وقفة 19 يونيو 2013 بميدان عابدين
تدعوكم مجموعة إنقاذ القاهرة للمشاركة فى وقفة يوم الأربعاء 19 يونيو فى تمام الساعة الخامسة، أمام محافظة القاهرة، فى ميدان عابدين، إحتجاجا على التدمير الممنهج للتراث المعمارى للمدينة، وانتشار البناء بطريقة عشوائية فى جميع أحياء المدينة.
وتتسبب هذه الظاهرة في تبديد النسيج العمراني وفقدان مباني المدينة التاريخية. عانت القاهرة من سوء التخطيط على مدى عقود ووصلت لحالة من الفوضى التامة خلال العامين الماضيين، فنجد الأبراج الشاهقة غير الآمنة تنتشر بسرعة البرق فى الحارات الضيقة على حساب مستقبل مدينتنا وتاريخها.
تأتي هذه الوقفة كخطوة أولى للتعبير عن غضبنا نحن محبى القاهرة من ما يحدث في جميع احيائها، نحن مهتمون بالقاهرة ككل، ولكن وقفتنا اليوم تركز على ما وصلت إليه الأوضاع في القاهرة التاريخية.
تعد القاهرة التاريخية مثالاً حياً لتاريخ إنسانى متواصل، فقيمتها لاتكمن فقط فى عدد أثار هائل يتخلل نسيجها العمرانى المتماسك بل في إحتفاظها بروحها وحرفها وشوارعها وعاداتها وتقاليدها التي تحدث عنها المؤرخون. ولذا أدرجت منظمة اليونسكو القاهرة التاريخية كمدينة - وليس كمجموعة آثار متفرقة - ضمن قائمة التراث العالمي في عام 1979. ولكن للأسف يتم الآن تدمير النسيج العمراني لهذه المدينة القديمة التى سحرت كل زائريها على مدار العصور وأصبح وضعها على القائمة مهدد ومتوقع نقلها إلى قائمة المدن المهددة اذا استمر معدل الهدم والبناء العشوائي الحالي.
تتعرض القاهرة التاريخية اليوم لأضعاف ما تتعرض له باقي المدينة من تشويه. فعمليات الهدم الواسعة تصل أحيانا لهدم المباني المسجلة كآثار وكثيرا من المباني ذات الطراز المعماري المتميز. أما المباني حديثة الإنشاء فهى عبارة عن “أبراج" يتخطى إرتفاعها إرتفاع مآذن “مدينة الألف مأذنة" و يطغى عليها القبح. والأخطر من ذاك هو أن تلك الأبراج غير آمنة إنشائياً فهى كالقنابل الموقوتة تنتظر إنفجارها في أى وقت على رؤوس قاطنيها لتقتل البشر وتدمر الآثار التي حولها - مشاكل متوارثة ولكنها تفاقمت تحت الظروف التي نعيشها الآن بين الإنفلات الأمني والغياب التام لكل الجهات المنوط بها تنفيذ القوانين والتصدي للمخالفين، وكذلك جشع قلة من المواطنين وكثرة من المقاولين و تواطؤ أو اهمال مسؤولي الأحياء.ويضاف اليها ظاهرة سرقة الآثار التي استفحلت في الآونة الأخيرة.
وعلى ما تقدم فاننا نطالب محافظ القاهرة بالاتي:
أولا: تجميد تراخيص الهدم والبناء فى القاهرة التاريخية لمدة عام.
ثانيا: إزالة الادوار المخالفة ومنع منعا باتا من توصيل المرافق من ماء وكهرباء للعقارات المخالفة
ثالثا: تكوين غرفة عمليات يكون من اختصاصها:
تقييم ودراسة الوضع الحالى.
تفعيل قوانين البناء والحفاظ واقتراح التعديلات إن لزم الأمر.
إيجاد حلول عن طريق عملية تشاركية تشمل المجتمع المحلي والمجتمع المدنى وجميع الجهات المعنية.
رابعا: تطوير خطط طويلة المدى تهدف إلى تحسين الأوضاع المعيشية والاقتصادية بالأحياء التاريخية.
