I first visited Cairo as a student nearly 20 years ago. I remember vividly the friendliness of the people and the blazing heat. I return to Cairo no longer as a student crashing at a friend's apartment while rushing to see the famous sites, but rather as an adult staying at a newly constructed, upscale hotel overlooking the Nile yet still rushing to see as much as possible. Both myself and Cairo have changed, yet we are both very much the same.
Superficially, Cairo appears wealthier. The people are better dressed and there are less children begging for money. The Cairo metro has 2 lines with a third being built carrying about 2 million passengers a day and the nominal GDP per capita in Egypt is about double that of 20 years ago. While the GDP has grown steadily every year since 2001, there is still great poverty in Egypt where 20% of the population is unable to obtain basic food and non-food needs. Egypt's income inequality is lower than most countries in Africa as well as that of the United States or China. There is plenty to be proud of including a sharp decline in maternal mortality making it one of the few countries that will likely achieve the MDG 5a target (maternal mortality reduction).
On the other hand there is still plenty to be concerned about in Egypt. The pace of economic progress is too slow for this rapidly growing population which has jumped by over 20 million in the last 20 years. Politically, many organizations have harshly criticized President Mubarak's powerful control of the government during his 28 years in office.
Twenty years ago, Cairo seemed to be a frantic place with traffic patterns that scared even a native New Yorker like myself, with "museums" aggressively trying to sell carpets, perfume and spices, and some of the world's nicest people aspiring to see Egypt reclaim its position as one of the most powerful nations on earth. In returning to Cairo, I see that the traffic is still hectic, the "museums" are still chasing tourist dollars and, I am happy to say, some progress is being made towards replanting Egypt on the world's main economic stage. It will take more political and economic freedom, but given Egypt's young population, I wouldn't be very surprised if in another 20 years Egypt has risen to be one of the top 25 economies in the world.