Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Village: Informal development and Environmental Pollution - March 1999

The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Village:

Informal development and Environmental Pollution

By: Dr. Yasser Mahgoub

March 1999


Traditional rural settlements in the Egyptian countryside, the peasants' villages, have been undergoing dramatic physical changes since the beginning of the 20th century. The formation of traditional settlements in the Egyptian countryside was influenced by the natural environment that surrounded them. The Nile had a great influence on shaping the traditional Egyptian settlements. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that "Egypt was the gift of the Nile". An unending source of sustenance, it provided a crucial role in the development of Egyptian civilization. Its yearly summer flooding forced the villages away from its banks to higher elevations away from the Nile, occupying the tops of the hills. This condition lasted for thousands of years, until the beginning of the 19th century when Mohamed Ali started the first efforts to control the Nile and its waters. Subsequently more efforts were made to control the Nile ending with the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1961, which ended the yearly summer flooding and freed the village from the control of the Nile. It also allowed for drastic transformations in the traditional settlements morphology to take place.
This paper will focus on the process of transformation and change taking place in Egyptian villages and its impact on the health and life of its inhabitants and the surrounding environment. The village of El-Baraguil, located N-W of Cairo is used as a case study to illustrate the dramatic changes taking place in many Egyptian villages. The maps of the village since 1900 were studied along with site visits and anthropological documentation of environmental pollution taking place in the village. Other villages were also visited and the same pattern of change was evident in all of them.
This paper attempts to raise questions of theoretical implications:
           ·        Should the transformation of the Egyptian village be considered a "normal" evolution of a traditional settlement?
           ·        Are other traditional settlements in other parts of the world evolving in a similar way?
           ·        Is it appropriate to apply building codes and regulations on traditional settlements to control their growth and development?
           ·        Is this transformation the result of an impact of local-regional trends and global change?

 The Egyptian Village Until the Beginning of the 19th Century

There are manifold reasons why villages have formed, and security is undoubtedly one. Isolated homesteads are vulnerable to marauders, and the need for protection and to ensure the family line into future generations was a powerful imperative for joining others (Oliver, 1987).[1]

Figure 1. Map of Egypt.
The Egyptian village is the oldest form of human settlement in Egypt's history. It’s the basic unit that adheres to a social system with all its customs, traditions, and institutions that are inherited from ancient time. Unlike the built environment in urban settlements, where the factory requires larger area to house the workers, the agriculture land requires a much smaller area to house the peasants and their families. The form of the traditional Egyptian village was tightly linked to the surrounding economic and political circumstances. For thousands of years, the Egyptian villager was denied the right of ownership of his agricultural land. Land ownership was designated for the governors during the Pharaohs, the Ptolemaists and the Romans ruling of Egypt. This situation continued throughout the Ottomans' and the Mamluks' periods who ruled Egypt until Muhammad Ali and his agricultural revolution. Throughout history, the agricultural land, and not the house, was the center of life and socio-cultural interactions in the Egyptian village.
Irrigation of cultivated land depended on the Nile River, which required a high level of control, systemization, and other means of economic control. The Pharaoh, as the sole representative of God on earth, controlled all sources of water and manpower. (Ouda, 1997)[2] The Arabs, who ruled Egypt since the 6th century, established their new rules which placed the land under the supervision of a ruler who pays kharaj or ashouria - one tenth of the income - to the central government. By the end of the 18th century the land was owned by the Sultan but controlled by the Mamluks who distributed the land among the peasants and collected taxes from them. The peasant was not an owner of the land; he only "rented" it from the Sultan through his representative, the Mamluk (Ouda, 1997).[3]

Early Settlements on the Nile banks

The variety of factors which influence man's settlements are, in indigenous contexts, unique to their specific circumstances (Oliver, 1987)[4].
Early settlement efforts on the Nile banks required a huge collaborative effort to build and maintain the bridges and irrigation dams above the yearly flood levels. The summer flooding of the Nile used to cover large areas and create lakes and swamps. This need for collaborative work was one of the most important reasons for the early development of the Ancient Egyptian civilization.
The term "al-koum" or "al-tal" - meaning hill or highland - is one of the best terms used to describe the location of the village above the flood levels. (Muselhi, 1990) [5]Many Egyptian villages still retain this term as part of their name, i.e., Koum Hamada, Koum Al Shukafa, and Meet Abu El Koum. On the other hand, the term "nazlet" - meaning downhill - describes the settlements of the Bedouins by the hilly sides away from the Nile valley and delta. The well known Nazlet Al Siman by the Pyramids of Giza is a famous example. (See Figure 2)
The settlement or the village starts by selecting an appropriate hill and safeguarding it from the flooding of the Nile. The village starts from the top of the hill where the land value is high. The planning of alkoum village contains three main elements:
1.    The religious building on the top of the hill occupies the most significant and expensive land. The Christian church replaced the Ancient Egyptian temple, and was later replaced by the Islamic mosque. The religious building is surrounded by shops, a guest house and houses of the head of the village "alomda" and the religious man "sheik albalad", the rulers of the village.
2.    A ring road, dayer al nahya street, was the critical flood level encircling the village from all sides. It was covered with water during the flooding season. A street called dayer al nahya was found in every village as a public area used for public markets and other temporary activities. It was the gathering area for the village during festivities and celebrations and served as the entrance to the whole village.
3.    Street networks had two types; the first were radial streets coming down from the center of the village, and the second were streets originating from dayer al nahya street indicating the appropriate places for houses away from the dangers of flooding. The two types of narrow, bending and dead-end streets rarely meet. Unlike the need for narrow shaded streets in hot arid areas to provide shade and protection from the sun, the narrow streets in the Egyptian village were the result of space economics; space was very limited above the protected hill. Each family in the village occupied one or more of the streets and had their shared facilities and attached houses hosting members of the extended family.
Several activities occupied the peripherals of the village. The cemeteries were located at the edge of the residential area and were moved from one place to another in order to avoid having them in the middle of the village. The grain silos were also located on the peripherals of the village between the farms and the residential area. The weekly markets were held outside the residential area because of their need for large areas not available inside the residential area. (See Figure 3)