June 16 2013 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE TO THE PRESS SAVE CAIRO GROUP
“Cairo is being demolished….Cairo is vanishing”
June 19th, 2013 Vigil in Abdin Square
Save Cairo Group calls upon you to participate in a stand next Wednesday, June 19h, 2013 at 5:00 pm in front of Cairo Governorate in Abdin Square to protest against the organized destruction of the citys’ architectural heritage and the ongoing random and often illegal construction plaguing all its neighborhoods. This phenomenon is a basis for eliminating Cairos’ urban fabric and losing its historic buildings for ever. Cairo has been suffering from bad planning for quite some time, but during these last two years, it has reached a state of complete chaos. We witness unsafe tall building towers mushrooming rapidly in its narrow alleyways at the expense of our city and its history. This stand is a necessary first step to express our anger and anguish, we Cairenes, feel towards what’s happening throughout the whole of Historic Cairo. We care about the entire city but our stand today is focused on the miserable state of affairs in Historic Cairo.
Historic Cairo is a living organism providing a continuum of human history, civilization and habitat. Its value does not only lie in the wealth and sheer number of monuments within a sophisticated urban fabric, but also its common ethos, its traditional arts and crafts, its streets and alleyways and its norms and traditions that have amazed travellers and historians alike. Hence Historic Cairo was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1979 due to its irreplaceable urban fabric and not only its monuments. Sadly, this unique urban fabric is currently being destroyed by the minute to the point where UNESCO has threatened to move it to the list of cities under threat if the rate demolishing its old buildings and construction of new “ugly” replacements doesn’t halt immediately.
Historic Cairo is under severe attack compared to the rest of the city as large scale demolition often reaches registered monuments and many older buildings with exquisite architectural styles. They are replaced by newly erected menacing towers that belittle the elegant minarets of “the city of 1000 minarets”. More importantly, these towers are often structurally unsafe which transforms them into dangerous timed bombs ready to explode and kill inhabitants as well as destroy priceless buildings in their vicinity. These are some of the inherent problems of Historic Cairo which are accentuated now by the appalling lack of security and the total dysfunction of pertinent government bodies mandated with the responsibility of implementing the laws and dealing with its offenders. Also, greed of a minority of citizens and a majority of contractors coupled with neglect or connivance of government officials as well as the increasingly systematic looting of Cairos’ monuments have become malignant problems.
Therefore we, Save Cairo Group, demand the following from the Egyptian Government represented by the Cairo Governor:
I. Freeze the issuing of all building and demolition permits in Historic Cairo for one year.
II. Immediate demolition of extra stories and abstention from supplying new buildings with their utilities.
III. Create an Operation Room to mandate the following:
1. Evaluate and study the current situation. 2. Survey building violations.
3. Implement construction and preservation laws and make amendments if necessary.
4. Finding plausible solutions through a participatory process that involves local communities, civil society and any other relevant party.
IV. Develop a long term plan to enhance the living conditions of historic Cairo through reviving its economy.
This week a gate that belonged to a large residential complex, which was already demolished, was bulldozed with the permission of authorities. The demolition has caused outrage and protest by concerned citizens. The gate appears to date from sometime between the mid-18th century to the early 19th century and was located on Bab al Wazir Street in the heart of historic Cairo’s Darb el Ahmar district. The building was once the home of Egypt’s grand Mufti (1921-1928). The demolition comes at a time when the heart of historic Cairo has been continuously under assault losing entire historic houses (typically three stories) which have been replaced by taller, higher density modern apartment blocks as tall as 8-10 stories. Domestic architecture, no matter how old, is rarely registered as monument, which means that the primary elements of historic districts such as Darb el Ahmar are extremely vulnerable in the face of real estate speculation, typically within the informal economy sector which involves paying large sums by the developers to the authorities in order to turn a blind eye to their building frenzy.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, the official responsible for the development of historic Cairo project at the antiquities ministry, deflected the news by arguing that the gate was of no historic significance and that the demolition was completely legal. This incident raises several persistent questions which have not been confronted regarding Cairo’s urban development particularly in historic areas.
[The destroyed gate which was already vandalized by election posters for Islamist candidates including the current president. Photo by Ahmed Hamed via Aswatmasriya.com]
The most pressing question is WHO in Egypt today determines what counts as heritage/patrimony and who decides on the categories? There are multiple governmental bodies responsible for different and often overlapping kinds of heritage often governed by outdated rigid categories which often have orientalist or colonial origin. For example, the vast and vague category of “Islamic Architecture”: What is and what is not “Islamic” architecture? This gate was determined undeserving of protection because it was not “registered as an Islamic monument.” In fact the decorative motifs seen in this gate can be found in many residential structures from that period and they often go undocumented and dismissed because they do not easily fit into 19th century categories of Mamluk, Ottoman, Fatimid, etc. There are house gates with floral motifs, others with faces carved above the portal and others with letters or family symbols. Such diversity and architectural individuality do not interest the official institution of antiquities (governed by dated art historical categories imposed from elsewhere), because these houses are/were part of the everyday and often belonged to families with no notable members. Spaces of the everyday, even if centuries old and well-built and expressing innovative building craft, are not part of the record.
