Cairo

ABOUT THE CITY

Cairo, the Triumphant City, known officially as al-Qâhirah,  is one of the world’s largest urban areas. It is located on the banks and islands of the Nile River in the north of Egypt.  Cairo is in every respect the center of Egypt, as it has been almost since its founding in 969 AD. 15% of all Egyptians live there. The majority of the nation’s commerce is generated there, or passes through the city. Cairo is an amazing city full of life and movement, and it is that way almost 24 hours every day, with the noisy honking of horns, children playing in the streets and merchants selling their wears and services. And here, the Egyptians are most at home in this powerful, modern and ancient city. Cairo is a great city for its lifestyle.  You will find Cairo has a mix of historical and modern cultural sight. It’s chaotic, exotic, smelly, dusty, and also beautiful, but more than 16 million people call it home and now you are among them.

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    About Cairo

    Cairo is the capital city of Egypt in northeastern region of the country.  About 16.1 million people live in Cairo’s metro area, making it the most populous city in Africa.  In Arabic, its name is Al-Qahirah, which means “The Triumphant,” though it’s often known simply as Masr, the Arabic word for Egypt.  Cairo is the cultural and economic center of the region, and has been for thousands of years.

    Cairo is located at the southern tip of the Nile Delta, where the area makes the transition from desert to fertile plain.  The oldest part of the city is just east of the river, but urban expansion means that the city now straddles the Nile, along with occupying some of the islands in the river.  Much of the city is now in the desert itself, aided by the expansion of the water supply.

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    History

    Egypt’s history stretches back thousands of years, possibly to the birth of civilization.  The country’s tourism dollars are based on travelers’ fascination with ancient Egypt.  About 5,000 years ago, northern and southern Egyptian kingdoms were united under Narmer, who became the first Pharaoh.  He chose the city of Memphis as his capital, about 15 miles south of what is now downtown Cairo.  During the time of the Pharaohs, numerous monuments and edifices were built, including the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.  The first pyramid, designed by the deified architect Imhotep, was built about 4,500 years ago. With the famed death of Cleopatra in BC 30, rule of Egypt was transferred to the Romans, where the country became just one of the many Roman provinces.

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    Economy

    Cairo is the economic and industrial center of Egypt.  More than two thirds of the country’s gross national product comes from the Cairo metropolitan area.  It’s long been known as the manufacturing capital of Egypt.  Cotton textiles, agricultural products, chemicals, plastics, automobiles and other goods are all produced within the city.  Just outside of Cairo, in Hulwan, is the center of the iron and steel industry in Egypt. Cairo is also a central shipping hub for the region.  Cairo’s connection to the ocean is on the Nile river port of Bulaq on the north end of the city.  From there, goods can be transported throughout the country by rail and road.  The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, is a major revenue source for the Egyptian government.

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    Fast Facts

    Name: Cairo, Al Qahirah, Masr, “The Triumphant City”

    Population:
    City 7.5 million
    Metro Area 11.1 million

    Area:
    City 81 sq miles
    Metro Area 575 sq miles

    Time Zone: GST+2

    Area Code: 2

    Country Code:   +20

    Lat/Long: 30.08N/31.20E

    Year Est: AD 969

    Record Temp:
    Hi 113
    Lo 32

    Climate

    Month Avg Hi Avg Lo Precip (in)
    Jan 64 48 .2
    Feb 68 50 .1
    Mar 73 54 .1
    Apr 82 59 .1
    May 90 64 0
    June 93 70 0
    July 93 72 0
    Aug 91 72 0
    Sept 90 70 0
    Oct 84 64 0
    Nov 75 57 .1
    Dec 66 52 .2
    Total .8

    By Car

    Driving in Cairo is a whole another experience probably best left to experienced taxi drivers.  The country has the highest rate of traffic fatalities per mile driven in the world, so the danger isn’t a joke.  If you’re determined to brave the twisting streets, it’s best to keep a few things in mind.  No one obeys traffic law.  Signs, lanes, right of way, and other things we take for granted in America are blatantly ignored.  The main exception is that all passengers must wear a seat belt, and police are very stringent on this one rule.  Also, parking the car is a hassle, but worth following the rules, because your car will likely get booted or towed.  It’s not expensive to get your car back, but it could easily take a day or two to track down who towed your car and where it is now.