Figure 2. The traditional Egyptian village until 1900 AD
Figure 3. Pictures of Egyptian villages at the end of 19th century
As the need for houses grows, the only options to provide more houses were:
1.    Extension within house forming extended family housing of higher crowdednss levels.
2.    Replacement of old small house with new large houses at the expense of open public spaces and streets.
3.    Construction of temporary and poor houses outside the safe flood level or dayer el nahia.
4.    A very limited attempts to enlarge al koum by adding new soil to the existing hill because of the large effort required for this operation.
5.    Migration of families from one village to another where suitable areas to build houses or to construct a new village are available.
6.    Division of housing lots into smaller units due to inheritance.

The transformation of the Egyptian villages during the 19th century

The ownership of the agricultural land in Egypt remained in the hands of the ruler of the country. He was to assign and distribute it to those who could cultivate it. This situation remained until the beginning of the Nineteenth century when drastic changes took place in the ownership of the arable lands. Individual ownership started to appear for the first time in the history of Egypt. (Shalabi, 1983)  [6]
At the beginning of the 19th century, most of the population of Egypt lived in the countryside while less than one tenth of the population lived in urban areas. The number of villages reached 2325 before the general development plans of Mohamad Ali at the beginning of the Nineteenth century (Muselhi, 1990). [7]
The efforts to control the Nile, which Muhamad Ali started in the beginning of the Nineteenth century, had a great impact on the morphology of the Egyptian village. The irrigation system entered a new phase after constructing a number of irrigation dams such as al kanater al-khairyah, water streams such as al tawfiki, al bheri and al mnofi and drifts such as al tiraa al-ibrahimiyah in upper Egypt. After the construction of the Aswan dam in 1902 and its heightening in 1911 and 1933 and the construction of the High Dam in 1970, Egyptian agriculture was completely transformed from seasonal to permanent irrigation system.
Fathy Muselhi pointed out that, "the control of the river allowed the use of cultivated land for summer crops, the storage of water, and the protection of villages from the yearly flooding." (Muselhi, 1990) [8] The development of the Egyptian village during the beginning of the Nineteenth century acquired two distinctive approaches:
1.    The expansion of old al koum villages below the flood levels, denoted by the traditional dayer al nahiya street, to the lower ground levels of the vast horizontal agricultural land.
2.    The construction of totally new villages on the lower grounds of the agricultural land without the limitations imposed by the yearly flooding threats. (See Figure 4)

Figure 4. The traditional Egyptian village after 1900 AD.
The agricultural expansion during the Nineteenth century resulted in the spread of the new village form called al izbah, which is a transformation from living on the hills to the spread of houses on the flat agricultural land. The palace or villa of the new owner of land, with its large private garden, was located in the center of al izbah surrounded by the agriculture workers' houses. The new irrigation system made of new water canals and trenches had a great impact on the distribution of new settlements on the valley and Nile delta. Originally, the water canals and trenches passed by the old villages that occupied the hills and the higher elevations. The new village type of al izba settled by the banks of these water paths, especially on the banks of the new branches. Each izba hosted 20 to 30 families, 150 to 300 persons. Unlike the old al koum villages, the new village type followed a linear distribution alongside the water canals that transferred the water to the new vast areas of arable lands. The distribution was not tied to land levels but to distribution of land ownership. Because of the continuos population growth in the old agricultural land and the policies of intensive cultivation, new housing expansions were created outside dayer al nahyah street of the old village.
The construction of the railroads during the second half of the 19th century enforced the linear development of rural areas because they followed the path of the Nile river and its branches. In most cases the new railroads had more impact on developing existing villages than creating new ones. The villages which were on the path of the railroads grew faster than those away from the railroads even though they were more recent. For example, because of its location near the railroad, Shbeen Al Koum was selected as the capital of Al Minofia province instead of Minof even though the province carries it names.
The construction of modern asphalt roads, instead of the rock paved roads, during the end of the 19th century and the introduction of the automobile during the beginning of the 20th century, and its heavy use during the Second World War by the British troops, had a great impact on the development of the Egyptian villages; old and new villages alike. The asphalt roads were more flexible compared to railroads which followed more straight paths. The hydrographic network had a great impact on designing the automobile roads which were usually located on the banks of the water paths, and that in turn had a great impact on the creation of new villages and the growth of the old ones. (See Figure 5)