But even buildings which were listed have not benefited from their listing and are often neglected, undeveloped, and un-restored. With few exceptions such as the Aga Khan project for Darb el Ahmar, there has been no comprehensive urban development plan for historic areas that take economy into account. Listed buildings, under current laws, are economic burdens on their owners who are highly restricted from benefiting financially from their valuable property by perhaps acquiring permits for renovations or adapting them to new uses. Thus, even listed buildings are often intentionally damaged by their owners in order to qualify for a demolition permit and often architects and engineers working for the state bureaucracy assist owners in destroying their own properties for a fee, knowing that once the property is freed of its heritage building it can be developed with profitable real estate. It is shameful that over a decade into the twenty-first century a country like Egypt and a city like Cairo, which had and continues to have a high density of historic structures waiting to be adapted and incorporated into an urban economy, there is yet to emerge a sufficient system to deal with this heritage properly. Lack of imagination and corruption in peacetime are causing damage to Cairo’s urban heritage at a rate that could only be matched by a natural disaster or war. Indeed images of damaged listed buildings such as Villa Casdagli (oddly registered as an Islamic Monument), resemble war damage. State institutions responsible for that listed building have not moved to respond to that damage not least to erect a fence around the property five months after its destruction.
It is important to note that major buildings which were listed were demolished with official permission in recent months. Last month Cinema Rialto, one of Alexandria’s landmark cinemas disappeared over night.
Thus, listing is not the primary issue regarding the demolition of the Darb el Ahmar gate, since listed buildings face a similarly uncertain fate.
[The emerging skyline of the once historic Darb el Ahmar district as seen from Azhar Park]
The other issue presented by this latest catastrophe is the persistent question of adaptive reuse: Why were the wall and gate not incorporated into a new structure? such practices have a long history in Cairo as ancient as the city itself. Buildings and parts of buildings have been continuously incorporated into new structures for centuries. Across historic Cairo an observant eye will pick out fragments of ancient buildings incorporated into subsequent structures creating a sense of layering and richness which makes the historic city so exciting. However, for such practices to take place today two elements are fundamental: (1) an overall vision and policy that encourages the adaptive reuse of buildings or architectural fragments, and (2) the necessary technique and design practice needed to consult the construction of new buildings containing existing fragments. What is needed is a serious exploration of the possibilities that lie between total annihilation approach and the “open air museum” approach to historic urban areas.
The demolitions of this gate and of many other historic structures across the country are often “legal.” Legality here merely connotes that developers acquired the needed permissions in exchange for a hefty “gift” to local officials, municipal engineers and police officers.
Finally, to conclude, the unnecessary demolition of this gate is an occasion to shame some of the incompetent institutions responsible for Cairo’s urban environment: Shame on the so-called National Organization for Urban Harmony. Shame on the Governorate of Cairo. Shame on the Ministry of Antiquities. Shame on the Ministry of Culture. Shame on the Awqaf Ministry. Shame on the Ministry of Housing. All the above institutions have a track record of failure and mediocrity dominated by corruption and cronyism. All these bureaucracies have together failed to emerge with a vision for the protection and development of Egypt’s historic urban centers in ways that save heritage, allow for social continuity (no evictions) and economic prosperity.
A visible City: The tangible and intangible Heritage of Downtown Cairo
SUMMER SCHOOL in CAIRO 15-26 June 2013
APPLY NOW! until the 10th of May
IF YOU WANT TO…
Get in touch with the real DOWNTOWN
Discover (your) CAIRO
Learn how to recognize a plan typology
Learn about oral history methods
Learn how to deal with interviews
Eat the best chocolate dates in town
Produce the first architectural guide of Downtown
Work in an intercultural/intergender group
Get in touch with other students
Listen to the most updated researchers
BE WITH US!
THE SUMMER SCHOOL IS OPEN TO
> 10 students from Germany from the faculties of Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning, Landscape architecture.
> 10 students from the Architecture and Urban Design Program of the German University in Cairo (GUC).
