few places that would have been able to publish it in its full form."

"You have to prepare yourself for what you do and don’t want in life – you’re constantly travelling, and not making much money. Everybody talks about the death of photojournalism, and whilst I enjoy it I do wonder if it’s sustainable – you can’t rely on it to pay the rent. I was taking commissions and working all over the place alongside the project in order to fund it."

And although Larkin laments the troubles facing photojournalists, he takes solace in the fact that as a free publication Cairo Divided has reached thousands of people in its full form. He now hopes that once the dust settles, the Egyptian people will be able to explore the issues themselves through the Arabic translation of the work that they have made available.

Copies of Cairo Divided are available to pick up from the Frontline Club’s reception desk.