 Figure 5. The development of Al Koum village during the 20th century

 Houses of the Traditional Village

The traditional house was a "shelter" for people, animals, farming tools, and crops. The function of the house as a shelter reveals the lack of interior and exterior decoration. The main criteria was the size and not its aesthetic quality. There were no differences between the houses except in size; the more land the family owned, the larger the size of its house (Gheith, 1988) .[9]
The house was located across from the agricultural land close to the kin or larger family. This proximity to kinship and family provided safety and protection to the family. The kinship zones were divided into several alleys (harat); the largest alley was named after the kin. The villagers depended on local materials in the construction of their houses. Most of the houses were built using mud brick made of excess mud from agricultural land or the cleaning up of water canals. Dried straws (tibn) were added to the mud and formed as blocks. They were then left to dry in the sun during non-cultivating seasons. The wood used in roofs and doors was taken from date palm trees or casurina trees found along the Nile banks. The wooden roofs were not necessarily straight but they had to cover the width of the rooms. The roof was then covered by bamboo or straws and then with a mud layer.
The villagers used to assist each other in the construction of the house. Women were responsible for covering the house from the inside and outside with mud mixed with straw. This process gave the houses their smooth curved lines especially around doors and windows. The doors were made of thick wood panels attached together and closed by the traditional wooden lock called dabba and soqata. Internal doors were similar to the exterior doors but smaller in size. The windows were small rectangular opening covered with old pieces of cloth located above the eye level. They were mainly used for ventilation especially in the winter time when most of the family slept close to the traditional oven searching for warmth.
The house was rectangular and attached from 2 or 3 sides to other houses in the alley. In the middle there was a multipurpose area called wasat al dar, or the middle of the house, surrounded by rooms used for sleeping, storage, and sitting. The animals' cage was located at the end of the house to provide it with maximum protection from theft. The animals were considered very valuable because the farmer depended on them in farming the land, turning the water wheel and the production of dairy products. (See Figures 6 and 7)
 Figure 6. Plans of traditional village houses 
(Redrawn from sketches by Dr. Fathy M. Muselhi (Muselhi, 1990)[10]

Figure 7. Traditional village houses
The size of the house depended on the social and economic class of the family. The poorest house was made of one room called mandarah used for sleeping and receiving guests. The animals' cage was located at the end of the house. The roof was used for storing corn (maize) and cotton stalks, as well as dung cakes used for fuel. Roofs were also favorite sleeping places on hot summer nights. Small cone-shaped silos of plastered mud were also used for grain storing. The rich house was larger in size and occupied a better location on an intersection of major roads. It had two entrances: one for people from the main road and one for animals from the side road. The house was made of separate parts, the front used by the residents and the back for animals and chicken.
The house had developed during the 19th century through the division of old houses into several smaller houses, due to population growth and inheritance. New forms of houses started to appear in the new ezabs imitating the style of urban houses. They were made of concrete, steel and fired clay brick. The houses of rich families were plastered and painted from the outside.

Contemporary rural settlements in Egypt at the end of the 20th century

During the 20th century, the villages started to expand on adjacent agricultural land producing more houses for the rapidly growing populations. The village dwellers imitated the planning and construction methods found in informal housing expansions around the capital city of Cairo and other major cities. Also, the political transformation at the middle of the century produced social, economic, and cultural changes that influenced the distribution of agricultural land in the countryside. The 1952 revolution distributed the agricultural land among the peasants allowing peasants ownership of land for the first time in Egypt's history. The large agricultural estates owned by wealthy individuals were distributed among poor peasants allocating 5 faddans per peasant. The Egyptian rural settlements were influenced by many changes during the 20th century including:
1.    Population explosion which doubled the population of Egypt three folds during the second half of the 20th century.
2.    Political changes resulting from the 1952 revolution that transformed the political and governmental system. The distribution of large agricultural estates to the peasants after 1961, followed by the distribution of land among many family members due to inheritance.
3.    Economic changes from a predominantly agricultural economy to an industry based economy. The open market economy that Egypt adopted during the 70's and the development of construction methods and materials. The Egyptian countryside attracted many industrial projects that did not find place in the cities.
4.    Social changes resulting from internal migration from rural to urban areas, and the more frequent contact opportunities between the two, resulted in an urbanization of rural areas especially those close to major cities and towns. The construction of new asphalt roads and the pavement of existing ones facilitated the expansion of urbanization along its paths.
5.    The 1952 revolution initiated many educational and social reforms by building schools and universities in the Egyptian countryside attracting peasants and farmers to formal education and governmental jobs.
6.    The migration of agricultural workers to oil producing countries in the Gulf area after the 1973 war and the sudden rise in oil prices. These workers, who were mostly poor peasants and did not own enough land to support their presence in the villages, returned with enough wealth and desire to build their own new houses.
7.    Cultural changes that encouraged people to abandon their traditional village-lifestyle and look forward to living a more urban city-lifestyle. The development of new income sources for peasants by introducing new production activities and governmental jobs.
All these factors contributed to the growing ambitions of the peasants to imitate the lifestyle of those who lived in the city. In sum, there are five main stages that the development of the Egyptian rural areas have gone through during the 20th century:
1.   A short period in the beginning of the century reflecting the 19th century economic and political developments.
2.   A period of stagnation during the first half of the 20th century due to political unrest and World Wars.
3.   A period of development between 1952 and 1967 reflecting political and social changes initiated by the 1952 revolution. Land redistribution and reclamation in 1961 allowing Egyptian peasant land ownership for the first time in its history.
4.   The 1967 and 1973 Wars diverted all economic resources and efforts towards the army. This was a period of major recession and deterioration in the quality of life in the rural areas, which facilitated the migration of peasants and farmers to oil producing countries.
5.   Following the 1978 peace agreements and the implementation of open market economy, major economic and social changes started to occur. Many peasants who did not own enough land to support their living migrated to oil producing countries in the gulf area and returned with enough money to build and own houses in their own villages. They created a new type of housing in the village similar to informal housing, found around Cairo and other major cities in Egypt.
In the beginning of the seventies, 75% of the dwellings were single story houses and the remaining 25% were two-story houses with very few three or more stories high. After the 1973 war, new housing types dominated  the horizontal and vertical expansion of rural settlements.
This transformation had a drastic impact on the quality of life and the environment in these fragile traditional settlements. It resulted in polluted and health hazardous environments and degraded living conditions. Major problems found in contemporary Egyptian villages include:
           ·        Population overcrowdedness.
           ·        Water sources polluted with house wastes and garbage.
           ·        Absence of sanitary, sewerage and fresh water supply networks.
           ·        Absence of adequate garbage collection systems.
           ·        Visual pollution resulting from absence of planning and harmony.
           ·        Cramped and inadequately ventilated or lit houses and streets.
All these changes had a great impact on the form of the traditional village.