> 8 students from Cairo from the faculties of Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning, Landscape architecture. Particular attention will be given to choose students from different Universities.
WHO CAN APPLY:
Students who already completed the fourth semester of Architecture, Urban Planning or Landscape Architecture studies.
HOW TO APPLY:
With a short cv, a letter of motivation and a selection of three previous projects (6 pages A4, pdf-file, max.10 MB). It is not mandatory that the projects are related to architecture. Language of the application is English.
Please send your application via email to:
Deadline is the 10th of May 2013.
The selected participants will be informed at beginning of May.
Join us on facebook: summer school_DOWNTOWN
The grants will cover flight costs and accommodation for the 10 students coming from Germany. Infrastructure and food for all students will be assured. All students will work both at the GUC Campus and on field.
AIMS and CONTENT
The summer school aims at raising awareness for the tangible and intangible heritage of Downtown Cairo, initiating and reinforcing the link between students, academics and inhabitants towards the histories and the built heritage of the old quarter of Ismaelia. This link will reinforce the feeling of proud towards the city, which is the necessary basis for any action of maintenance and restoration.
In mixed groups, students will implement schematic plans of the standard floor of different buildings; analysing it and classifying them in typologies. At the same time, they will interview the inhabitants, to collect their histories related to the buildings. A guide on the tangible and intangible heritage of Downtown will be published.
> German University Cairo – GUC
Prof. Barbara Pampe, architect
Prof. Vittoria Capresi, architect
> University of Stuttgart, D
Prof. Arno Lederer, architect
Carla Schwarz, architect
Leonie Weber, architect
> DAAD (Cairo University) / German Archaeological Institute DAI, Cairo
> Alia Mossallam, historian
> Studio Matthias Görlich
Matthias Görlich, graphic designer
and the participation of :
> Ahmed el Bindari, CULTNAT, Cairo
> Omar Nagati, CLUSTER, Cairo
> Xenia Nikolskaya, Freelance Photograph, Cairo
> Yasmine El Dorghamy, Al Rawi, Egypt Heritage Review, Cairo
> Karim Ibrahim, Takween Integrated Community Development, Cairo
> May al-Ibrashy, Megawra, Cairo
> Mohamed Elshahed, Cairobserver, Cairo
IN COOPERATION WITH
Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments
German Archaeological Institute – DAI, Cairo
Takween Integrated Community Development, Cairo
The Summer School is initialised and organised by the Architecture and Urban Design Program of the German University Cairo GUC in cooperation with the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University Stuttgart and fully financed by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.
CONCEPT: BALADILAB 2012
On the first of February the long-abandoned and unused Villa Casdagli on Simon Bolivar Sq. was looted and its staircase was set on fire. The following day I visited the building after reading news that it was “burned to the ground” and found the fire department finishing its job in controlling the isolated fire. The building was standing strong but it had been stripped of any removable valuable ornamentation, or as the fire department officer called it, the building was “peeled.” What happened at Villa Casdagli is hardly something new nor does it have anything to do with revolution or the “security vacuum.” Historic buildings, particularly those from the 19th and 20th centuries have fallen victim to organized looting, vandalism and even official cover for their subsequent demolition by people as high up in the state as previous prime ministers (directly requesting the removal of buildings from heritage lists). Following this particular incident there has been no official response from the state and its institutions responsible while the most visible response from the cultured elite has been one of despair.
The latest incident at Villa Casdagli reveals the failures of the state in safeguarding and capitalizing on heritage as well as the failures of Egypt’s heritage society to take a leading role in creating awareness, creating proposals and offering alternatives to the fate of Egypt’s modern heritage and most importantly in making the heritage issue relevant to a wider audience outside the privileged few. Also, the incident makes certain the failure of Egypt’s professional cadre of engineers and architects who have not developed the professional environment and practices that prepare them to handle such heritage buildings regardless of their state in order to bring them back to life.
[As the burned and discolored plaster surface peels away it reveals a new modern, clean stone wall. This building is ready for a new life.]
The villa, which was built in 1910, under all the ornamentation, plaster, gilded frames, and wood floors is a masonry structure built with brick, stone and the floors and ceilings are of iron and concrete, hence it was little damaged structurally in the latest snafu.
