Just half a year after the revolution commenced and unseated accepted orthodoxies regarding Egyptian national politics, in October of 2011, the military inaugurated what was announced in local media as the “world’s tallest flag post." The so-called flag post was 176 meters in height and it was located in Zamalek immediately adjacent to the elevated 6th of October Bridge as it crosses the island. To be more precise the "post" was built on land that belonged to Markaz Shabab al-Zamalek, a state-run youth recreational facility adjacent to Nadi al-Gezira. The flag post was, oddly, not a conventional flag pole. Rather, it was a steel telecommunication tower appropriated for the purpose of hoisting the Egyptian flag high above the city. The flag raising event, reported in the video below, involved members of the military such as Major General Mohsen Al-Fanagry on behalf of SCAF, which had ruled the country since February of that year.
As several media outlets reported, including Ahram Online, the steel structure was financed by Commercial International Bank (CIB). The structure cost LE27 million. This was perhaps a form of “corporate responsibility” spending on behalf of the bank.
From the point of view of the military rulers of the country the structure/flag pole was a departure from the usual pompous celebrations of the 6th of October which typically feature elaborate song and dance numbers in front of a military audience and attended by Mubarak. However, given the removal of the Mubarak earlier that year, and given the degradation of the image of the military six months after taking direct power, a new form of marking the 6th of October was in order. The flag, seen in unprecedented numbers in Tahrir Square, was a national symbol that presumably everyone can rally behind.
It wasn’t long before the flag disappeared. It was awkwardly hanging on to the steel structure (and sometimes wrapping around it). Every time the flag disappeared, someone had to climb up the 178 meters to replace it. This became an unintentional site where all the banality, corruption and inefficiency of the Egyptian state became visible like a sore thumb in the center of Cairo.
The tower generated some controversy as residents, urbanists and heritage activists decried its ugliness and its wastefulness. Indeed the so-called “tallest flag pole in the world” was ugly and an unforgivable waste of resources. But it was also meant from the start as a disposable monument, another celebration of a fake victory like many others deployed by this desperate regime. Other notorious fake victories have included the claim to have cured AIDS!
A small campaign led by heritage activists demanding the removal of the tower gained little traction. The structure had quickly become invisible in plain sight. No one seemed to care that Egypt purported to have the world’s tallest flag post. Who needs to celebrate such a superlative when Egypt has many other superlatives that overshadow the flag, such as country with highest prevalence rate of Hep C (another disease the army claimed to cure). Or when the country is sinking further into poverty and despair due to increasing authoritarianism and misguided policies. There is little reason to celebrate a flag when it masks the failures of the state that hoisted it.
The ways in which the LE27 million of CIB corporate responsibility/donation could have been spent more productively are endless. Imagine what that sum of money could have done to clean a canal, build a pedestrian bridge, or pave a street. Such improvements would have improved the lives of thousands and would have demonstrated the state’s commitment to work for the people in whose name the regime rules. Alas, they don’t really care to bother.
Magically, or perhaps ironically, the world’s tallest flag post that no one cared about was suddenly and without warning dismantled in August 2014, less than three years after it had been built. The video below shows the dismantling process underway. The announced reason for this removal? To be sold as scrap and the money donated to president Sisi’s “Long Live Egypt” donation account to save the economy. No this is not a joke. It is very real: LE27 million just disappeared into the abyss.
Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Saudi Arabia, which is the Egyptian regime’s main sponsor, is currently building the world’s tallest flag post. Because hoisting the Saudi flag so high will attest to that country’s status as a proud nation home to a free people whose freedoms and liberties are the envy of the world. Yes, build a tall flag pole. Mabrook.