El-Baraguil Village : A case study

A field study was conducted to investigate recent changes in an Egyptian village. The village of El-Baraguil is used as a case study to illustrate the dramatic changes and transformation taking place in many Egyptian villages. An anthropological study of the environmental pollution of the village was conducted by Dr. Mona Al-Farnawani in 1989. (Al-Farnawani, 1989) [11] The study focused on the extent and reasons of the rural environment pollution. A study of the maps of the village since 1900 revealed the rapid growth of the village during the 20th century. Site visits and interviews with local residents were also conducted during the winter of 1999. Other villages were also visited and the same pattern of change was evident in all of them.
The village of El-Baraguil  is located within Oseem district in the governorate of Giza north west of Cairo. The population of the village is 13591 inhabitants, and the area of the village is 1400 feddans: 1176 feddans agricultural land and 224 feddans built-up area. The village is surrounded by agricultural land and other villages from all sides. The geographic location of the village, which is in close proximity to several cities, especially Cairo and Giza, attracted many residents who were looking for affordable housing close to work opportunities. It also attracted small and medium size businesses looking for cheap land to construct their factories. (See Figure 8)
Figure 8. Official map of El-Baraguil Village in 1986
The old village was surrounded by Dayer Al Nahia street, which connects the village with other adjacent villages. The street was paved in 1985 to allow for the passage of trucks and vehicles. One 4-meters wide street, called Al-Sharee Al-Kabeer, penetrates the village and is considered the main street of the village. Several narrow and irregular alleys, covered with dirt, branch out from the main street. The village is surrounded by several factories that were constructed during the seventies on agricultural land. The existence of the factories raised the price of land needed to build houses for the workers of these factories. Many peasants selected to turn their agricultural land into a wasteland in order to sell it for those interested in building new factories and houses. The factories provided new opportunities of work for the villagers but their drastic impact was the spoliation of large areas of the agricultural land. Many agricultural workers left the village looking for work in the city or in Gulf countries. Also, the air became polluted with the exhaust and fumes from the factories.
The housing shortage in Cairo and Giza encouraged many housing seekers to the villages looking for affordable houses. The concept of renting houses emerged at the time when the village was suffering from limited economic resources and agricultural land destruction. Many villagers divided their houses or added one or two floors to their existing houses and offered them for rent. Some demolished their houses completely and rebuild them using a new design suitable for renting. This trend resulted in the abandonment of the traditional house design that contained large open space in the middle and the adoption of housing design similar to what is found in unauthorized and informal housing extensions outside major cities especially Cairo. (See Figures 9 and 10)
Figure 9. El-Baraguil Village - Old houses - 1999
Figure 10. El-Baraguil Village - Dayer Al Nahia street - new buildings- 1999
The eastern water canal was the most important source of water for the village. Due to the devastation of large areas of agricultural land, the need for irrigation water declined and the water canal started to dry-up. The villagers started to use it as a garbage dump for all types of trash: empty plastic bags, metal cans, vegetable waste, house waste, and dead animals. The polluted water canal became a source of bad smell and visual pollution. The local governmental authorities covered part of the garbage dump but the villagers insisted on using another part because of the absence of garbage collection system in the village. Other water canals and ditches are also used to dump the garbage and house disposals. A familiar sight is women carrying containers of house waste and dumping it in the water canals and ditches.
A study of the village maps since 1900 revealed the pattern of growth and transformation of the village. In 1900 the village was contained inside Dayer Al Nahia street. A few ezba's started to appear on the outskirts of the village. In 1942 the village expanded on adjacent agricultural land and was almost doubled in size. In 1986 - the latest official map of the village - the village expanded to cover more large areas of agricultural land. (See Figure 11)

Figure 11. The expansion of El-Baraguil Village from 1900 to 1986
The field study of Al-Baraguil village indicated many important and significant changes taking place in Egypt's rural settlements. To validate these findings, visits to other rural settlements and villages were conducted to investigate the presence of the same phenomena in them. The visits proved that the same phenomena exists but with different degrees depending on the proximity of the village to urban areas and cities.

