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Impact of Globalization On A Southern Cosmopolitan City ( Cairo ): A Human Rights Perspective

By Dr.Samir Naim Ahmed

03 December, 2010

Paper presented at XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, 11-17 July 2010, Gothenburg , Sweden

Abstract : All the cities of the world have been affected by globalization. However it affected cities of the south differently than cities of the north due to the mechanisms of globalization of the world market which has led to the widening of the gap between the north and the south and between the rich and the poor. This paper discusses how this has been associated with economic, social and spatial polarization within the cities of the south and assesses the impact of this polarization on the different aspects of human rights of the people in a southern cosmopolitan city ( Cairo , Egypt .)

All countries of the world have witnessed fundamental changes in its social systems governing most of the aspects of life (political, economic, social and cultural) in the last few decades.

These changes have been attributed by some authors such as Thomas Freidman and other advocates of globalization to the information technology revolution or the use of information and communication technology (ICT) which transformed the world into a global village characterized by free flow of people, commodities, capital and ideas unhindered by political or geographical boundaries.(1)

Other authors such as Vandana Shiva and other globalization critics attribute societal fundamental changes to fundamental changes in the world capitalist system which turned the whole world into a market judged by rules set by the transnational corporations (TNC) which aim for nothing but profit and which makes use of the advanced information and communication technology to allocate and reallocate people, labor goods and capital and to spread ideas in order to achieve its purposes.(2)

Literature on globalization, in general, by both the so called advocates and opponents of globalization is abundant. However the critics of globalization lay much more emphasis on its impact on human rights, particularly of the poor people and of the developing countries . They assert that the actions and policies of the international agents of globalization such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which as they claim serves the interests of the powerful transnational corporations create conditions which adversely affect human rights of the people all over the world but particularly in the south or the so called developing countries or the third world.(3)

Impact of globalization on southern countries

Caroline Thomas(4) In a book titled Globalization and the South defines globalization as the process where power is located in global social formations and expressed through global networks rather than through territorially -based states. She enumerates the conditions which globalization in this sense creates in the world in what follows:

1- Accelerating erosion of the social, economic and political significance of the territorial distinction on which the terms south and north are founded.

2- Renewed global organization of inequality.

3-Fundamental changes in the world order which privilege some actors and marginalize others

4- Undermining meaningful self determinism for the majority of people in the south through international institutions such as World Bank and IMF.

5 -Widening the gap between rich and poor and spreading poverty.

6 - Emergence of transnational classes.

7- Concentration of poverty and wealth in both the geographic north and the geographic south (growing south in the north and growing north in the south).

8- Decreasing the share of global income going to the poorest 20% of the global population, and increasing the share going to the richest 20%.

9-The similarities of the rich and the powerful in both south and north in life style and consumption patterns while large segments of the population experience no improvement in their standard of living particularly women and children.

In an earlier work (5) I explained how the widespread violations of human rights is related to the widening gap between the rich and the poor, both on the global and on the local levels. International Statistics shows that:

- half the world –nearly three billion people – live on less than two dollars a day

- The wealthiest nation on earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation

- The top fifth of the world's people in the richest countries enjoy 82% of the expanding export trade and 68% of foreign direct investment –while the bottom fifth , barely more than 1%

- In 1960, the 20 % of the worlds people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20%--in 1997 , 74 times as much

- A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world's poorest 2.5 billon people.

- The combined wealth of the world's 200 richest people hit $ 1 trillion in 1999; the combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 l3east developed countries is $ 146 billion

This leads to increasing feelings of deprivation and injustice among the populations of the different countries of the world which is enhanced by the rapid and unprecedented advance in communication and information technologies, which really turned the world in this respect into a global village. The deprived are exposed daily, if not every minute to images and evidences of the huge gap in standards of living between the rich and the poor.

Many authors provide evidence on the adverse effects of government's adoption of globalization economic agreements on basic human rights due to the reduced overall government spending on services and satisfaction of basic human needs and the increasing tendencies towards privatization of these services.

