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Cairo is the capital of Egypt. At 20 million people in its greater metropolitan area (which includes the governorates of Giza and Qalyubiyya), it is Africa's largest urban area, and the world's second largest Muslim-majority metropolitan area (after either Jakarta or Karachi, depending on who asks, and ahead of Istanbul). It also happens to sit near the middle of the Arab world, and is thus a major Arab and Muslim cultural center. When a movie is dubbed in Arabic, you can bet that everyone will suddenly be from Cairo.

Cairo sits next to the only extant Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza. This allows many to assume that Cairo is just as ancient, but the city is only about a thousand years old.[1] It has, however, been Egypt's capital for most of that time, and has shared in Arab Egypt's rising and falling fortunes. At one time, it was the largest city outside of China, but changing trade routes, the Black Death, and eventual domination by the Ottoman Empire lessened its importance.

The decline of the Ottoman Empire allowed rapid modernization during the 19th century, but the debt resulting from the improvements was so crushing that Cairo and Egypt were added to the British Empire in 1882, and would remain a British "protectorate" until de jure independence in 1922 and de facto independence in 1952. Cairo entered a period of explosive growth.

From 1952 onwards, the city continued to grow and become a major global city. However, it has long stifled under a series of strong-arm presidents, culminating with Hosni Mubarak (a man who has been charitably compared to Dan Quayle) who ruled Egypt for 30 years before being dramatically and unexpectedly ousted by the Egyptian people themselves during the Arab Spring. Now Egyptian society is in flux, with Cairo remaining center stage in an act that will define Egypt, and perhaps the Middle East at large, in the modern era.

Cairo is often nicknamed "the city of a thousand minarets" owing to the very large number of mosques in the city (it is one of the few major Arab cities founded by the Muslims).

  1. However, the area has often been the site of an Egyptian capital, including the first capital of a united Egypt, Memphis; the capital of weird monotheist pharaoh Akhenaton, Akhetaton (today called El-Amarna or Heliopolis--also the name of a preexisting city nearby that was never capital); and the Roman fort of Babylon, which was the main military garrison of the Byzantine Empire in Egypt.