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From Tahrir Square to Emaar Square

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[Illustration of Emaar Square used for advertising and real estate promotion]

ترجمة عربية للمقال متاحة على هذا الرابط

In mid-February the Egypt subsidiary of the UAE-based Emaar signed a protocol with the Egyptian Defense Ministry which clears the way for the construction of Emaar Square, a mixed-use development with open-air shopping for international luxury brands. The development is part of the company’s exclusive Uptown Cairo. Emaar is the developer behind the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. The Egyptian Defense Ministry is in many ways Egypt’s largest land owner/manager and the massive property that is now being developed by Emaar with Uptown Cairo’s exclusive residential clusters and golf course is/was owned by the military and was previously unavailable to the market.

In the years leading up to 2011 visions of the future of Cairo as imagined by the former regime and its businessmen began to emerge. That vision, known as Cairo 2050, would have led to the mass eviction of thousands of families to transform the city into pockets of high-end residential development, golf courses and shopping centers. Much of the investment power for these projects were to come from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The former regime was intent to the Dubaization of Cairo and close ties between the money (Gulf capital) and power (the regime and the military) were being built. These projects were halted after the revolution took an unwanted turn (Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood coming to power and Qatar competing with Saudi/Kuwait/UAE for financial control in Egypt). Now, many projects are back on track, including the Maspero triangle and Uptown Cairo.

Those who celebrate the Dubai model and wish for its expansion across the region make the unethical choice of ignoring the fact that the Gulf cities of the last decade emerge out of a very specific relation between political power and capital (often one and the same). The expansion of such model into cities such as Cairo with vastly different demographics and where a military functions not as an institution of the state but as caretaker with unchallenged access both to politics and capital (in the form of assets such as land and resources for example), such a model in this context would have disastrous impact on the urban majority who will be marginalized in favor of serving an entrepreneurial transnational minority (perhaps working in Dubai and using their money to obtain property in Cairo’s Dubai-style enclaves), who will ultimately occupy the role of the colonial-era elites of the past. The urban majority will be moved out of the way when necessary and put to work under unacceptable conditions, with no power to mobilize and with little pay.

So why is this interesting? First, this is not a free market. When the military is arguably the biggest land owner with no civilian oversight makes a direct and opaque deal with a developer to build an exclusive and gated community in the heart of the capital, this is not a free market. The development is framed by the government as part of “building Egypt” and attracting investment while in fact all this is doing is creating more opportunity for private accumulated capital (buyers) to be locked into cages (gated development) with no access to democratic municipal management: those wealthy buyers won’t pressure the government for services, they will deal with a company instead.

Second (and not to state the obvious), this is not a democracy, and certainly not revolutionary. The protocol signed in Feb included the Housing Ministry, Local Development Ministry, Investment Ministry and the Governorate of Cairo. All these state institutions are partaking in one of Cairo’s most exclusive developments while the majority of the city’s population is abandoned. This cooperation between these state institutions will, for example, allow for Emaar to built a private road to link the Uptown Cairo/Emaar Square with Cairo’s road network. This private road will require the "cleansing" of Jabal al-Ahmar area (which is likely to mean the forced eviction of some poor people to get them out of the way). Egyptian state institutions, including the military, have a lengthy track record of forcibly evicting residents, and using lethal force to do it, in favor of private interests.

Why are so many state institutions failing to solve Egypt’s mounting urban problems, many of which are directly caused by these very institutions, why are they coming together to sign a protocol for a private highway to a private city? This is not the first time such uneven attention was paid by state institutions towards serving an exclusive minority with links to political and military power while turning a blind eye on the needs of the majority.

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[The location of Uptown Cairo showing in yellow dotted lines the private roads linking to the city’s network. The land size of the development is comparable to the neighborhood of Zamalek]

This latest protocol went unnoticed in the news, in a way it is business as usual. So how did we get from Tahrir Square to Emaar Square?

In Egypt, urban space continues to be the stage for the struggle not only to shape the spaces of the city but also for creating new forms of democratic representation. The protests taking place in Egypt starting in 2011 and the ensuing political upheaval shed light on questions of space and political participation, particularly how spaces of the everyday have become sites of resistance, revolution and transformation. The underlying theme which has been consistent from the beginning of this most recent chapter in Egypt’s history of urban protest is the desire to (re)construct democracy from the bottom up.

The Egyptian revolt hasn’t been discussed in local and international media outlets as an urban struggle, or more specifically as a movement seeking to “overcome the isolations and to reshape the city in a different social image from that given by the powers of developers backed by finance, corporate capital, and an increasingly entrepreneurialy minded local state apparatus.”  The city has in fact been shaped by power and capital in ways which have manifested in the extreme unevenness of development resulting from the neglectful rule of the state towards the urban majority while providing concessions to international developers (namely Gulf real estate investment) or local entities, namely individuals, associations or corporations linked directly to the police and military state apparatus.

