Egypt's "Greenest of the Green" at Risk: The Zabaleen, Cairo's Garbage Recyclers Are under Threat. Mel Frykberg Reports Form Cairo

By Frykberg, Mel | The Middle East, August-September 2007 | Go to article overview

Egypt's "Greenest of the Green" at Risk: The Zabaleen, Cairo's Garbage Recyclers Are under Threat. Mel Frykberg Reports Form Cairo


Frykberg, Mel, The Middle East


ACROSS FROM THE Moqattam settlement, nestling under the Moqattam hills, lie the remains of the ancient city of Fustat, on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo. Encapsulated in the medieval walls is a city, steeped in history, culture and civilisation.

But within the shadows of this impressive historical monument lies another world and another people with a very different history. As one approaches the Moqattam Hills settlement, home to Cairo's 30,000 Zabaleen or garbage recyclers, the stench of decomposing garbage fills the air. Donkey carts, piled high with refuse compete with dilapidated jalopies for space along the rutted roads of the shanty town's rubbish-strewn streets and sacks of putrefying and decomposing refuse, over which swarms of flies hover.

Fustat was established in AD648, during the Islamic Umayyad period, near other historically famous Egyptian cities and towns such as the Roman Babylon fortress of Byzantine, Giza, Heliopolis and Memphis. The city was built as a military garrison for Arab troops, who had arrived in Egypt as Islam swept over the region following the death of Prophet Muhammed in the AD 600s. It later became a regional centre before the Umayyads made their last stand against the new Abbasid Dynasty which succeeded them.

Later when the Abbasid Dynasty was supplanted by the Fatamid Dynasty, Al Qahira (Cairo) was officially founded in AD969. During its history various dynasties would add suburbs to the city and construct important structures that became famous throughout the Islamic world including the Al Azhar Mosque, the Muslim world's highest centre of Islamic learning.

Its 21st century inhabitants, the Zabaleen, are mostly poverty-stricken Coptic Christians who eek out a living from recycling the garbage of 18m Cairenes with such efficiency that the Egyptian government has been unable to replace them with modern machinery and professional garbage collection companies.

These industrious people sort, wash, compress, reuse, repair or resell Cairo's leftovers to Egyptian companies who then sell the recycled material for domestic consumption as well as exporting it to international markets.

Everything thrown away in Cairo, every newspaper, torn pair of trousers or slice of bread, starts on a secret journey from the moment it is put in the bin. The ingenuity of the Zabaleen ensures that 85% of Cairo's garbage is professionally, efficiently dealt with, a figure that is comparable to modern recycling operations in western countries.

The women of the household sort out the various categories--plastics, glass, metal, paper and textiles. It is back-breaking work and involves long hours--but more environmentally friendly than the mechanised garbage crushing trucks from Europe that the Cairo municipality brought in about 10 years ago.

The story of Cairo's rubbish also runs along religious lines. Purchasing the bags of old food and clothes thrown away by the citizens of the metropolis of Cairo began with the Wahis (oasis people), the original collectors who were Muslims from Lower Egypt.

They bought long-term rights to the city's refuse, which they then burned to cook the national dish "foul mesdames" or spicy bean stew and to make charcoal. About half a century ago they moved up a rung and sold the collection routes to the newcomers, impoverished Christian Copts from Upper Egypt.

Francis Sawaris, 52, married with four children and originally from Assuit in upper-Egypt, invited The Middle East into his humble abode, a crumbling three-room apartment with bits of dirty plastic and rags where windows should have been. Sacks of foul-smelling rubbish lined the walls. Two relatives, Wahid Darwis, 50, and his daughter Marsa, 16, crouched on their haunches sorting through the pile of plastic on the floor. Periodically they waved away flies and wiped the sweat from their brows on this hot and humid day where temperatures peaked at 40 degrees celsius.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Egypt's "Greenest of the Green" at Risk: The Zabaleen, Cairo's Garbage Recyclers Are under Threat. Mel Frykberg Reports Form Cairo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.