Discussion: Cultural and Environmental Transformation

The field study of Al-Baraguil village indicated many important and significant changes taking place in Egypt's rural settlements. To validate these findings, visits to other rural settlements and villages were conducted to investigate the presence of the same phenomena in them. The visits proved that the same phenomena exists but on different degrees depending on the proximity of the village to urban areas and cities. The transformation of Egyptian rural settlements during the 20th century had several impacts on the inhabitants, the natural environment, and built environment.

The impact on the physical environment

The village went through the following transformation stages. The core inside dayer al nahia street, the major ring road, was the only land available for expansion on alkoum, the hill that the village occupied for centuries. This area started from the top of the hill which was donated usually to the religious building and down to dayer al nahia street which denoted the highest yearly flood levels. The construction of the village houses started at the top of the hill around the religious building gradually reaching the ring road street. Narrow, bending alleys penetrated the habitable block radiating from the top of the hill where the mosque was located, while another network of streets started form the ring road going upward towards the top of the hill. They were wider than the downward network of streets.
After the control of the river, the village started to expand outside the ring road. The villagers left their crowded cocoon on the protected hill and started to build houses outside dayer al nahia street. Their houses stretched over the flat agricultural land around the hill. The composition of the new sector of the village is completely different than the old village. Unlike the narrow bending streets of the old sector, the new sector streets were straight and perpendicular to dayer al nahia street and relatively wider than the old sector's streets. While the houses of the old sector were crowded due to inheritance and division of old houses into smaller units, the new sector's houses were more spacious and durable. New designs and construction materials were also employed in the construction of the new sector's houses. They were usually built using stones or fired clay brick, called red brick. The red brick was made of access clay from the agricultural land and the cleaning out of irrigation canals.
Transportation and asphalt routes, that were constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, had a great influence on the morphology of the Egyptian village. The vehicular roads were constructed along the water canals and they attracted public buildings, services, bus stations, coffee shops, schools and other governmental facilities. The main entrance to the village connected it with the major roads crossing water canals and creating a wide street that attracted commercial and new facilities in the village. It also attracted villagers with social and economic ambitions. The new entrance road, which was designated as the formal village center, changed the image of the village from an isolated island in the middle of the green fields to a living settlement linked to the major roads.
Also, the housing units (or dwellings) went through several changes. The traditional dwellings were mainly found within the old sector of the village inside the ring road (dayer al nahia). Their thick walls were made of mud layers using the rammed earth technique or mud blocks dried in the sun. The roofs were made of wood logs, straws, and clay cover. The openings were very small and covered with pieces of cloth during the winter time.
The dwellings of the new sector outside the ring road (dayer al nahia) were larger in size and built using stones, mud brick, and, later, ones with concrete. They overlooked the new entrance road with better ventilation through large windows and spaces. They were also closer to the modern services and major transportation routes.
Houses found in the informal housing sector are imitations of the informal housing found around Cairo and other major cities in Egypt. The houses are made of three or four floors lined up in straight rows.  They were created due to the selling of agricultural lots and using it for the construction of houses. The houses are built using reinforced concrete structural skeleton and red (fired) bricks. The designs are simple and usually done by local contractors. They are made of three or four story buildings imitating the apartments found in urban areas. The exterior is usually left unfinished exposing the concrete skeleton and red brick layers, which became a common character of all unauthorized, informal housing developments in Egypt. No building codes or regulations are applied on these buildings. They are produced by local contractors who discuss with the owner their needs and suggest some solutions. The design uses the maximum area of the lot in the ground floor and benefits from cantilevered balconies in the upper floors. The houses overlook a narrow street and are attached to other houses from three sides. The only source of lighting and ventilation is small light wells that are left at the edges. Windows open to the edges even though they are expected to be closed in the future. The result is very crowded alleys and poor naturally ventilated or lit houses.

Figure 12. Building and roads of contemporary Egyptian village.
The Image of the traditional Egyptian village has changed from one or two story houses built using local material and methods to rows of attached concrete and red brick blocks three or four story high.