The struggle in Egypt manifest in urban space since 2011 is one directly linked to the ways in which power and capital have produced socially and economically unjust urban experiences. In Egypt the more generic terms of “corporate capital,” “finance,” and “state apparatus” aren’t helpful to put into relief the specific interlinking of power and economy accessible to the military and police, state institutions with a monopoly over violence in the name of the state, which have functioned in ways similar to corporations in other contexts, thus bearing weapons in civilian spaces and having direct access to capital and assets such as land and building materials that directly shape cities and their development.

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[Image circulated in social media last month purporting to show the “Israeli-style separation wall” construction to enclose Uptown Cairo from its surroundings. It would be useful to think of this wall while contemplating the wall caging Tahrir Square]

The city, as Egyptians have come to know it, is the result of the political and economic structures protected by the regime. Cities, in this current political economy in Egypt, have lost their vital role as places of economic possibilities for the majority of the population. Instead, since the 1970s the state has fallen short of providing services, creating effective systems of urban management, producing plans for urban expansion and where capital can be invested into the production of new urban environments that allow for local private capital to grow while protecting the sanctity of the common, the public sphere and its manifestation in public spaces shared by a wide segment of the urban population.

During this time the military continually protected its grasp on Egypt’s economy leading to a 1997 presidential decree that gave the military the right to all undeveloped lands in the country, making it the largest landowner in Egypt’s history. Land is one of many commodities monopolized by the military, which it then utilizes in opaque sales operations with international investment for exclusive gated communities, beach resorts or shopping malls. The Egyptian military as an institution is perhaps the main beneficiary of Egypt’s political and economic status quo, which has produced the current urban environment. In addition to land, the military produces building materials such as cement and brick, the essential construction materials in Egypt used for everything from luxury condos in gated communities to new residential buildings in informally planned districts expanding onto agricultural land. Finally, the military has access to an unpaid labor force through the country’s mandatory conscription. Often conscripts from lower social standing coming from the poorest parts of the country work in construction sites and in factories producing building materials. More explicitly “as the managers of a state-owned economic empire built on corruption and oppression of working classes, military leaders have become decisively complicit in repressing labor and violating their rights.” The spatial confrontations, often violent, in Egyptian squares between protesters/participants and soldiers/conscripts are in many ways vivid illustrations of Egypt’s struggle over its politics, economy and space, in other words, a struggle towards a more even urban development.

UPDATE 25 February, 2014: As the government suddenly resigned news emerged that the housing minister (his ministry participated in the above discussed protocol) will become Egypt’s next prime minister.

Update 26 February, 2014: According to Ahram Online “Egypt’s draft investment law contains provisions to prevent third parties from challenging contracts made between the government and an investor.” Such a law will protect contracts such as the one discussed above from scrutiny by the public using any legal channels to challenge them.

Update 28 February, 2014: For clarification a paragraph was added above starting with “Those who celebrate the Dubai…”.

Also, it has emerged that Mustafa Madbouli, who is chiefly responsible for the Cairo 2050 plan, was asked to become Housing Minister in the new government. The plan was simply waiting for the revolution to be killed and for the values of political participation (with the implications of such participation on the making of the urban environment) heard in Tahrir Square three years ago to be silenced.

Imbaba gets countryside-themed park and more

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Former housing minister Ahmed Maghrabi had several projects planned across the city particularly in Giza, some of which, critics argue, were preparing the way for the implementation of the Cairo 2050 plan. Giza was the site of several plans, including the North Giza Master Plan, which included a project for the land that was once occupied by a small city airport at Imbaba. The larger master plan involves stripping property owners of their land under a law that allows for the state to claim such property if it falls within a master plan that is considered for the “public good.” Meager compensation is often paid. The Imbaba airport land had been unused for decades since the facility was put out of order and the proposed project for the land consisted for several main components: an extension of Ahmed Oraby avenue in Mohandessen to reach the Ring Road, housing with several thousand new apartments, and a public park modeled after the success of Azhar Park on the opposite end of the city.

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The road extension, seen here in a recent satellite image, is nearing completion and is said to be ready by October of this year. The extension awkwardly bends north with a slight curve as it crosses over the railroad. The road extension (costing around LE 500 million) will reduce pressure on the notoriously congested al-Mehwar which is the only route currently available to link from downtown/Zamalek/Mohandeseen to the Ring Road.

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West of the new road extension and north of the railroad that once defined the limits of the planned city in this part of Giza is the site of the 28 acre park. Seen in this recent satellite image the park (costing around LE90 million) appears to be nearing completion and it too maybe open to the public by the end of this year, although that may be an optimistic prospect.

The park is a welcomed addition to Cairo’s long list of parks many of which are hidden in plain sight. There are surprisingly more parks in Cairo than people realize but many are tucked away in neighborhoods, are unmaintained, appear to be inaccessible because of their fencing when in fact they are open, etc. The main problem with Cairo’s parks however is that they do not really fall under the supervision of a city-wide agency, a parks department. Instead various parks belong to the governarate, others to the Housing Ministry, others to the Ministry of Agriculture, and a slew of other owners. Of course the city’s most famous park, Al Azhar, is run by a subcontractor, which is what the creators of Imbaba’s new park seek to emulate. A report from last May confirms that the management of the park, which had been built by public funds, is now up for bidding.