Vandana Shiva states that :" the project of corporate Globalisation is a project for polarising and dividing people – along axis of class and economic inequality, axis of religion and culture, axis of gender, axis of geographies and regions. Never before in human history has the gap between those who labour and those who accumulate wealth without labour been greater. Never before has hate between cultures been so global. Never before has there been a global convergence of three violent trends – the violence of primitive accumulation for wealth creation, the violence of "culture wars", and the violence of militarized warfare (7)

She asserts that:" during 1979-81 and 1992-1993, calorie intake declined by three percent in Mexico , 4.1 percent in Argentina , 10.9 percent in Kenya , 10.0 percent in Tanzania , 9.9 percent in Ethiopia . In India , the per capita cereal consumption declined by 12.2 for rural areas and 5.4 percent in urban areas . “She explains these figures by saying that countries cannot ensure that the hungry are fed because this involves laws, policies and financial commitments which are” protectionist “. (8)

She also offers evidence on the impact of globalization agreements on the right to health : “ Under the trade Related Intellectual Property agreement of the world Trade Organization , countries have to implement patent laws granting exclusive , monopolistic rights to the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. This prevents countries from producing low cost generic drugs. Patented HIV/AIDS medicine costs $15,000, while generic drugs made by India and Brazil cost $250-300 for one year's treatment. Patents are , therefore robbing AIDS victims of their rights” .(9)

Diana Smith shows how the policies associated with globalization affected primary health care services. She states that: “introducing the market mechanism into the provision of health care obviously makes services less available to the poor. The privatization of health and hospital services also makes the poor suffer as services become more oriented towards those who can pay. In addition, essential drug policies, which aim to make necessary pharmaceuticals available to all at an affordable price , are threatened by increasingly liberal policies towards pharmaceutical companies . Finally, increasing unemployment and poverty add to the nation's health problems by creating extra demands on reduced government services.”( 10 )

The authors of Global Issues state that “ the lives of 1.7 million children will be needlessly lost this year (2002 ) because world governments have failed to reduce poverty levels “ and “Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of5 groups of countries , with the exception of the highest group ( life expectancy 69-76 years ) , also “ progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the last two decades than over the previous decades “. ( 11 )

T . Rajamoorthy states that “globalization resulted in the violation of the fundamental right to work. In their drive for profits, companies, in particular TNCs have been restructuring their operations on a global scale. The result has been massive unemployment. In 1995, the ILO announced that one third of the world‘s willing to work population was either unemployed or underemployed ….the goal of full employment , which was one of the pillars of the social consensus that prevailed after the Second World War , has been jettisoned by nearly all governments …. Globalization has also engendered or accentuated the process of the casualization and informalization of labor”. He mentions that only 8% of the labor force in India is in the formal economy while 90% work in the informal economy with no legal protection or security and are subject to ruthless exploitation. Many companies, including TNCs got rid of their unionized labor force and moved their operations to law wage and depressed areas to avail themselves of the large supply of unorganized and unprotected, mainly female labor.( 12 )

Mathews George Chunakara describes the state of workers in developing countries after globalization as a race to the bottom , and the bottom means slave like conditions . He explains this by the search of transnational companies for cheap labor in order to maximize their profits , so the governments of developing countries compete for the investors by providing cheaper labor (13)

The right to education has been also adversely affected by the privatization policies and the turning of education into a profit generating enterprises in the developing countries. Due to the reduced governmental expenditure on education the quality of public free education has suffered a lot. Investors established educational institutes covering all the range from kinder gardens to universities offering better but much more expensive quality of education for the elites and motivated mainly by profit. However most developing countries still suffer a high rate of illiteracy and graduates of the governmental low quality educational institutions are not well prepared for the labor market so they suffer unemployment.

