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A New Book Unpicks what Egypt’s Capital Might Have Been

Looming above the affluent Zamalek neighbourhood in the centre of Cairo, the Forte Tower has stood as the tallest building in Egypt for the last 30 years – yet it remains unfinished and abandoned. The result of several years of digging through haphazard archives, Mohamed Elshahed’s guidebook is an intriguing example of the form. It includes 226 buildings, some unfinished, some demolished, some never even built. Many appear to be unremarkable, everyday buildings, not the kind historians would necessarily regard as worthy of veneration. And that’s precisely the point. “The book is not only intended as a sample of Cairo as it is now, but a record of what once was, or could have been,” says Elshahed, a curator and architectural historian who founded the Cairobserver blog. “So much of the city has been demolished before we’ve even discovered and documented it. It means that, despite the generations of development, Cairo is not a place where you can walk around and really feel history, or identify who did what when. It’s so muddled.”