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    Drivers License

    In Egypt, you’ll need to have an International Driver’s Permit and your driver’s license.  AAA and the Canadian Automobile Association both have these permits available, and it could save you a lot of trouble with a local traffic officer.

    Public Transportation

    Taxi
    The normal fleet of taxis in Cairo is black and white, and can be the easiest way to get around in a city with questionable traffic laws, winding streets, and buildings with no real address.  It’s much better to get a taxi on the fly driving around instead of picking one up outside of a hotel or restaurant, where prices will be higher.  There’s always a cab or two driving by, so it won’t be hard to flag one down.  There’s no company to call to book a cab, so you’ll have to hail one anyway.

    There are no meters, prices are negotiated either before or after the trip.  As a foreigner, it’s often easier to negotiate beforehand so the cabbies don’t try to take advantage of you, but you should expect to pay slightly more than if you waited until the end.  Be reasonable with fares and you shouldn’t have any problems.  Fares are a little higher early morning and late at night.  Fares are paid through the taxi window after the trip and should be exact change.  A short local trip should be around 3 Egyptian pounds, to get to the airport 20-25 Egyptian pounds.

    Yellow taxis are brand new and run off of natural gas.

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    Air Transportation

    Cairo International Airport (CAI)
    Oruba Road
    Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt
    02 256-3308
    www.cairo-airport.com

    Cairo International is a modern airport about 15 miles northeast of downtown Cairo.  Right now there are two terminals, though construction has begun on a third.  Terminal 1 generally handles domestic and regional carriers, while Terminal 2 handles European, American, and other foreign air carriers.  Terminal 1 is also known as the Old Terminal, even though it was actually updated more recently than Terminal 2.  The two terminals are about 2 miles apart, though there is a free shuttle running between them every half hour.

    Most flights to Europe are direct flights, as are flights to New York.  Other flights to the US usually connect in either New York or a European city.  Flights to New York take about 10 hours, to London, about 5 hours.

    The airport has a mall near Terminal 1, and is working to add service and entertainment facilities for travelers.  A taxi to downtown from the airport should cost around 40 pounds.

    Local Phone Numbers

    U.S. Embassy 02 795-7371
    Ambulance 123
    Fire Brigade 125
    Police 122
    02 303-4122
    Tourist Police 02 390-6028

    Radio

    FM Radio    
    89.5 El-Bernameg Cultural Program
    95.4 Radio Cairo English Service
    98.8 Al-Shabab Wal Riyadah Youth/Sports
    100.0 El Gouna Classic Hits
    100.6 Nugoom FM Pop (Arabic)
    102.2 Shabakat Al-Iza’at El-Eqlimyah Egyptian
    104.2 Nile FM Pop (English)

    Newspapers

    Egyptian Gazette
    21 Kasr El Nil St
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 392-3749
    www.algomhuria.net.eg/gazette

    The Egyptian Gazette is the oldest English-language newspaper in the country.  It’s been in publication since 1880.  It often takes a very Middle-Eastern friendly approach to the news, and is an interesting way to get a local perspective on world events.

    Business Today Egypt
    Building 3A, Rd 199 Degla
    Maadi, Cairo, Egypt
    02 755-5000
    www.businesstodayegypt.com

    Business Today Egypt is a business magazine that focuses on the Egyptian business atmosphere.  It’s read by both Egyptians and expatriates.

    Monuments

    Bent Pyramid
    Al-Haram Dahshur
    Menshat Dahshur, Egypt
    The Bent Pyramid was the first true pyramid instead of a step pyramid.  Halfway through the building process, the engineers changed the angle of the walls, giving it its unique shape.  The pyramid is 344 ft tall.  Like many of the pyramids, there is an additional charge to use a camera or video camera.

    Shar-Hachamayim Synagogue 
    Shar’a Adly
    Cairo, Egypt
    This synagogue was built in 1905, but is rarely used now because of how few Jews live in the city.  Be very polite and have a passport ready when you arrive, security here is very high and security will not hesitate to refuse entrance if they feel you may be a threat.  The inside is beautiful and worth the hassle, and it has fantastic decorations.

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    Galleries & Museums

    Centre des Arts
    1 Mahad al-Swissri, Zamalek
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 340-8211
    This gallery is run by the Egyptian government.  It gives up and coming local artists a chance to display their works, including the annual Youth Salon, which shows off young artists.