The park is designed with an agricultural theme, claiming to recall Imbaba’s countryside heritage. Themed parks have a long history in Cairo, there is the famous Japanese Garden (Helwan) from 1917 and the Abdalucian Garden (Zamalek) from 1935, and several other themed gardens throughout. But Egypt’s countryside heritage is less about exoticism and more about, well, heritage. That heritage however will undoubtedly be kitschified and reduced to a series of symbols and markers. The design includes details such as “countryside architecture” a water wheel and pigeon towers.

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The design is also meant to incorporate fruit trees and include a pond and a stream. In addition the park will include an amphitheater, restaurant, cafeteria, shops, multi-purpose hall in addition to a nearby (probably not inside the park but next to it) mall with four cinema screens. These services combined are meant to be in addition to a series of schools and a 200-bed hospital built in the area to serve Imbaba’s residents.

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Further north, and located between the park to the south and the Ring Road to the north is a large area roughly 40-50 acres in size where the new housing blocks are built (consisting of around 3500 flats). The housing component is probably the most important aspect of this plan yet it appears to be the poorest in planning and design. This recent satellite image shows the housing blocks constructed in typical Ministry of Housing style. There is no urban plan to be deciphered here, what have been built are tens of identical building blocks arranged in a way that is more random, عشوائي, than what the Ministry claims to be replacing. There is not a clear street network within the large parcel of land that will be home to a few thousand families. Since there are no clearly defined streets, buildings are not designed to face streets, they simply float in space.

There is no designed relationship between the various components of this development project (the highway, the park and the housing). They simply sit one next to the other as if they weren’t planned at once. The highway now functions as another fault line, similar to many across the city, where on one side there is the community developed area and on the other side is the state developed area. While the community area (informal) may be lacking in services (there are sewage and water problems) yet there always is a sense of community, kin networks, and neighborhood identity and belonging. The state may provide piped water and proper sewage in its development across the street yet it fails, forty years on, to learn from community urbanism. These housing blocks and their haphazard arrangement look like every housing development the state has built since the 1970s showing no major evolutionary development when it comes to architectural or urban design.

While the park, the highway and the additional housing are welcomed, this kind of development project falls short of its potential considering its high costs. It also goes to show once more that the entire system of planning in Egypt is deeply flawed with far too many agencies, ministries, contractors, subcontractors and institutions clamoring together with many bureaucratic hurdles only to produce quite mediocre results. Governance/urban management continues to be the elephant in the room as such issues continue to be pushed to the margins when in fact better cities are not about grand visions alone, they are about good governance and better municipal systems. The life of this park, that highway and these apartment blocks will begin when the ribbon cutting is done and the ministers are no longer conducting site visits. The longterm management of such projects without proper governance structures that empower the community risks turning this grand development project into more of the same.

Read Amr Abotawila on the Imbaba development (Arabic), here.

Ahram Online: Experts examine Egypt’s informal housing crisis

Ahram Online’s Nada El-Kouny’s report on the one day workshop held last week at CEDEJ on informal urban development and government policies of evictions, among other related topics.

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In an attempt to tackle the issue of informal housing in Egypt, primarily following the January 25 Revolution, a joint workshop initiative was held on Monday by the French Centre for Social, Judicial and Economic Documentation (CEDAJ), UN-Habitat and the German Agency for International Cooperation’s (GIZ) Participator Development Programme in Urban Areas.

The workshop, held at the French Cultural Centre in Mounira, Cairo, was attended by approximately eighty people, including urban planners, architects, sociologists, economists, and government representatives, all dealing with the issue of informal housing in Egypt.

The ‘Egypt Urban Futures’ workshop tackled the issue of informal housing—more commonly referred to as ashwaiyat (random) settlements—from a number of different perspectives.

Regina Kipper of GIZ said the main objective of the workshop was to launch a new platform on the urban future of Egypt and its challenges since 2011, by promoting dialogue between civil society, private and public institutions and academics in attempting to work towards sustainable development.

Dina Shehayeb of the Housing and Building National Research Centre provided a brief overview of informal housing in Cairo, stating the phenomenon goes back to the 1950s when there was a major wave of urbanisation, mostly due to the dismantling of the agricultural economy and the increased industrialisation.

Shedding light on more recent statistics, urban consultant David Sims, the author of Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control (2011), stressed there had been an exponential increase in the rate of informal housing in Egypt in recent years. For example, in Geziret El-Warraq in Giza the post-revolution rate of population growth has increased four and a half times compared to its pre-revolution rate, Sims said.

Moreover, the encroachment on agricultural land has increased at a much higher rate. In many villages in Egypt’s Nile Delta farmers have found construction more profitable than agriculture. Referring to a telling statistic, Sims stated that according to the Ministry of Agriculture, 29,486 feddans of agricultural land in approximately 700,000 separate cases, had been built on since the January 25 Revolution.

Conflicting outlooks were presented on the mechanisms used to deal with informal and unsafe housing since the January 25 Revolution, which led to some heated discussions.