The building had recently received some journalistic attention for its apparent neglect and need for restoration. Hidden behind trees, the villa had gone unnoticed to unknowing pedestrians until clashes in Tahrir Square spread to the nearby Simon Bolivar Sq. and led to the subsequent erection of a second wall on that square blocking off the street leading to parliament (the first wall was already erected blocking the street leading to the US embassy). The erection of the second wall had turned this important junction into a dead end and pedestrians had to get around the wall to go to their work in the area which led pedestrians to cut through the garden of the villa to jump its wall to make their way around the obtrusive obstacle course of walls. This was an unintended consequence of the road block wall, but it made the villa accessible and visible.
Of course not everyone was unaware of the building, it had been eyed for renovation, potentially paid for with a $5 million USAID grant to transform it into Cairo’s first Institute for Museology.
Government bureaucracy and conflict between the ministries of antiquities and education (the former tenant of the building until around 1999) delayed any possible progress in the status of the building which continued to be vacant and unused.
Then suddenly there was a night of renewed clashes on the last day of January during which a truck was loaded with large gilded frames, marble fireplace mantles, and extremely heavy ironwork that once lined windows and balconies. By morning the clashes had magically ended and the villa was “peeled.” This isn’t the first of its kind, the Villa Ispenian in Haram was given the same treatment recently. Looted items end up on the market for antique dealers and much of it ends up outside the country where it can be sold for a higher price. Whatever wasn’t removable was vandalized but with the exception of the staircase the building survived intact. Apparently the Education Ministry already has some kind of report of the incident.
This isn’t about this particular building, rather this recent incident could have been an opportunity for all those involved and those interested in heritage to raise pertinent issues that have been needing resolution for years: Why are such buildings, particularly those in state ownership and use, allowed to sit unused and allowed to deteriorate? How can the state capitalize on the historical and heritage value of this real estate? What is wrong with the current laws and regulations regarding heritage/historic buildings particularly those from the 19th century to the present? What are some proposals for legislation that could remedy the situation and save what is left and what are the benefits and who benefits? Villa Casdagli could be a visible and easy to understand illustration of why these are important questions to raise as part of a wider conversation that brings in a wider audience beyond the small group of heritage enthusiasts.
Additionally, once the fate of the building is saved from a potential demolition permit, the work should be carried out by a local firm, one that demonstrates that Egyptian practices are ready and capable of carrying out such work. Often such projects go to international architecture firms, denying Egyptian firms from building a portfolio of successful experiences of renovations/conservations of modern heritage buildings. One such local company more than ready to do this work is Takween, a group of talented young architects and planners who have experience working in Egypt in various contexts and with heritage sites.
This building was a victim not of the latest clashes, but of thirteen years of neglect following forty years of misuse. There is a cause here that needs to be perused regarding Egypt’s modern heritage buildings, but this cause will only be advanced if activists and heritage enthusiasts jump on an opportunity such as this to highlight the problem to a wider audience and to offer alternatives and make more people dream about the potential of these properties and their significance to the economy, to history, etc.
The building lost some of its decorative elements, but that hardly means it is “destroyed.” Think of post-WWII European cities, they were destroyed, and they have been rebuilt like new, some tourists never realize that many of the seemingly medieval city squares and surrounding buildings are in fact fifty year-old reconstructions. So, no one should put their hands up in despair because we lost a wooden staircase and some mirrors. With $5 million, if that money is still available, this building could provide a much needed institution such as an Institute for Museology, but it could also provide an excellent case study in architectural conservation in Cairo.
Last month a historic villa from the early twentieth century with unique architectural eclecticism and which was filled with antiques and a rich art collection was looted and destroyed. Below is an article by Nevine El-Aref which first appeared on Al-Ahram Weekly on February 8, 2013.
The luxuriously furnished villa of Kevork Ispenian on the Pyramids Road was looted and destroyed despite being on Egypt’s heritage list. Nevine El-Aref mourns the early 20th century edifice
At the Giza Plateau end of the Pyramids Road, near the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, the neo-Islamic villa of Kevork Ispenian stands wretchedly, its Mamluk and Ottoman features revealing the extent of the damage to this beautiful, historic house.
The destruction is over; the house stands in ruins. The garden, once laid out with an immaculate lawn and decorated with rare species of plants and trees and graced by a ceramic mosaic fountain, is now embellished with lumps of limestone and fallen bricks; littered with Mamluk mashrabeya (wooden lattice work) that formerly covered the windows and balustrades. Rubble and rubbish are scattered over the ground among the dead trees and palm trunks.