The impact on the inhabitants

It has recently been shown, contrary to previously held views, that vernacular environments do communicate status ( as well as identity, etc.), and that one can study changes in such environments over time and hence how the forms and elements communicating status change accordingly. One can also study changes over time in vernacular forms due to increasing social complexity, with "modernization," tourism and culture change generally. It then becomes possible to use vernacular design to study the effects of acculturation of immigrant groups on their built environment and how they are used - a process also found in spontaneous settlements. (Rapoport, 1999) [12]
An important change taking place in the Egyptian village is the change of the social composition and relations of the village inhabitants. The availability of new housing attracted individuals and groups from outside the village who were looking for affordable housing close to urban areas. It created a composition of residents who were not previously relatives or kin. It also affected the composition of new families and the discard of the traditional situation of extended family living in one house to nuclear families living in separate "apartments."
The traditional social institutions that governed the relationships between village residents and families disappeared and were replaced by governmental rules and regulations. The traditional selection of the head of the village called "Al-Umda" from an eminent family was replaced by a process of selection and appointment by the central government in Cairo. Cultural values of the environment, agricultural land, public spaces, personal privacy, and many other components of culture are undergoing drastic changes due to the change of the composition of the inhabitants of the village.
There is a loss of the sense of belonging to the agricultural land, which was an important part of the relationship between the villagers and their land. The only competition exits in the acquisition of electric appliances and interest in temporary migration to large cities or immigration to Arab countries. (Al-Farnawani, 1995)[13]
This resulted in trends of renting and selling of agricultural land. This loss of the sense of belonging is evident in the absence of care to the land and public property, individualism and care of private property only. This is evident in the amount of care and expenditure found inside the private property or house and the neglect of what exists outside its borders: the public property. This trend is also evident in the Egyptian urban areas.
As mentioned by Amani Tulan[14], the open market economy that was adopted by the government during the seventies encouraged the immigration of Egyptian farmers to Arab Gulf countries to work and return to their villages (Tulan, 1985).This phenomenon has changed many patterns of investment and consumption in the village. Mansour Maghaori[15] pointed out that open economy and the migration of Egyptian workers to Arab countries resulted in the inundation of the local market with commodities that were unfamiliar before 1974 (Maghaori, 1991). The villagers imitated the new pattern of consumption of the returning immigrants from the cities and the Arab countries. Members of poor families that owned small lots of agricultural land immigrated to Arab countries and were able to save a relatively large capital in a very short period of time. They returned with many commodities and electric appliances that provided them with social prestige and superiority. This eliminated the traditional social superiority of those who owned agricultural land. Amani Tulan points out that the returning immigrants were more interested in building reinforced concrete houses than buying agricultural land. Most of their capital was invested in activities not related to agriculture. The main purpose of their temporary immigration was the purchase of land to build a house on while the main goal of the farmer was the acquisition of more agricultural land at the expense of all other social needs, especially the house. She quoted one of her informants saying: "If I can save more money by the end of the year, I would buy a refrigerator and a fan. The land is becoming very expensive nowadays." She added[16] that most Egyptians, especially agricultural workers who temporarily immigrate to Arab countries, return to their villages to spend their savings on the construction of a modern house. The construction of a house consumes all the savings of a person for many years. The villages are surrounded with a belt of new houses constructed by agricultural workers returning from oil producing countries, while most of them own or share houses in the old village (Tulan, 1985).
Figure 13. The expansion of the Egyptian Village over agriculture land

The impact on the physical environment: Visual and physical pollution

The environment of the village is polluted both physically and visually. Garbage and house waste fill many water canals and ditches. The absence of a garbage collection system is forcing the villagers to dump their house wastes in water canals and ditches. This produces a polluted environment both physically and visually. The phenomenon has social and economic reasons, and it cannot be understood unless analyzed historically and environmentally. The first impression might suggest that the old traditional settlements were primitive, unplanned, and physically polluted with dirt and mud. However, an examination of current examples of Egyptian villages reveals that the village at the end of the 20th century is more polluted than the village at the end of the 19th century.
The 20th century witnessed an erosion of the role of the traditional house as a productive unit in the Egyptian village. The house was used to shelter the farmer's animals and birds. Most of the house waste was recycled and used to feed the house animals. Animal dung was dried and used as fuel for the oven. Cotton, rice and corn dried stems were also used to produce fire for cooking and heating. Many hand crafts and small industries that were typically performed in the traditional house, i.e., basket weaving, making dairy products, and baking traditional bread, disappeared due to the introduction of a new house type and lifestyle. The villagers buy their bread ready made from public automated bakeries. There are very few kinds of animals that can be kept in the house. While the amount of house waste increased, opportunities to recycle house and farm waste decreased which resulted in a huge energy waste and a negative impact on the environment. The reduction of habitable space and the absence of the traditional courtyard reduced the possibility of keeping the house as a productive entity in the community.

The Transformation of Egyptian Rural settlements from Traditional Villages into Informal/unauthorized Housing Developments

The internal migration of the inhabitants from the village to the city for work and then their return to the village in the evening led to a desire to change the traditional lifestyle of the village and replace it with the lifestyle of the city. Many cities in Egypt, especially Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza, suffer from the degraded informal, unauthorized housing developments on their outskirts and within their borders, a phenomenon called "reuralization of urban areas" by many observers, and the existence of many rural villages adjacent to planned neighborhoods containing modern villas and apartments. An opposite process is taking place in the rural areas where informal and unauthorized housing is being introduced as a better quality housing and is changing the image of the Egyptian village. Some villages are completely transformed into urban areas and others are undergoing the process of transformation. Distance from urban areas is a primary factor in accelerating this process.
Dr. Hassan Al Khouli (Al-Khouli, 1992) [17] points to the progress in vehicular and transportation routes and public communication facilities which developed a new relationship between rural and urban areas based on spatial proximity and mutual dependency. He argues that "ruralization and urbanization" constitute two different states of mind and view of the world and that individuals and groups living in rural areas or agricultural workers might hold an urbanized view of life and the world. On the other hand, many of those living in urban areas adopt rural behaviors and practices. This argument is also valid when applied to housing forms found in the Egyptian villages.