Danilo Turk showed that the globalization agreements and policies had its adverse effects on the right to work ,the right to food , the right to health, the right to education and the right to development ( 14)

There is almost a consensus over the fact that the human rights are much more adversely affected by globalization in the south or the so called developing countries .One of those adversely affected fundamental rights is the right to development . “When countries lose their right to regulate the entry, behavior and operations of foreign investment in the interests of their own people , it is not difficult to appreciate why it is bound to result in an impairment of the right to development . (15)

Impact of globalization on southern cities

Kamla-Raj asserts that" In most developing countries cities globalization impact will vary greatly in extent and intensity over time, spatially, within and between cultures and social class. Due to the weak financial base and technology, developing countries will be at a disadvantage position in a world of globalised trading of industrial products. Though this may vary within and among regions in developing countries. It will result into paucity of inward foreign direct investment and export of secondary and tertiary products as the traditional strengths of these regions are production and export of primary products, while a high proportion of manufactured goods are imported. Therefore globalization is likely to be of little advantage if any to developing countries as most of them will turn into consuming nations. Due to the poor negotiation position of cities in developing countries caused by their weak productive position and export of primary goods, low technology, poor financial strength, unstable economy, poor infrastructure facilities, insecurity and instability in governance, cities in developing countries are not well positioned to obtain optional benefit of this new world economic order."(16)

According to UN- The State of the World's Cities, 2004, the “fruits of globalization” – economic growth, rising incomes and improvements in the quality of life - are rapidly being offset by the negative aspects of rapid urbanization: increased poverty, greater inequality, and the prediction that, by 2020, urban areas in the world's least developed regions will absorb nearly all of the global population increase predicted for the next three decades.

This “urbanization of poverty” is being propelled by a tremendous increase in the transnational movement of people and capital.

The rapid transfer of money and jobs to cities and countries where cheap labor can be found has fueled what is being termed by the Report, a “race to the bottom.” For the urban poor who are impacted by this race, there are no winners, and the losers will most likely find themselves among the projected two billion people who, according to the report, will be living in slums by 2030.

UN-HABITAT estimates that 946 million people live now in slums in urban areas of developing countries Hardest hit by globalization are women and children - the most vulnerable of urban dwellers.

The positive aspects of globalization, including greater longevity, increased literacy, lower infant mortality and wider access to infrastructure and social services mask the unfortunate truth that these benefits are not being shared equally.

More than one billion of the world's urban residents live in inadequate housing, mostly in the sprawling slums and squatter settlements in developing countries Poor living conditions impact the world's slum dwellers: slum Dwellers die earlier, experience more hunger, have less education, and have fewer chances of employment in the formal sector And suffer more from ill-health than the rest of the inhabitants of the cities.

Today, there are approximately 998 million slum dwellers in

the world. UN-HABITAT estimates that, if current trends continue,

the slum population will reach 1.4 billion by 2020.

One out of every three city dwellers lives in slum conditions.

Slum dwellers often live in difficult social and economic

Conditions that manifest different forms of deprivation –

material, physical, social and political.

According to the State of the World's Cities Report 2006/7

It is estimated that 133 million people living in cities of

the developing world lack durable housing. Overcrowding is a manifestation of housing inequality and is also a hidden form of homelessness. In 2003, approximately20 per cent of the developing world's urban population –401 million people – lived in houses that lacked sufficient living area (with three or more people sharing a bedroom). Living conditions, including overcrowding and poor ventilation, are related to rates of illness, child mortality and increase in negative social behaviors.

In Egypt urban population is estimated to be 42% of the country's total population of 82000000.Egypt has 170 cities, Cairo is the largest.

Impact of globalization on Cairo city

It goes without saying that Egypt as a southern country is not an exception in being subjected to the workings of the globalization process which widened the gap between the rich and the poor on both the international and the local level.

Poor urban residents of Egypt have been adversely affected by the privatization policies followed by Egypt in response to the demands of international agents of market globalization and they witness the same hardships mentioned by authors who studied the impact of globalization on southern cities in general. Cairo is not an exception of urban areas in the south.

As a capital of Egypt Cairo has a population of 17.290.000 inhabitants in 2010 spread over 450 square kilometer. As any other capital in the world it has been affected by the new stage of globalization in almost every sphere of life. However the impact of globalization on Cairo is different than that on capitals of northern countries and is similar to a great extent to its impact on other southern cities.

It is said that the main features of globalization are the free flow of people, capital, commodities and ideas which turned the world into a small village. The mechanisms of globalization make these flows apply only to northern cities but not to Cairo and other southern cities.

The flow of people, commodities, capital and ideas are one way only contrary to the movement of people in northern cities.