The house itself is in no better condition; on the contrary it is in a terrible state. Heaps of rubble and sand are piled on the floors, making it hard to tread on and walk through the rooms. Parts of the walls and decorated marble rails and slabs were scattered all around, while wooden doors engraved with foliage and geometrical decorations and beautiful mosaics that once decorated the arcades are broken and missing.
“What a loss!” Ahmad Al-Bindari, a researcher and photographer at the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT), told Al-Ahram Weekly sadly. He went on to say that the villa, constructed and designed by architect Charles Aznavour in 1935 as a rest house or weekend retreat for the Armenian father and son team of Kevork and Paul Ispenian, both collectors, was a great piece of heritage and its loss was tragic.
As befitted the house of collectors, several Mamluk and Ottoman artefacts, including those belonging to French architect Ambroise Baudry, were woven within its interiors. Baudry moved in 1871 to Egypt where he spent 15 years, during which he received many commissions, both private and royal. He constructed the Matatia edifices at Ataba in Downtown Cairo, which was demolished during the 1990s. In 1873 Baudry was given responsibility for the decoration of the interior of the salamlik (men’s quarters), the façade and the marble staircase of Khedive Ismail’s palace in Giza.
Baudry built a very distinguished residential villa for himself in Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Street in Downtown Cairo, which he decorated with authentic Mamluk and Ottoman artefacts. By the turn of the 20th century, Ispenian had bought Baudry’s genuine collection along with others when all the villas in Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Street were demolished and replaced with huge apartment buildings as part of a plan to convert the area into a commercial and residential zone.
According to Al-Bindari, the Ispenian Villa stayed in the possession of the Armenian family until the 1960s when it was then sold to the Abdel-Nour family, who in their turn sold it to the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA), now the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA). Meanwhile, the house contents were put on Egypt’s Islamic and Coptic Heritage List after that the house was abandoned. The doors were sealed in red wax, meaning that it was forbidden to enter and whoever stepped inside and removed the wax would be subjected to the law.
“I used to visit the house every now and then, but I have only seen it from the outside,” Al-Bindari told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that during his tour of office he had grown fond of the house and its distinguished architectural elements, and had even invited his friends to come so he could show them its wonderful design. “But sometimes the wind doesn’t blow the way we want,” he said. Last spring, when Bendari went for his usual visit, he found the Ispenian Villa was not the one he used to admire. The iron gate lay on the floor, broken in two pieces. The structure was partially demolished, and the house and garden were a total mess and in the worst possible condition.
Al-Bindari was told that the house, like many other monuments and archaeological sites in Egypt, had been looted during the January 2011 Revolution when security in the country was almost non-existent. However, he told the Weekly that there was no way of knowing for certain what had happened or how the destruction had come about.
“Whoever stole the contents knew what he was doing,” Al-Bindari insisted. “It was systematic. Everything from the ornamented roof, the ornamental screens, the marble floors and even a historic column supporting the balcony have been stolen. They took their time and took everything apart.”
Bendari pointed out that the condition of the villa was not unusual by any standards. “These things happen all the time because of negligence,” he said.
So what did happen to the villa? Why was it possible for it to be subjected to so much looting and destruction? Is it the property of the antiquities department or not? If so, where is the new antiquities law and its amendment? Why is it not being implemented? One of the law’s articles is one that prohibits any encroachment and destruction of archeological sites and a prison term for offenders.
Mohamed Abdel-Rehim, head of the Islamic and Coptic monuments section, told the Weekly in a telephone interview that the building was not on the Egyptian antiquities list and that the villa was still owned by Abdel-Nour family. It was not a historic house which must come under the jurisdiction of the Historic Buildings law affiliated to the Giza governorate, nor did it come under the antiquities law or the MSA. He insisted that the building was not a listed monument.
Meanwhile, archaeologist Ahmed Taha, an inspector at the Giza section of the MSA, laid all the blame for neglecting the building on the Tourist and Antiquities Police (TAP), who failed to protect the house even though there is TAP station not 10 metres from the Ispenian Villa. He also said that during the tenure of former MSA minister Zahi Hawass there was a project to convert the historic villa into a museum for Islamic art, but no steps were taken to implement the plan. Taha’s statements are verified by an MSA official, who required anonymity. The official said that the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Bab Al-Khalk was stored in the Ispenian Villa while the museum was under lengthy restoration. Some objects from this collection are now on display in the MIA while others were transported to MSA storage rooms in the Salaheddin Citadel.