The impact on the natural environment

The erosion of the agricultural land is evident around many villages in Egypt, especially villages close to urban areas. The process of transformation was evident from the study of Al-Baraguil village maps since 1900 AD.  The process of transformation starts with the construction of one house on a small lot that is part of an agricultural land. Other houses start to be built adjacent to the first house within the same lot. The expansion follows the boundary lines of the agricultural land forming a street in the center of the land. (See Figures 12)
Figure 14. The process of agricultural land transformation into housing development
Pollution of the Egyptian rural settlements environment is increasing on many levels. Piles of garbage and house waste are filling ditches and water canals. Dead animals are found floating on the surface of water canals. The absence of a sewerage system collection and dependency on trenches for treatment of human waste is producing a serious health hazard in the village. The first effort of the government is usually directed to solving this problem but the size of the problem is overwhelming. The air is polluted with the exhaust of nearby factories and burning of house and farm waste. The exhaust of many poorly maintained taxi cars and busses adds to the pollution of the air especially in the entrance of the village. These types of environmental pollution create a visually polluted image of the village.


This study illustrated the differences between patterns of settlement in traditional and 20th century rural settlements in Egypt. The impact of recent changes in the society affected the development of traditional rural settlements into more urban-fringe informal housing settlement patterns.  The government of Egypt is trying to improve the living conditions in the villages by forcing building codes and installing or improving infrastructure systems in more than 4000 Egyptian villages nationwide. A program called "SHROUK" was developed with the aid of foreign countries to encourage community participation and sustainable methods to improve the living conditions  in many Egyptian villages. It is a massive undertaking that the central government in Cairo is trying courageously to achieve. There is doubt by many observers that this informal pattern of expansion can be controlled within the village limits. It is a process of transformation that requires more than governmental control and policing.
The change and transformation taking place in Egypt's rural settlements is a result of the impact of regional trends and global culture on traditional settlements. The historical contrast between rural and urban settlements is gradually vanishing. A new form of settlement that incorporates both rural and urban characteristics is found in both rural and urban areas. Availability of transportation means between the city and villages is encouraging more people to live in the village and work in the city. Informal housing on the outskirts of major cities is attracting those who are looking for affordable housing close to the city. The socio-ecological implications of current patterns of land settlements in the Egyptian countryside is very alarming. Erosion of agricultural land and environmental pollution are among the most serious consequences of this change.
The study raised many questions of theoretical implications. The results of this study support the observations of Kenneth Frampton. In his keynote address to the Twentieth Congress of UIA, he noted that:
The past thirty years have radically transformed the metropolitan centers of the developed world. ... Meanwhile, by a reciprocal and similar process, there is a corresponding implosion of urban populations in the vast hinterland surrounding capital cities, particularly in the Third World where such growth has been exponential. ... Most of this expansion occurs in the form of so-called spontaneous housing: barriadas, fervillas, etc., where land is appropriated en masse and shacks come into being overnight without any of the normative infrastructures considered to be essential to health, above all water, sewage disposal, power and public transport. (K. Frampton, 2000)[18]
In his book Dwellings: The house across the world, Paul Oliver states that "arguments have been powerfully made for a physical and environmental determinism that considers that advantageous climates and temperatures, soils and seasons give shape to man's culture; they have been rebutted as vigorously by those who argue that culture determines building and settlement form. But there is much evidence to show that both apply." (Oliver, 1987) [19] The results of this study support the theoretical position that both environmental and cultural variables affect the formation and development of traditional settlements. While the initial formation of traditional settlements in the Egyptian countryside was influenced more by natural environmental factors, recent transformations were influenced by social and cultural factors.
This study recommends the initiation of systematic comparative studies focusing on the process of transformation and change taking place in different parts of the world. This study raised several questions related to rural settlements in other parts of the world:
           ·        How does vernacular rural architecture develop in other parts of the world?
           ·        Is the process of transformation taking place in the Egyptian village occurring in other parts of the world?
           ·        What should be the role of the government? Should the government apply urban control measures on the villages?
           ·        Should we consider the product by such a process "vernacular architecture"?