    Coptic Museum
    Fakhry Abd el Nour St. No4 Abbassia
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 363-9742
    www.copticmuseum.gov.eg
    The Coptic Museum is an interesting combination of the different cultures that have lived in Egypt through the centuries.  It is basically an art gallery organized by medium, with many works dealing with the ancient Egyptian gods or Coptic Christianity, sometimes with crossovers between the two.

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    Performing Arts

    Al-Hanager
    El Borg Gezira
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 340-6861
    Part of the Opera House complex, but intended as a space for experimental performing arts, the hall hosts some of Cairo’s most interesting music and dance. With little cultural criticism in the local press to guide your decision, just take your chances; odds are the show will be worth seeing. There is also a café and gallery on-site.

    Cairo Opera Company
    El Borg Gezira
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 342-0601

    Opera has been performed in Cairo at least since 1840, though the Cairo Opera Company was established in 1964.  Today, the Company’s repertoire has 32 productions and a permanent ensemble of 32 world class singers.

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    Shopping

    The American University Bookshop
    Hill House on AUC Campus
    113 Shar’a Qasr al-Aini
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 794-2969
    www.aucegypt.edu

    The American University Bookshop downtown is the best source in Cairo for English books.  They have a huge selection and will order most in-print books available in the US and UK.  There’s also a Zamalek branch.

    Anglo-Egyptian Bookstore
    165 Shar’a Muhammad Farid
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 391-4337
    This bookstore is known for its great selection of nonfiction books.  It feels just like a bookstore should.  The Anglo-Egyptian Bookstore is in the St. David building downtown.

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    Golf

    Irrigation has brought golf to Cairo, and the dry climate means your round should never be rained out.  Be prepared for some awe inspiring scenery as you play, like ancient pyramids towering in the distance.

    Soma Bay Course
    4 Hassan Sabry St
    Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
    02 735-7510
    Soma Bay is a resort that has two golf courses, one full championship course and another that’s a par three executive course.  The Championship course is 7000 yards long and a par 72.  It’s along the Red Sea, and has a driving range and pitching and putting greens.

    Dreamland Golf and Tennis Resort
    Dreamland City
    Alwahat Road
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 855-3164
    www.dreamlandgolf.com

    Dreamland has two courses, an 18 hole championship course and a 9 hole short course.  The championship course is par 72 and covers 7,205 yards from the long tees.  Dreamland City is a giant entertainment development, with theaters, a theme park, shopping, and more to do in addition to golf.

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    Soccer

    Cairo International Stadium
    Ismail El Fangary St
    Nasr City, Cairo

    Soccer is the most popular sport in Egypt, both to play and watch.  The top teams are Al Zamalek and Al Ahly.  They meet once a year in what is the most watched sporting event in Egypt.  Both play their home games at Cairo International Stadium, the second largest on the continent with seating for more than 74,000.

    Currency & Banking

    Currency
    The standard unit of currency is the Egyptian Pound.  100 Piastres makes up one pound.  Currently, one US Dollar is equal to five and a half to 6 Egyptian pounds.

    Egyptian bills are very colorful and have the denomination written on them on both sides.  The more the bill is worth, the larger it is.  Bills range in value from 5 piastres to 100 pounds.  Coins come in denominations of 25 and 50 piastres.  It’s common practice by shopkeepers to round up to the nearest pound.

    Banking
    Banks are typically open from 9 am until 2 pm Sunday through Thursday.  ATM’s can be used to withdraw money from an American bank, albeit for a fee.  ATM’s are plentiful around the city, especially near hotels and tourist hot spots.

    Business Hours

    The standard Egyptian workweek is Sunday through Thursday.  Some workers end up working Saturday and instead take Sunday off, but for the most part businesses are closed on the Friday-Saturday weekend.  Businesses usually open by 8 am and are closed by 4 or 5 pm.

    Shops typically open around 9 or 10 am and are open until 10 pm.  They often are only open for a half day on Saturday and close Sunday.  Also, they often stop during Friday prayers, which last from about 12 pm until 12:20.

    U.S. Embassy

    US Embassy Cairo
    8 Kamal El Din Salah St
    Garden City, Cairo, Egypt
    02 797-3300
    http://cairo.usembassy.gov

    The US Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit is open Sunday through Thursday from 8 am until 11 am. The Embassy’s website has listings of all of the services provided, along with a list of American and Egyptian holidays that will be observed by the Embassy, meaning it will be closed.

