The Muslim cemeteries of Cairo, often called the ‘City of the Dead’, unlike cemeteries in Western countries, were always also meant to include the living. The huge multifunctional complexes built by the rulers and dignitaries consisted of not just tombs, but schools, bakeries, various charities, and elaborate service installations which permanently employed numerous people who lived in the cemeteries.

In the past fifty-or-so years, as the population of Cairo soared, so has the number of people in its necropolis. Nowadays, the Qaitbey neighbourhood within the Eastern (or Northern) Cemetery is home to a numerous community and its main marketplace is often bustling. It is a common misconception that the cemetery inhabitants are a band of outcasts engaging in sinister activities while squatting among the graves. This is very far from the truth. The people of the cemetery are just another community in Cairo's varied social mosaic, living their everyday lives, working, trading, shopping, raising children, and celebrating festive occasions.