Nahed Naguib of the General Organisation for Physical Planning said the issue of informal housing was caused by economic and social problems and her organisation’s work focused on containing the growth of informal settlements. New housing units were being created by the Ministry of Housing and municipalities, Naguib added.

Ashraf Mohamed, head of the informal housing department in Cairo, said: “Just like the Aswan High Dam was built to contain the flooding of agricultural land, we have to stop the increase of ashwaiyat.”

Providing a critique of such a view, Yahia Shawkat, architect and informal housing specialist at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said the biggest threat to such communities “is the state itself.”

Shawkat also noted that the “real entry point to such a debate has to take into account the agency of these self-built communities that will continue to grow.”

He highlighted a number of cases of forced evictions from informal settlements. He mentioned Qorsaya Island, which has recently experienced violent clashes between police and residents who the army attempted to evict by force, claiming ownership of the Island, despite many residents living there for decades.

Likewise, the government has a controversial “Cairo 2050” plan to clear slums and develop the land. An example of this is Ramlet Boulaq behind the Nile Towers, which planners hope will be replaced with more lucrative projects.

Urban planner Omar Nagati provided a more holistic view on the issue:

“While government officials have attempted to reduce informal neighbourhoods and demolish them, it is important to rethink the way we talk about ashwaiyat. Today, all of Egypt is becoming informal, starting with the street vendors, microbuses, toktoks, etc.”

Link to original article: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/66652.aspx

The Revolution Added Two Years: On Cairo

From “Paris along the Nile” to “Cairo 2050”

خالد فهمي يكتب في جريدة الشروق

الأحد 16 سبتمبر 2012

«نقول له دقيقة، دقيقة بس نتستر، احنا نايمين فى بيوتنا بالقمصان م الحر، يكسر الباب ويخش ويجر البنت ويقول لها اطلعى يا مـ.. يا متـ…ة يا و..ة وهى بنت بنوت، وداخلين علينا بالبتاع اللى على وشهم مش شايفين غير عنيهم، والراجل جوزى أهه، ده شكله إرهابى؟ فضل يضربه على دماغه والراجل يجيب من بطنه. ليه؟ ليه كل ده؟»

كلمات نقلتها أهداف سويف على لسان ضحايا الشرطة فى أحداث أبراج النيل التى وقعت يوم 2 أغسطس الماضى. مقال أهداف سويف الذى حمل هذه الكلمات المفجعة لم يضاهيه فى الدقة والقدرة على تحليل أحداث بولاق الدامية سوى تقرير بعثة تقصى الحقائق الذى نشرته المبادرة المصرية للحقوق الشخصية والذى قدم، فيما قدم، اتهاما صريحا لأحد ضباط الشرطة بالقتل العمد. التقرير قال إن عمرو البنى، أحد سكان منطقة بولاق أبو العلا، كان يعمل كغيره من جيرانه براتب شهرى فى تأمين الأبراج، وعندما ذهب لتلقى أجرته أطلق عليه أحد ضباط الأمن رصاصتين أصابت الأولى ساقه، واستقرت الثانية فى ظهره فأردته قتيلا.

مقال أهداف سويف وتقرير المبادرة المصرية كانا استثناءين محزنين للجوقة الإعلامية التى اعتمدت على رواية الشرطة ونقلت بدون تردد روايتها عن الأحداث وصورتها على أنها نتاج «بلطجة» سكان رملة بولاق أبوالعلا و«إتلافهم منشأة سياحية، ومقاومتهم للسلطات، وتلويحهم بالعنف ضد موظفى فندق فيرمونت القاهرة».

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إن أحداث أبراج النيل برملة بولاق لم تكن نتيجة بلطجة سكان المنطقة بل انعكاسا لعقلية طبقية وعنصرية فجة فى التعامل مع سكان القاهرة وليس فقط مع سكان بولاق. تلك العقلية تجد أبشع تعبير لها فى مشروع القاهرة 2050 الذى يزعم أنه يهدف إلى زيادة «المسطحات الخضراء» فى العاصمة وأنه يشجع السياحة والاستثمار فيها. المشروع أعدته لجنة السياسات بالحزب الوطنى الديمقراطى المنحل، وبالتالى يفترض أنه أهمل وألقى به فى سلة القمامة، إلا أن أحداث أبراج النيل توضح بجلاء أنه ما زال ساريا بل مفعّلا وينفذ بشكل حثيث.

المشروع لم تتبناه محافظة القاهرة أو أى جهة رسمية، ولا نعلم عن تفاصيله الكثير، لكن من الشذرات التى يمكن الحصول عليها من الإنترنت يتضح أن العقلية المهيمنة عليه لا تعبأ سوى بالمبانى والطرق و«المسطحات الخضراء»، ولا تهتم بسكان المدينة إلا بكونهم يشكلون عائقا أمام رفعة المدينة وتقدمها، وحسب هذه الرؤية فإن سكان القاهرة بـ«فقرهم» و«تخلفهم» و«بلطجيتهم» هم المسئولون الرئيسيون عن التردى الذى أصاب العاصمة والذى منعها من اللحاق بركب المدن الكبرى كدبى والرياض وهونج كونج.