    Electricity

    The electrical current in Egypt is 220 volts, 50 cycle AC.  Also, the plugs are round, so if you want to bring any appliances from America, you’ll need both a voltage adapter and a wall plug adapter.  Laptops typically work just as well on a 110 volt current and a 220 volt current, so you’ll just need a wall adapter.  It’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer first though.

    Healthcare

    Hospitals
    It’s best to contact the US Embassy to find recommended hospitals in your area.  Levels of care vary greatly between hospitals, and many don’t accept foreign medical insurance.  The Embassy will be able to help you the most when it comes to medical service.

    Pharmacies
    Each neighborhood is required by law to have a pharmacy open all night, so you’ll always be able to fill a prescription.  However, pharmacies in an area frequently switch off which one stays open all night, so it will be easier to go during the day.

    General Health
    Egypt is a very hot country, so dehydration and sunburn are the most common problems you’ll encounter.  Also have bottled water with you, and cover up in the sun, and you should be able to avoid these inconveniences.  Also, putting on sun block before going out is a good idea.

    Etiquette

    Egyptian dress is generally more conservative than that in America, especially for women.  While that doesn’t mean that women should wear a veil, generally neither men nor women wear shorts, except for at the beach.  Light cotton pants or skirts are typical summer fashion, generally cut below the knee.  Short sleeves are fine, but sleeveless shirts are less common.  If you’re going to a church or mosque, dress more conservatively.

    Egyptians aren’t very tolerant of public displays of affection.  Hand holding is about the limit.  Light kissing on the cheek is reserved for close friends, both male and female.

    Although not nearly as important now, when sharing food with a group of people, always use your right hand to take the food.  If you’re invited to someone’s house, bring a small gift like flowers.  Don’t bring alcohol, unless you know your hosts drink.

    Saying please and thank you will help smooth your day to day encounters.  Please is “min fad-lak” to a man and “min fad-lik” to a women, and “shu-kran” means thank you.

    Dining

    Restaurants
    Traditional Egyptian food is easy to find nearly anywhere in the city.  Bean paste, falafel, crepes, and shawarma are common dishes, but eggs, salads, and other dishes are available.  Hygiene standards in Egypt aren’t the same as in the United States.  If you go to the most popular stands and restaurants, you should be fine, as the food will be much fresher.

    Western and Asian food is also present around the city.  American fast food chains, like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut are all plentiful in the city.  Beanos and Cilantro are two popular café type chains that have salads, sandwiches, and soup.  There are also a variety of Italian, Chinese, and other ethnic restaurants here.

    Dining in Cairo is very cheap, even a very expensive meal most likely won’t cost more than 100 Egyptian pounds, which is only about US$17.  A budget stand shouldn’t be more than 10 EP.  Most of the top tier restaurants are found within hotels.  It’s worth noting that most cheaper restaurants won’t serve alcohol.

    Coffee Houses
    The coffee house is an institution in Egypt.  When coffee was first brought to Cairo, it was outlawed, but this was quickly overturned as the population clamored for it.  Coffee houses also have tea and the sheesha, a water pipe.

    Grocery Stores
    Alfa Market and Metro are two chain supermarkets in Cairo, and then three are plenty of stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you’re looking for organic food, Sekem in Zamalek is a good source.  Also, grocery stores are the easiest place to find alcoholic beverages.  Alcohol in Cairo is nearly all Egyptian-made, so don’t buy it unless you trust the store.  Drinkies is a popular liquor store chain.

    It’s advisable that you not drink tap water while you’re in Egypt, at least not before boiling or otherwise purifying it.  Bottled water is plentiful in the city.  Also, remember to not get ice in drinks and to avoid high-water content vegetables, like lettuce and watermelon, until you get a feel for places with clean food.

    Holidays

    Islam is the state religion in Egypt, so all Egyptians observe Islamic holidays and government offices close.  The Muslim lunar calendar varies each year, so there are no set dates for the holidays.

    Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and the holiest month in Islam.  Muslims fast during the day and eat only when the moon is out.  During the month, business in Egypt slows to a crawl, and it’s hard to get much done, especially during the afternoon.  The country is much more lively during the night, when people socialize in the streets.  It will be hard to find a restaurant open during the day during Ramadan, except for high class hotels.