People in the north enjoy freedom of movement in between northern countries and also in most countries of the south( one of the essential human rights). Citizens of the European Union are an example. People of Cairo cannot move freely from Cairo to anywhere in the world for any reason. While people coming from the north whether as tourists, investors, employers or for any reason are welcomed in Cairo with almost no restrictions for visas ( they are granted entry to Egypt upon their arrival to Cairo airport) there are restrictions on the movement of Egyptians to any northern country for any reason. Tourism is almost a one way movement from north to south. The same applies to labor. The few Cairenes who can afford trips to northern cities for tourism, education or even for medical reasons have to go through a long, complicated, tiring and expensive process to get an entry visa to any country. Many are denied the visa without being given any reason by the embassies of northern countries.

Globalization mechanisms even led to restrictions on the movement of people within Cairo itself. Due to the social and spatial polarization which Cairo witnessed during the last few decades gated residential areas of the wealthy restrict the entrance of ordinary citizens to it. So Cairo itself has been divided into wealthy north and poor south.

As to the free flow of commodities any visitor to Cairo can immediately spot the prevalence of commodities and services produced and distributed by the transnational corporations and carrying foreign names over local commodities from the advertisements on the streets and the names of the agents distributing commodities and services such as supermarkets and restaurants. Visiting so many cities in the north I found no advertisement for any Egyptian product. Free flow of commodities is also one way.

The same applies to the flow of ideas or culture elements. International mass media are dominated by powerful transnational corporations and reflects the Northern dominant culture. People in Cairo are exposed more and more due to the information technology revolution to the western culture and styles of living through TV channels , through incoming tourism , through foreign educational institutions and through the life style and behaviors of wealthy westernized Egyptians .Very little of the Egyptian cultural elements is transmitted to the north.

It is noted that the information technology revolution has its pros and cons impact on the people of Cairo . On the one hand it exposes the people to positive values such as democracy and human rights and also raises the aspirations to a better life but on the other hand it exposes them to many negative values such as violence, consumption and individualism.

Related to the impact of globalization on the movement of people, commodities, capital and ideas in Cairo is its impact on the social structure of Egypt in general and its reflections on the lives of people in Cairo in particular.

Cairo is the seat for the main institutions of the three authorities: the legislative, the executive and the judicial plus what is called in Egypt the fourth authority (the press).

So In Cairo all the procedures for reshaping the Egyptian social structure with all its social systems took place. Mass media, centrally located in Cairo also, played very significant role in reshaping the consciousness of the Egyptians.

The starting point of the reshaping of Egyptian social structure was the issuing of Law number 43 of 1974 which inaugurated what was called open door policy (infitah) or the liberalization of the economy or the transformation of the state planned economy with its private and public ownership and administration of means of production into the free market capitalist economy with its privatization of most public sector industries and services. The whole process of the transformation was mostly in response to the international agents of economic globalization (the International Bank and the IMF) directions and prescriptions to remedy the Egyptian economy (from its bias to the basic human rights of the Egyptians as it turned to be!)

The subsequent laws issued during the last three decades of the 20 th century resulted in policies which led to the following conditions adversely affecting human rights of the Egyptians and particularly of the inhabitants of Cairo and which are common to most of the cities of the south:

1-It opened the doors to foreign investors to own and establish their projects and to transform their capital and profits abroad with exemptions from profit taxes for several years as encouragement and with exemption from commitment to the use of local labor and with lenient importing and exporting taxes. Some of the foreign as well as Egyptian investors did not create any new projects rather they bought the public sector establishments already functioning and got rid of the labor force to resell it and or change the type of activity from labor intensive to capital intensive

2- It widely opened the doors for importation of all goods and services with the reduction of customs' tariffs which badly affected the national industries and local producers of essential goods due to the lack of protective measures and to the cheaper prices of imported goods which are not quality controlled properly. This led to the desertion of Egyptian industrial investors of productive activities and turning to either importation of the same goods they used to produce (agents for foreign corporate) or changing to other activities such as land and real estate business.

3-It led to the prominence of sources of the national income such as tourism, oil, Suez Canal and transfers of Egyptians working abroad over the traditional major labor intensive sources of income (agriculture and industry).