ما أراه مقلقا حقا فى هذا المشروع ليس فقط تواطؤ الجهات التنفيذية معه أو على الأقل مع الفلسفة التى تحكمه، كما اتضح من تصرفات الشرطة وأداء الإعلام فى أحداث أبراج النيل، لكن أيضا تواطؤ قطاع كبير من الناس، حتى ما يطلق عليه «المثقفين»، مع تلك الرؤية التى تنظر للمدينة على أنها مبانٍ وشوارع فقط ولا تكترث بالسكان أو بأحوال معيشتهم أوبالخدمات التى يستحقون الحصول عليها.

ففى حملة الانتخابات الرئاسية الماضية، مثلا، لم يتردد أحد المرشحين من أن يعلن أنه فى حال فوزه سيعمل على القضاء على العشوائيات التى تشوه صورة المدينة. أى هراء هذا وأى عبث؟ ألا يعلم هذا المرشح والكثيرون غيره ممن تؤذيهم صورة العشوائيات أن تلك المناطق غير المخططة تأوى ثلثى سكان القاهرة؟ أى أن أغلبية سكان العاصمة لا يسكنون الأحياء الراقية أو حتى الفقيرة بل يقبعون فى هذه العشوائيات، وأنه نتيجة لغياب الدولة قد ابتدع هؤلاء السكان حلولا مبتكرة تلبى حاجاتهم من مواصلات وعمل وسكن وصحة وتعليم؟ إن العشوائيات باقية، والتعامل معها لا يكون بالقضاء عليها (إلا إذا كان المقصود بذلك أنهارا من الدم) بل بتقديم ما يضمن لسكانها قدرا أدنى من الحياة الآدمية الكريمة.

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ثم هناك «المثقفون» المهتمون بما اصطُلح على تسميته، خطأ، «القاهرة الخديوية»، تلك المدينة التى يرون أن الخديو إسماعيل شرع فى بنائها بعد الزيارة التى قام بها عام 1867 لباريس، عاصمة النور، وبعد أن أيقن أن مصر قطعة من أوروبا وصمم على تحويل القاهرة إلى باريس على النيل. هؤلاء المثقفون يعقدون ندوات عن عظمة المبانى التى شيدها أبدع المعماريين الأوروبيين فى وسط البلد والزمالك، ويتبادلون على صفحاتهم على فيس بوك صور القاهرة «الراقية» التى كان ينظم المرور فيها عساكر بوليس بملابس أنيقة مزركشة، ويتباكون على حال المدينة بعد أن وفد عليها ملايين الفلاحين وبعد أن غابت القوانين الرادعة وبعد أن اختفت «البلدية» و»التنظيم».

ما يغيب عن هؤلاء المتباكين على «القاهرة الخديوية» أن الخديوى اسماعيل قد يكون قد انبهر حقا بباريس، ولكنهم لا يتساءلون عن أى باريس أراد اسماعيل أن يحاكيها؟ عندما لحق على مبارك، ناظر الأشغال العمومية، بالخديوى اسماعيل فى باريس فى تلك الزيارة الشهيرة استلفت نظره أيضا هو الآخر الإصلاحات العديدة التى أحدثها البارون هاوسمان، عمدة باريس، والتى غيرت من طبيعة المدينة بشكل جعله غير قادر على التعرف على المدينة التى كان قد درس بها، هو واسماعيل، قبل ذلك بثلاثين سنة عندما كانا طالبين فى «بعثة الأنجال» الشهيرة. وفى وصفه لهذه الزيارة فى «الخطط التوفيقية» يوضح لنا على مبارك ما أبهره حقا فى باريس. لم تكن الشوارع المستقيمة أو الميادين الواسعة أو البنايات المتسقة أو التماثيل العظيمة التى ازدانت بها المدينة هو ما أبهر ناظر الأشغال العمومية. ما أبهره حقا هو شبكة المجارى العظيمة التى بناها هاوسمان أسفل كل شارع، والتى جعلت من باريس مدينة صحية ذات رائحة عبقة وهواء نقى.

وبعد عودته للقاهرة عمل على مبارك مع غيره من القائمين على المدينة من مهندسيين ومعماريين وأطباء، على تدعيم خدمات الصحة العامة التى كانت قد قطعت بالفعل شوطا بعيدا والارتقاء بها حتى تُعنى بالأحوال الصحية لسكان القاهرة. إن العناية بالصحة العامة، وليس الارتقاء بالقيم الجمالية، هى ما أبهرت اسماعيل وعلى مبارك فى باريس، وهى ما جعلتهما يضاعفا الجهد فى تحسين مستوى معيشة القاهريين. وكان من نتاج هذا الاهتمام بالصحة العامة العمل بجد ونشاط على القضاء على منابع المرض ومرتع الأوبئة، وكان من أهم هذه المخاطر الخليج المصرى الذى كان يشق المدينة من الجنوب للشمال والذى كانت تتحول مياهه لمستنقع آسن متعفن بعد انحسار فيضان النيل كل عام، وبالتالى رُؤى ضرورة تجفيفه وتحويله لشارع عظيم (شارع الخليج الذى أصبح بعد ذلك شارع بورسعيد). نفس هذا الاهتمام بالصحة العامة والتخوف من المياه العفنة هو الذى حدا بالقائمين على المدينة عام 1846 إلى تخفيف بركة الأزبكية وتحويلها لمنتزه عام.

