A short documentary shows how warehouse dance parties, rooftop pop-and-lock sessions, and motorcycle stunts help young Egyptians reclaim neglected spaces.

Young Egyptian men furiously pop and lock atop a crumbling high rise. Down a desolate highway, one of them stands up on his speeding motorcycle. In abandoned warehouses, others bounce and rap, decked out in basketball jerseys and bling.

“Here, I escape my mind,” an unidentified narrator says over a dark beat. In Selim El Sadek’s new documentary, The Youth Culture of Cairo, “here” is at the margins of the Egyptian capital.

Cairo is a chaotic place—“out of control,” even. For years, the city’s bad urban practices have compounded with political instability to create conditions where most of its residents don’t have access to affordable housing, jobs, and transportation. It’s developed into a place where only the elite few can live comfortably.

But beneath this layer of political and urban dysfunction, and in response to it, a movement of young artists and musicians has been simmering. In his film, El Sadek presents a slice of that life through glimpses of Cairo’s underground rap and dance scene. “At a young age, we've experienced anger, victory, hope, defeat, and unimaginable grief,” the director writes on Nowness, the video platform where his film is showcased. “This rapidly changing mixture of feelings has caused confusion but helped mold our identities into what they are today.”

In Egypt, hip hop culture has emerged as a way to protest oppression and reclaim discarded urban spaces. It’s what the art form was born in The Bronx to do, and that’s why it has been such an influential force across the rapidly urbanizing world, from Shanghai to Sao Paulo.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth
    Design

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  2. Tech workers sit around a table on their laptops in San Francisco, California
    Life

    America’s Tech Hubs Still Dominate, But Some Smaller Cities Are Rising

    Despite established urban tech hubs, some smaller cities are attracting high-tech jobs with lower living costs, unique talent pools, and geographic diversity.

  3. A photo of couples dancing in a park.
    Life

    The Geography of Online Dating

    When looking for love, most people don’t look far from home. That's what a big-data analysis of interactions on a dating site revealed.

  4. a photo of a Metro PCS store in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    What D.C.’s Go-Go Showdown Reveals About Gentrification

    A neighborhood debate over music swiftly became something bigger, and louder: a cry for self-determination from a community that is struggling to be heard.

  5. South Lake Union streetcar with an advertisement for Amazon passes by an Amazon office building.
    Equity

    Amazon’s Slow Retreat From Seattle

    Amazon has long fancied itself an urban enterprise. Is its pivot to smaller communities a way to avoid messy politics?