    Islamic Holidays  
    Islamic New Year Late March/Early April
    Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday Late May through Late June
    Ramadan Feast (Eid al-Fitr) 2 Days following Ramadan
    Sacrifice Feast (Eid al-Adha) 3 Days, about 2 months after Ramadan
       
    Other National Holidays  
    Eastern Christmas January 7
    Spring Feast (Sham El Nessim) The Day after Easter
    Sinai Liberation Day April 25
    Labor Day May 1
    Revolution Day July 23
    Armed Forces Day October 6

    There are a variety of other widely celebrated holidays throughout the year, but government offices remain open during those times.

    K-12

    American International School
    5th Settlement
    East Murbarak Police Academy
    New Cairo City
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 617-4001
    www.aisegypt.com

    The American International School in Cairo has about 1,000 students in it’s K-12 program.  The school operates very similarly to the American educational model, and virtually all of its graduates go on to higher education.

    British International School in Cairo (BISC)
    5 El Yemeni St
    Zamalek
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 736-5959
    www.bisc.edu.eg

    The British International School is built upon the British schooling system.  It has 600 students, ranging from 3 to 18 years old.  It’s senior high school system is specifically geared to the GCSE exam, similar to the SAT or AP exams in the United States.

    Modern English School
    PO Box 5
    New Cairo
    Agama Khamis
    Cairo, Egypt 11835
    02 617-0005
    www.mescairo.com

    The Modern English School effectively straddles the differences between the British and American educational systems by having a few different options available for students as they go through the school.  It has about 1,600 students in grades K-12.

    Cairo American College (CAC)
    1 Midan Digla
    Maadi 11431
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 755-5555
    www.cacegypt.org

    Cairo American College is another K-12 school based on the American school system.  It has about 1,300 students and does offer bus service for an additional fee.  The school is very community-focused.

    Higher Education

    Al-Ahram Canadian University (ACU)
    6th October City
    Giza, Egypt
    02 833-3078
    www.acu.edu.eg

    Al-Ahram Canadian University is a private university that is funded by a publishing country.  It’s main focus is business education at both the undergraduate and post-graduate level.

    The American University in Cairo (AUC)
    113 Kasr El Aini St
    Cairo, Egypt
    02 794-2964
    www.aucegypt.edu

    The American University in Cairo maintains some of its administrative offices in New York, so it’s still very connected to the American educational system.  It has about 5,000 students, the majority of which are Egyptian, though all instruction is in English.

    British University in Egypt (BUE)
    02 689-0000
    www.bue.edu.eg

    The British University in Egypt is on the outskirts of Cairo in El Sherouk.  This means it can spread out more and feel like a traditional college campus, instead of the compact urban schools.  It’s a relatively new school based on the British system of education.

    The Future University
    New Cairo City
    Main City Centre
    02 920-0777
    www.futureuniversity.edu.eg

    The Future University is partnered with a few Scottish universities, so it offers UK degrees.  The school is housed in what looks like a funky, modern version of the Roman Coliseum, and uses technology to a very high degree in all of its courses of study.

    Language Schools

    Kalimat Language and Cultural Centre
    22 Mohamed Mahmoud Shaaban St
    Mohandessin, Giza, Egypt
    02 761-8136
    www.kalimategypt.com

    This school has 6 courses each in both standard Arabic and colloquial Egyptian Arabic.  It also offers combination courses.  The Kalimat school also will customize courses to your specific needs, like if you’re a business person, the language taught can revolve around that topic.

    The International Language Institute
    4 Mahmoud Azmy St
    Off Ahmed Orabi St
    El Sahafeyeen, Cairo, Egypt
    02 346-3087
    www.arabicegypt.com

    Prices here are relatively low, and the center offers good courses up to the intermediate level in both standard Arabic and in colloquial Egyptian Arabic.  There are also classes for calligraphy and media-specific terminology.

    Mail Delivery

    Egyptian mail service has improved greatly recently, but it’s still not quite to the same standards as that in the US.  Most post offices are open from 8:30 am until 3 pm, but the larger offices, like the ones in Muhammad Farid downtown and the one near Ataba Square, are open until 6 pm.

    It costs 20 piastres (about $.03) to mail a letter within the country and delivery times are about 2 days.  Same day service within Egypt is 5 EP, mailing a letter express to the United States will cost 45 EP.