4- Privatization of essential services such as health, education, transportation, housing, recreation with almost no control over the cost to citizens while cutting the budget for subsidizing these services offered by government.

5-All this led to an increase in unemployment in Egypt in general and in Cairo in particular especially among the educated

The most important effect of the adoption of market economy and privatization policies is the increasing economic, social, and spatial polarization in Cairo city. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few while the majority is poor with a thin sector of middle class. Illiteracy is still high among the population while Cairo hosts several private and foreign schools and universities for the rich.

Spatially Cairo witnessed for the first time in its modern history the establishment of gated residential compounds in which the elite live a life quite similar to their counterparts in the north on the borders of Cairo far away from the main bulk of Cairo city where the rest of the population live with a considerable proportion living in chantey towns and slums.(17)

Dozens of luxury gated communities, accompanied by golf courses, amusement parks, clinics, and private universities have burgeoned along the beltways like their siblings, the shopping malls.(18)

The state of the world cities report published by HABITAT in 2006 describes this polarization as follows:

The rich live in a world apart from the poor, with homes in protected urban enclaves and access to the latest technology, the best services and the most comfort. The rest, especially slum dwellers, live in the most deprived neighborhoods struggling to gain access to adequate shelter and basic services, such as water and sanitation. Many slum dwellers also live under the constant threat of eviction. Such stark differences and divisions can be found among regions and countries, but also within countries and cities. Especially in the developing world, urban zones of poverty and despair commonly skirt modern cosmopolitan zones of plenty.

This is exactly what is happening in Cairo and what has been documented by several empirical studies. (19)

All these conditions affected the state of human rights in Cairo city: economic, social, cultural, and political.

The adopted free market economy and its accompanied policies of privatization led to the supremacy of private ownership rights of the elite over the human rights of the rest of the population as it is happening elsewhere in Egypt and in other countries of the south.

The economic, social, spatial, and political polarization steadily taking place in Cairo has been reflected in polarization of human rights as well.'

The elites in Cairo monopolize wealth and power. Hence they enjoy all or most of the rights on the expense of the powerless and the poor .

If we examine the state of economic rights we find that:

In respect to the right to work there is an increasing rate of unemployment among the lower and middle classes in Cairo . The government is no more committed to employ university graduates or vocational schools graduates and the private sector is not in need of intensive labor, on the contrary the buyers of the sold public sector companies resort to getting rid of the employees in order to either reduce expenses or to resell it to be used as real estate projects. The government has no programs for supporting the unemployed.

University graduates from the poor and middle classes who fail to obtain a job in their field of specialization may succeed in obtaining any work opportunity just for living so they are denied the right to choose their career. Many of them work in the informal sector with very low income.

Meanwhile those who belong to the elite families can get suitable and highly paid employment opportunities either in the government or in the private sector organizations due to the influence of their families and/or to having better education, usually in private expensive universities and better training opportunities. They can even start their own private business or careers (such as having their own private clinics if they are physicians).

As to the right to own property every Cairenes enjoys this right according to the constitution but only theoretically as all other rights! Owning a small apartment in order to get married and form a family is almost an impossible dream for the poor youth. Even renting one is difficult due to unemployment or low income and high rent.

While the elite enjoy a high standard of living in the gated compounds or the high class residential districts the dwellers of the slum areas and chantey towns suffer from the lack of proper and even human standard of living.

As to the right to access to education every Cairenes is again granted this right and Education is compulsory according to the law but this right is again on paper. In a recent study by Partners in Development in Cairo it has been revealed that education is positively correlated with social class not only in number of years of education but also in the quality of education. All the illiterates of Cairo belong to lower class families who cannot afford supporting their offspring or pay for their education so they contribute to child labor problem in Egypt . On the contrary the elite enjoy obtaining the highest degrees of education in both state private and foreign universities

As to another fundamental human right, the right to form a family it is noticed that it is affected also by the socioeconomic polarization. The wealthy enjoy this right usually immediately or shortly after finishing their education or reaching the legal age for marriage. They can afford the expenses of forming a family. Youths of the working class usually get married early and may live with their families, but the youth of the middle class have to postpone marriage for a long time till they get employed and save the necessary expenses for marriage.