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إن القراءة الواعية لتاريخ القاهرة الحديثة يوضح لنا كيف كانت العناية بصحة سكانها والعمل على تحسين الخدمات الصحية لهم هو ما شغل حال النخبة المصرية فى القرن التاسع عشر. إن اختزال قصة القاهرة الحديثة فى الأوبرا وفيردى وولع اسماعيل بأوجينى يجافى الحقيقة ويغفل المجهود الجبار الذى قام به على مبارك والكثيرون غيره فى تحسين الخدمات المقدمة لسكان القاهرة، ذلك المجهود الذى يعبر عن موقف تقدمى اتخذه قطاع مهم من النخبة المصرية فى القرن التاسع عشر تجاه سكان المدينة.

أما وقد تخلت الآن الحكومة عن هؤلاء السكان وبعد أن أغشت أضواء مدن الخليج الخاوية أعين النخبة فلا بديل أمام سكان القاهرة سوى التأكيد على حقهم فى حياة كريمة والعمل على صياغة قانون للمحليات يمكنهم من التحكم فى مدينتهم ويجعل منهم سادة المدينة الحقيقيين بعد أن ظلوا عقودا طويلة يعاملون على أنهم ضيوف ثقلاء يجب التخلص منهم.

The Contested Road to Khufu

Why the proposed new road wouldn’t solve any of the problems it claims to

By Meredith Hutchison and Nicholas Hamilton

One element of the Cairo 2050 document is the creation of a wide boulevard from the Sphinx square to the area of the  Giza Pyramids.  The project proposes the extension of the Arab League Road by 6 km and a 540 m wide roadway and redevelopment zone which would include high-end hotels and offices in the space currently occupied by over 220,000 residents and small businesses.  Khufu Avenue’s construction would require leveling of large areas of the of the Bulaq el Dukrur region – an area with one of the highest densities in Cairo – among other neighborhoods in its way, consequently causing significant displacement and segregation of informal areas from business and tourist areas. 

There is currently no credible relocation plan for the residents who will be forced to leave.  Many of the affected residents have lived in their homes for generations and depend on the social cohesion of their community for employment opportunities. 

Moreover, this may not be the most effective investment in transportation in order to accomplish the stated goals.  Three of the goals stated in the 2002 Greater Cairo Region Urban Transport Master Plan is that the cities transportation system be environmentally friendly, economical and Equitable system.  Other mechanisms exist to move people effectively, often more effectively than building new roads.  One such option is Bus Rapid Transit. Bus Rapid Transit has been estimated to cost about 1/10 that of a subway system and much less than building a 540m wide road and real estate project.  Importantly, these systems build upon existing infrastructure rather than requiring mass dislocation of thousands of residents.

For more on the proposed Loan for transportation, click here.

Khaled Fahmy on Cairo2050

مأساة مشروع القاهرة 2050

أخبار الأدب –18 ديسمبر 2011

منذ حوالي عشر سنوات انتشر الاهتمام بتاريخ منطقة وسط البلد بالقاهرة في أوساط النخبة الثقافية، فعقدت ندوات كثيرة ونشرت كتب عديدة تتناولت ما يسمى بـ”القاهرة الخديوية”، كما أفردت هذه المجلة الغراء ملفا كاملا عن الموضوع. وكأحد الدارسين لتاريخ القاهرة في القرن التاسع عشر سعدت كثيرا بهذا الاهتمام، ولكن أزعجني في نفس الوقت التأكيد على أن أهم عامل أثر على الخديوي اسماعيل وناظر أشغاله العمومية علي مبارك كان ولعهما بباريس “عاصمة النور” ومحاولاتهما أن يجعلا من القاهرة “باريس على النيل”.

فأثناء دراستي لتاريخ “القاهرة الخديوية” في دار الوثائق القومية أيقنت أن عملية تحديث القاهرة في القرن التاسع عشر وبناء منطقة “الإسماعيلية” (أي وسط البلد) لم يكن يحركها فقط الافتنان بباريس بل كانت قيم العمران الخلدوني وممارسات الوقف الإسلامي أيضا عاملان مهمان أثرا على تطور المدينة. كما تأكدت أيضا أن الاقتداء بباريس كان نابعا ليس فقط من الولع بالشوارع المستقيمة وطرز البناء الغربي بقدر ما كان نابعا من الاهتمام بالصحة العمومية والعمل على الارتقاء بمستوى معيشة الأهالي.

ما يدعوني للحديث عن تاريخ “القاهرة الخديوية” هو ذلك المشروع الذي بدأنا نسمع عنه منذ حوالي خمس سنوات والمعروف بـ”مخطط القاهرة 2050”. هذا المخطط يحيطه الكثير من الغموض، فإرهاصاته بدأت مع جمال مبارك ومجموعة رجال الأعمال التي كانت تلتف حوله بالإضافة إلى وزير الإسكان السابق أحمد المغربي. وبالرغم من حبس جمال مبارك والحكم بالسجن على المغربي إلا أن ذلك المخطط ما زال مطروحا وتتبناه بقوة الهيئة العامة للتخطيط العمراني التابعة لوزارة الإسكان والموالفق والتنمية العمرانية.

