Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Middle East. Although Cairo itself is only about 1,000 years old, parts of the metropolis date back to the time of the Pharaohs. The Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza, for example, are visible evidence of the Ancient Egyptian civilization around the Nile river. The first Muslim settlement of Egypt was Al-Fustat, now a part of old Cairo. In later years, Cairo was conquered and controlled by a host of invaders including the Mamluks, the Turks, and Napoleon Bonaparte of France.
In the 19th century, one of the city's rulers, Khedive Ismail (1863-1879), sought to transform Cairo into a European- style city. This, along with the British occupation of Cairo in 1891, led to the development of new suburbs for the affluent Egyptians and foreigners. The old city was neglected and has gradually fallen into disrepair. By the turn of the century, most commercial activity was also moving in to modern Cairo.
Although the conservation of agricultural land has long been a priority of Egyptian development policy, much of the critically needed arable land in Cairo is being lost to urban development; half of which consists of illegal development and the remainder is planned new developments in the desert. Although a housing crisis has been broadcast by the international news media, it is estimated that Cairo may have a surplus of some 1 million housing units.
Surface waters from the Nile River are the major source of bulk water supply in Cairo. However, its distribution system is inadequate. One of the largest sewerage projects in the world vastly improved the hydraulic capacity of the waste-water system of Cairo, and has nearly eliminated the problem of sewerage flooding. However, the lowest income groups in informal settlements on the periphery remain unserved by existing water and waste-water systems.
Cairo has a serious air pollution situation due to motor vehicles and industry. The city government frequently monitors air pollution to measure concentration of noxious gases. In addition, it utilizes all forms of media to promote environmental conservation within the city, including celebrations like the annual Nile Inundation to encourage environmental awareness.
Cairo is one of the world's most densely populated cities, with one of the lowest provisions of road space per capita and dramatic growth in the number of private vehicles. Government actions have only exacerbated this situation by spending on bridges and flyovers, and heavily subsidizing fuel, all of which promote the use of private automobiles.
According to a United Nations 1994 estimate, the Cairo urban agglomeration remains home to 9.6 million people and the figure is projected to reach 13.2 million by the year 2010.