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Cairo is the largest city in Egypt, with a population of nearly seven million, with almost another ten million living in bordering cities. Cairo is also the capital city of Egypt.

Because of its size, Cairo suffers from pollution and traffic congestion. The Egyptian government has announced plans to construct a new capital city in a currently undeveloped area east of Cairo, largely to relieve the congestion in Cairo.

The foundations of Cairo were laid in 969 AD, during the Fatimid dynasty, but there were other settlements there prior to that time. As Memphis, the original capital of Egypt, was declining in significance by the 4th-century, the Romans established a fortress, known as Babylon, which was located in the area that is now known as Coptic Cairo, on the east bank of the Nile River.

When the Muslims took control of Egypt in 640 AD, the first capital of Islamic Egypt, known as al-Fustat, was north of Babylon, in the area now known as Old Cairo, which was later absorbed by the growth of Cairo.

When the Abbasid Caliphate took control in 750, the new rulers created their own capital, which they named al-Askar, just north of Coptic Cairo. This capital was abandoned after a rebellion in 869, when al-Qatta'i was built north of al-Fustat and nearer to the Nile. All of these settlements were later incorporated into Cairo.

In 968, the Fatimids conquered Egypt. To establish a new capital for the Fatimid dynasty, a fortified city was constructed northeast of al-Fustat. Originally named al-Manṣūriyyah, with the Caliph moved from the former Fatimid capital in Tunisia, he renamed the city al-Qahira, which later became Cairo.

The Fatimid dynasty was later replaced by the Ayyubid dynasty, which lost out to the Mamluks, and then the Ottoman Empire, but Cairo remained the capital of Egypt during these periods, as it is today.

Several buildings from the Fatimid era are still in existence. The al-Azhar Mosque evolved into the third-oldest university in the world and is the chief center of Islamic studies in Egypt. The gates of Bab an-Nasr, Bab al-Futuh, and Bab Zuweila are still in place, straddling two of Cairo's main roadways.

As the city grew in its importance to Egypt, its population soared, and its area spread west to the port of Bulaq, and south to include Roda Island, while the desert to the east filled with monuments. Nevertheless, up until the mid-1800s, Cairo retained the appearance of a medieval city.

After a brief period of occupation by the French, and then the British, an Albanian by the name of Muhammad Ali Pasha became the ruler of Egypt in 1805. During his rule, which lasted until his death in 1848, Muhammad Ali Pasha initiated several reforms that to his being acknowledged as the founder of modern Egypt.

Still, while he constructed several public buildings in Cairo, they didn't have much effect on the city's landscape. Larger changes came about during the rule of his grandson, Isma'il Pasha. Although his reign lasted only about sixteen years, he altered the appearance of Cairo more than anyone since the Fatimids. At the time that he came to power, the site of modern Cairo was a swampy area prone to flooding of the Nile River. Educated in France, Isma'il hired architects from France, Belgium, and Italy to design a European-style Cairo.

This was very expensive, of course, and the enormous debt created a pretext for greater involvement by European powers, and eventually to a British invasion in 1882. Although intended to be temporary, the British remained until 1956. During this time, Cairo continued to expand, and its population tripled.

After large-scale demonstrations beginning in 1919, Egypt achieved independence in 1922, but the British remained. Protests against British occupation in 1952 resulted in the Cairo Fire, which destroyed hundreds of businesses in downtown Cairo.

After the British left, the growth of Cairo continued. In an effort to abate the problems of congestion, the Egyptian government built satellite towns in the desert and passed incentives to encourage Cairo residents to move to them. Nevertheless, its population doubled in the 1960s.

Cairo and the surrounding Greater Cairo region serve as a hub for educational services and institutions of higher learning.

Cairo houses more than 10% of Egypt's population, and accounts for more than 20% of the country's economy. Most of the country's publishing houses and film studios are in Cairo, and several manufacturing plants are in Cairo, particularly auto manufacturers.

Although not the worst in Africa, there is a significant danger of terrorism in Cairo, although security and government facilities and personnel are generally the targets. Theft is not a significant problem in Cairo, at least in part because the penalties are harsh.


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