Socioeconomic polarization affects also the cultural rights of the people of Cairo . Very few enjoy the arts. Cairo has very few theatres which is accessible only to the rich. Very few Cairenese have ever been to the Opera house or to the museums or even to Public libraries. Cairo lacks the infrastructure for cultural events and celebrations. Gone are those days in which Cairo had music theatres in the public parks of Azbakeya and Kasr ElNeil and the zoo. Until the seventies there were free theatrical performances in the squares of Cairo and film shows in the districts and even in villages. There were parades in the streets of Cairo on different national occasions.

The same applies to all other social and cultural rights such as the right to social security which is not enough for the poor and disabled due to the rising prices of all the necessities of living. The right to medical assistance is badly violated due to the privatization of medical services and the low governmental expenditure on health and the increasing prices of medicine which the poor cannot afford. There are reports on the diseases of the lack of adequate nutrition such as anemia and different kinds of environmental pollution.

However the information technology revolution which played a very important role in the globalization of the market economy and the world socioeconomic, political and cultural polarization played also a significant role in creating and sustaining the resistance powers and movements of the people all over the world.

In the past ten years Cairo and Egypt in general as many other cities and countries of the world witnessed drastic changes in the attitudes of people towards their human rights in all the spheres of their life.

Diane Singerman and Paul Amar observed that "With the uprisings, protests, campaigns and new popular alliances, Cairenes surprised many international and local observers not just for holding Public demonstrations but for starting to assert a refashioned project of active citizenship that transcend the national/global-religious /secular polarization".

During the last 5 years Cairo has witnessed so many demonstrations and sit-ins demanding different political, social and economic rights for different categories of citizens from different locations in Egypt .

The internet has been also a good media for campaigning for human rights and so many cyber groups of youths have been formed, some of them had the ability to mobilize people on the streets and to uncover violations of human rights documenting it with video clips. It has also facilitated exchange and spread of information and ideas not only on the local level but also on the global level.

Works Cited

1-Freidman,Thomas,1999. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. Cairo : International Publishers,

2-Shiva, Vandan.2001.Violence of Globalization. The Hindu. New Delhi , India .

3-Leslie Sklair, Globalization-Capitalism and its Alternatives Oxford University press ,2002.

4-Scholte, J.A.  2005 Globalization: A Critical Introduction . London : Macmillan,

5-Michael Veseth.2005.   Globaloney: Unraveling the Myths of Globalization , Rowman & Littlefield, 2005

6-Shiva, Vandana.opt.

7-Thomas, Caroline .Globalization and the South in Thomas Caroline and Peter edit Globalization and the South

8- Naim-Ahmed Samir.2002.Human Rights and Globalization. Presented at the XV Congress of the International Sociological

Association, Brisbane ; Australia ;7-13 July 2002

9-Cited in: Poverty facts and Stats, Global Issues.

10-Shiva. Vandana.2005.The Polarized World of Globalization. Global Policy May 10,2005 http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/162/27674.html



13-Smith, Diana, What Does Globalization Mean for Health ? third world network,1999


14-Global Issues, Causes of Poverty : http://www.globalizationissues.org/Traderelated/Facts.asp

15-T. Rajamoorthy, Development and Human Rights


16-Mathews George Chunakara. Globalization and its Impact on Human Rights .


17-Danilo Turk, How World Bank-IMF Policies Adversely Affect Human Rights” , Third World Resurgence ,may 1993.

18-Global Issues , Poverty Facts and Stats, http://www.globalissues.org/Traderelated/Facts.asp

19-Kamla-Raj 2006 J. Soc. Sci., 12(3): 199-205 .

20-Naim-Ahmed ,Samir. Differential Impact of Unequal Globalization on Cosmopolitan Cities:The Case of Cairo .

A Paper Presented at the Egyptian German Conference on:" Globalization , Identity and Commemorative Cultures in both Rural and Urban Centers" Cairo University .3-5 May 2007 .

21-Singerman, Diane and Amar Paul  ( Ed. ) Cosmopolitan Cairo : Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East . American University in Cairo Press, 2009)

Dr.Samir Naim Ahmed is Professor of Sociology, Ain Shams University , Cairo