Mafrouza : a neighbourhood

Its inhabitants called it the ‘gebel’ (rock) because they built it amidst the ruins of a Greco-Roman necropolis carved into rock in the 4th century. Ten thousand people lived there; most had come from Upper Egypt to find work in Alexandria. Since the 1970s, houses made of rubble had piled up on this strip of land, wedged out of sight between rows of public housing and the industrial port of Alexandria, not far from the centre of town. All the dwellings had electricity, but no running water, and no system of sewage disposal. Women stocked up several times a day at the five neighbourhood water points, carrying the heavy barrels on their heads. The water table would rise every year, flooding houses. Each winter before the rains the roofs on the barns would be repaired. At any time a concert of cockerels could be heard within the dense maze of narrow alleyways, where small squares had been set up. But the space between the houses was more private than public. Everybody knew everybody else. The alleyways were an extension of the home. People would go there to do laundry or to chat. They stayed in their indoor clothes, with women only donning the veil when leaving the neighbourhood. In terms of true public spaces, there was only a pool hall and Sheik Arafa’s mosque, which was only open at prayer times. A few stalls on the ground floors of houses sold basic necessities. Most of the men worked as day labourers at the port or in nearby factories. Others were carpenters, mechanics, craftsmen, masons, and drivers in Alexandria. Some women worked at the nearby cotton factory. Tenants or owners, residents paid a government tax which gave them the right to occupy the land and guaranteed they would be rehoused if the neighbourhood was destroyed. The Alexandria Governorate regularly announced that the Mafrouza gebel was to be razed, and this eventually happened in 2007. The inhabitants were then relocated fifteen or so miles from downtown Alexandria, in a public housing estate which until recently was called ‘Cité Mubarak’ – its future name is not known.

[The Mafrouza cycle – synopsis] [The 5 installments – synopsis] [Mafrouza: the characters]
[Film credits]

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