Al-Farnawani, M., "Pollution of the Rural Environment: A study of the impact of ecological changes on the Egyptian village", in Society and the Environment, edited by Dr. Muhamad Al Gohary and Dr. Alia Shukry (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameia. Alexandria. 1995)
Al-Khouli, H., Rural and Urban Societies in the Third World (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameiah, Alexandria 1992)
Anderson, S., Memory without Monuments: Vernacular Architecture, (TDSR, Volume XI Number 1, 1999)
Frampton, K., Seven points for the millennium: an untimely manifesto (The Journal of Architecture, Volume 5, Spring 2000)
Gheith, M. and K. Ahmad, Rural Society (Dar Al Maarif Al Gamiaa, Alexandria, 1988)
Muselhi, F., Between the Problems of Comprehensive Development and Village Planning: Urban Egypt at the beginning of the 21 Century (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria. 1990).
Oliver, P., Dwellings: The house across the world (Phaidon. Oxford, 1987)
Oliver, P., ed., Shelter and Society (Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York, Washington, 1969)
Ouda, M., and Al-Sayed Al-Hussainy, The Village Society in The Developing Countries: Theoretical approaches and field studies (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria. 1997)
Rapoport, A., A Framework for Studying Vernacular Design (Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 16:1, Spring, 1999)
Shalabi, A., Rural Egypt in the second half of the Nineteenth century 1847-1891 (Dar Al Maarif, 1983)
Tadros, H., "The human aspects of rural resettlement schemes in Egypt", in B. Berdichewsky, ed., Anthropology and Social Change in Rural Areas (Mountain Publishers. The Hague. Paris. New York, 1979)


[1] P. Oliver, Dwellings: The house across the world (Phaidon. Oxford, 1987), p. 43
[2] Dr. Mahmoud Ouda and Dr. AlSayed AlHussainy, The Village Society in The Developing Countries: Theoretical approaches and field studies. (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria. 1997), p. 194
[3] Dr. Mahmoud Ouda and Dr. AlSayed AlHussainy, The Village Society in The Developing Countries: Theoretical approaches and field studies. (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria. 1997), p. 195
[4] Paul Oliver, Dwellings: The house across the world (Phaidon. Oxford, 1987), p. 48
[5] Dr. Fathy M. Muselhi, Between the Problems of Comprehensive Development and Village Planning: Urban Egypt at the beginning of the 21 Century (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria, 1990), p. 180.- د. فتحى محمد مصيلحى. بين مشاكل التنمية الشاملة وتخطيط القرية المصرية. المعمور المصرى فى مطلع القرن (21). 1990. ص. 180
[6] Dr. Ali Shalabi, The Egyptian Countryside during the second half of the 19th century 1847-1891 (Dar Al Maarif, 1983), p. 69- د. على شلبى. الريف المصري في النصف الثاني من القرن التاسع عشر 1847-1891 . دار المعارف. 1983. ص. 69.
[7] Dr. Fathy M. Muselhi, Between the Problems of Comprehensive Development and Village Planning: Urban Egypt at the beginning of the 21 Century, (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria, 1990), p. 208- د. فتحى محمد مصيلحى. بين مشاكل التنمية الشاملة وتخطيط القرية المصرية. المعمور المصرى فى مطلع القرن (21). 1990. ص. 208
[8] Dr. Fathy M. Muselhi, Between the Problems of Comprehensive Development and Village Planning: Urban Egypt at the beginning of the 21 Century, (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria, 1990), p. 214- د. فتحى محمد مصيلحى. بين مشاكل التنمية الشاملة وتخطيط القرية المصرية. المعمور المصرى فى مطلع القرن (21). 1990. ص. 214
[9] Dr. M. Gheith & K. Ahmad, Rural Society, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gamiaa, Alexandria, 1988), p. 334.
[10] Redrawn from sketches by Dr. Fathy M. Muselhi, Between the Problems of Comprehensive Development and Village Planning: Urban Egypt at the beginning of the 21 Century, (Dar El Maarif Al Gamia. Alexandria, 1990)
[11] Dr. Muna I. Al-Farnawani, Pollution of the Rural Environment: A study of the impact of ecological changes on the Egyptian village, in Society and the Environment, edited by Dr. Muhamad Al Gohary and Dr. Alia Shukry, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameia. Alexandria. 1995) p. 155
[12]  Amos Rapoport, A Framework for Studying Vernacular Design, Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 16:1 (Spring, 1999) p. 58
[13] Dr. Muna I. Al-Farnawani, Pollution of the Rural Environment: A study of the impact of ecological changes on the Egyptian village, in Society and the Environment, edited by Dr. Muhamad Al Gohary and Dr. Alia Shukry, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameia. Alexandria. 1995) p. 155
[14] Dr. Amani E. Tulan, The village between tradition and modernization, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameiah, 1985) p. 177.
[15] Mansour Maghaori, Open Market Economy and its Impact on Rural Society, Seminar on Transformations in Rural Society, p. 16-17
[16] Dr. Amani E. Tulan, The village between tradition and modernization, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameiah, 1985) p. 411
[17] Dr. Hassan Al Khouli, Rural and Urban Societies in the Third World, (Dar Al Maarif Al Gameiah, Alexandria 1992) p. 105
[18] Kenneth Frampton, Seven points for the millennium: an untimely manifesto, edited keynote address given at the Twentieth Congress of the UIA, Beijing, June 1999, (The Journal of Architecture, Volume 5, Spring 2000)
[19] Paul Oliver, Dwellings: The house across the world (Phaidon. Oxford, 1987), p. 41