ولكن ما يثير الريبة حقا ليس اقتران مشروع “القاهرة 2050” بالنظام السابق ورجاله بل ما يحتويه من خطط وما يفصح عنه من رؤى تتعلق بمستقبل المدينة. فما هو متاح على النت من معلومات عن المشروع توضح أن القائمين عليه مفتونون بنموذج محدد عن العمران وتخطيط المدن، وهو النموذج الخليجي الذي لا يكترث بتاريخ  المدينة أو بتراثها العمراني، كما يركزون على قشور خارجية مثل الولع بالـ”مساحات الخضراء” على حساب الاهتمام بعوامل التحضر الأخرى من توفير مواصلات وسكن ومرافق وفرص عمل إلخ.

كما تثير الريبة أيضا مشاريع بعينها يحتويها المخطط مثل إنشاء طريق مفتوح أطلقوا عليه اسم “بوليفارد خوفو” يمتد من ميدان سفنكس حتى الأهرامات عرضه مائة متر، وهو مشورع يستدعي ترحيل 25000 أسرة تقطن في منازل تقع على خط الطريق. وهناك أيضا نية لتفريغ منطقة “مثلث ماسبيرو” من السكان وتحويلها مع الكورنيش الممتد لشمالي بولاق إلى منطقة تجارية على غرار دبي، بالإضافة إلى مخططات “لتحزيم” العشوائيات وأخرى لتطوير جزيرتي الدهب والوراق.

والقراءة الدقيقة لما هو متاح عن المشروع توضح أن ما يحركه هو تصور سطحي عن العمران يتمثل في مسطحات خضراء وناطحات سحاب ومقاهي زاهية الألوان، وعدم اكتراث بسكان المدينة بل الاقتناع بأنهم هم من يقف في طريق نهضتها وازدهارها. وهو الأمر الذي يدركه هؤلاء السكان ويثير مخاوفهم، وهو أيضا ما دفع بعضهم للتظاهر ضد المشروع في منطقة مثلث ماسبيرو الأسبوع الماضي.

مأساة القائمين على مشروع القاهرة 2050 تكمن في عدم وقوفهم على تاريخ المدينة التي يدعون الحرص عليها وازردائهم لسكانها ولوم هؤلاء السكان على المشاكل التي تعاني منها.  إن ما يحتاجه سكان القاهرة أكثر من المسطحات الخضراء أو المقاهي الباريسية هي إدارة محلية تحترمهم وترعاهم، والسبيل الوحيد لتحقيق ذلك هو إعادة النظر في طريقة إدارة المدينة والتخطيط لمستقبلها بدءا بالتمسك بانتخاب المحافظ  ومرورا بمراجعة كل القوانين التي تنظم عمل المجالس الشعبية ومجالس الأحياء. عندها فقط سيصبح سكان القاهرة هم من يتحكم في مدينتهم وعندها فقط ستتوقف تلك المقولات الفاشية التي تتدعي أن “مصر حلوة وغنية بس سكانها كتار قوي ومش متحضرين”.

Qursaya Island

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To most Egyptians, the sight of members of the army in confrontation with civilians is rather unusual (until recent events). However, residents of Qorsaya Island had their encounter with the army back in 2007 when it was used by the government to protect bulldozers and intimidate residents of the island. The government wanted to forcibly evict the rural community inhabiting the island in order to open it for development (some speculations regarding the kind of development range from five star resort, golf course to high-end residential units) all of which have no relationship to this community. The army has been used to protect and back private interests for much longer than most Egyptians realize, it is only becoming clearer in “post-Mubarak” Egypt. The video below is from 2007.

Decades-old fishing and construction licenses and over 25,000 documents issued by various official bodies acknowledging the presence of the islanders on El-Qorsaya, islanders claim, belie government claims that they do not have the right to be on the land, and that they may legitimately be remove from their homes.

Entirely self-sufficient, island residents say that they had personally provided infrastructure services such as electricity, by buying two generators from the government.

Islanders feel that their way of life is being sacrificed for corporate interests.
“The government left these people for years without services and they provided for themselves. The island was worthless to the government for all these years and now suddenly it’s become priceless,” said Abla during the meeting.
He added that El-Qorsaya is a microcosm of the situation in Egypt as a whole.
“Cairo needs greenery no matter how small. The government doesn’t care about Cairo or the people. It must learn how to deal with its people, it cannot just treat them as if they don’t exist or else all of Egypt will be up next.”

The community of 1000 fishermen and 4000 farmers have been living on the island for generations. It is a self sufficient community that farms and fishes for its own food. Inhabitants are content to live a basic rural way of life in the midst an overcrowded, congested city.

Qorsaya Island is located near the west bank of the Nile just south of Roda Island (the earliest island to be urbanized in Cairo). Qorsaya is halfway between Mar Girgis metro station on the eastern bank and Giza train station on the western bank. Its central location makes it prime for speculation and real estate. Moreover, government policies have made agricultural land worth at least ten-fold if the same land was to be urbanized. The southern tip of the Island has been home to a tourist attraction called “The Pharaonic Village" since 1984.

The Cairo2050 Plan includes development components for the island along with Dahab Island further south. Needless to say Cairo2050 has nothing to do with the people of the city and everything to do with corporate interests and neoliberal developments that aim to transform the country into a cash cow for a network of few businessmen with little positive effect on society at large. 

The fate of Qorsaya Island and the community that lives on it is still uncertain. Below is the first part of a 52-minute documentary film “al-Qorsaya” directed by Nawara Murad. For more information in Arabic, click here.

UPDATE November 18, 2012: Military and security forces stormed the island during the early hours of November 18, burned fields and when the farmers defended themselves at least two have been reported dead and 10 injured. It is known since the 2007 attacks that investors, Egyptian and Saudi, have been wanting to confiscate the island and turn it from a productive farming community to an exclusive tourist complex. Link to report of today’s deaths, click here.

Despite the Giza Governorate denial of any connection to the attack on the island, its official website features a plan for the redevelopment of the island. The community has not been consulted regarding these plans.

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UPDATE December 2, 2012: Below is a video by Mosireen showing testimonies by residents of Qursaya. Today 26 residents of Qursaya who were arrested during the military attack on the island stand trial at a military court.

On Cairo2050

The revived Cairo2050 plan will be presented by the government in the coming weeks. The plan has been controversial for its selling off of chunks of the city to private investors aiming to create luxury gated complexes and offices while displacing over a million inhabitant in informal areas. The entire process has been opaque and does not rely on studies nor does it encourage resident participation in its making.

The guest, argues that Cairo2050 offers shallow solutions, is concerned with image rather than solving real problems. A vision is needed that is on a national scale as Cairo’s growth and development is directly linked to what happens in the countryside and other cities. He argues that a national project of surveying the country, its land, resources, population centers, etc should begin immediately before producing any development plans for Cairo or other cities. (video in Arabic from Nile TV)

Albert Speer and the “Future of Cairo”

Albert Speer JR., the son of Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, will be giving a talk tonight at the Goethe Institute in Downtown Cairo about the future of the City. Albert Speer JR has a planning firm with many projects all over the world and he was commissioned by Mubarak’s NDP party to propose a plan for 6th of October City west of Cairo. The proposal was to be implemented by the Nazif government and was to be part of the mysterious Cairo 2050 plan for which Speer was a consultant. Hopefully the collapse of the NDP means an end to their new capital plans that were unambiguously for the benefit of a few businessmen in Gamal Mubarak’s Club. The 2050 plan, part of which is Albert Speer JR’s 6th of October proposal, were to come at the expense of uprooting hundreds of thousands if not millions of inhabitants and relocating them to desert cinder block communities and at the expense of the city’s rich history (entire neighborhoods with historic fabric were to be razed and replaced with gated resorts, hotels and office towers serving the parallel economic system that the NDP had created in Egypt).

The image above is one of the few Cairo 2050 images that were released and it depicts a complete makeover to the 150-year-old Haram Street which was planned to bring Ismail Pasha’s visitors for the Suez Canal opening to the Pyramids. The image shows the route stripped of its buildings which are replaced with a fascist parade of repeated building blocks. Bulaq and the historic Northern Cemetery were to be the first victims of the plan which called for those areas to be completely flattened to make room for the NDP’s vision of a future Cairo which Albert Speer JR helped in shaping. Will report on the talk later tonight but for now enjoy the following BBC documentary on Albert Speer the father.

*Update: The talk was unfortunate and Mr Speer was thankfully brief and went through a few points about how the future of Cairo must be … (drum role)…… Sustainable! Thanks a lot Mr. Speer for coming such a long way to tell us the obvious.. but please tell us something more specific.. (gentle sound of wind in an open field).. I really appreciate the effort of holding the talk and the Goethe Institute’s efforts to kick off a series of programs about the city, planning and architecture. However this was a bit under planned and not very informative. Mr. Speer denied any relation to the Cairo 2050 plan, however he did confirm his firm was asked to work on the 6th of October City (which is part of the overall plan).

More importantly for me is this use of the word sustainability in a very abstract way and without getting to the truth: that sustainability has emerged recently in Europe as a very expensive product that is then pushed onto developing nations, through conditions in IMF and World Bank funds, that essentially put Europeans to work and give them a very sexy new product to export. Rather than importing photovoltaic cells from Germany or wind turbines from The Netherlands, Egypt needs a sustainability research center that builds on vernacular practices rather than simply importing very expensive technology and inviting even more expensive experts to come and tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. Sustainability has given an economic life to post-industrial Europe and they have come up with a few technologies that are promoted as a way forward which is only part of the solution. There are much cheaper inventions in India for example that deal with the Indian context designed by Indians that will be far more sustainable than shipping (on fuel burning ships) 1000 massive wind turbines from Europe.