Mokhtar Al-Kasabani, professor of Islamic monuments in the archaeology department at Cairo University, who was the MSA consultant for Islamic monuments during the Hawass tenure, also supports Taha’s statements. He says the house is an MSA property and should come under the new antiquities law and its amendments.
The empty 30 feddan plot neighbouring the Ispenian Villa is owned by former minister of tourism Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, who was willing to sell it to the MSA for a mega development project.
As a member of the committee who was in charge of the project, Kasabani said that the whole site in this prime area overlooking the Giza Plateau was earmarked to be transformed into a resort for tourists. It would include a small museum of Islamic art, a motel, bazaars selling replicas and souvenirs, a cafeteria and a bookstore for archaeology and art books. A parking area and a cinema would be also built as part of the complex. However, Kasabani said that regrettably the revolution had put the plan into jeopardy and it had been abandoned. The villa, he went on, was looted during the revolution and some of the mashrabeya and the mosaic fountain that once decorated the garden were missing.
“The current government and the MSA don’t care enough about Egypt’s history and its culture,” Kasabani told the Weekly. He added that a few months ago a contractor damaged the Ottoman warehouse and grist-mill of Madash-Merza in Boulaq Abul-Ela, and that even though he was caught red-handed he was set at large with a fine of only LE500. This contractor, he said, returned to Madash-Merza and resumed the demolition, and nobody moved a finger to save this great Ottoman monument, not even the MSA. Now he had built the first floor of his new building. What made things worse, Kasabani pointed out, was that all antiquities crimes were no longer prosecuted under the new antiquities law and its amendments which had priority on the court roll. Instead, they came under the usual criminal law, according to which a case can take years to be solved.
Kasabani suggests that to protect and rescue Egypt’s cultural and antiquities heritage, the MSA might be converted into an Independent Egyptian Authority affiliated directly to the president’s office rather than a ministry within the government echelon.
Visible slightly to the north from the narrow overpass that links Opera Square to Azhar Street is a corner building with four kneeling Atlas statues lifting a glass globe. This was the Tiring Department Store, one of Cairo’s many houses of early twentieth century shopping and consumption of modern goods.
The store was founded in 1910 by Victor Tiring, an Austrian merchant born in Istanbul who specialized in Turkish tailoring. The Tiring family had built its first store in Vienna in 1882. The building was designed by Oscar Horowitz, a Czech architect who studied in Vienna and who designed similar shopping destinations within the Austro-Hungarian sphere. The Tiring Store in Cairo was completed in 1912 and when it opened it was the city’s premier shopping destination for imported luxury goods. With the events of World War I, the British occupation in Egypt had deemed all Austrians and Hungarians as enemies and forced their departure from Egypt. The Tiring department store was only in business for few years and its business was interrupted due to pressure from the colonial administration which forced it into liquidation by 1920.
The five-story building was designed with open floors and an airy feel fit for modern shopping and it would eventually become the desired property by other department store owners but complications due to ownership led to it being abandoned. Shortly after the demise of the short-lived Tiring, the building became home to squatters, primarily small-business and workshops who set up shop in its vast floors. It has been used since by a variety of people for a variety of activities, there was a bar, a mosque, full-time residents, clothing workshops and a cafe occupying the building at one time.
This is the story of many buildings, perhaps hundreds in Cairo and other cities. At first it may appear that the main obstacle confronting any effort to save Tiring building is related to ownership. However, another building not far away, fronting Opera Square and the remaining parcel of Azbakeya Garden is the former Continental Hotel which is also occupied by small workshops informally, yet it is owned by the state. Other buildings around downtown and the surrounding districts have been undergoing a process for decades aimed at intentionally removing links to original owners. Those were the properties of owners who fled the country, were forced out either by the British or subsequent regimes, or properties where heirs immigrated and entrusted the property to a lawyer or anyone who later illegally sold it to themselves and obscured links to the original owners. This has led to legal disputes and often buildings have been “frozen” with no one to claim them as their own and thus they fall for squatters or idle eternally. What I am trying to argue, the Tiring Building brings attention to the legal dimension complicating the potential regeneration, maintenance and reuse of such properties. And this calls for a legal framework and carefully drafted policy.
The Tiring Building was built a century ago, yet it was used by its original owner for its intended use for less than a decade. Despite this, it has become part of the urban heritage of Cairo and its iconic Atlases and glass globe have become a landmark referenced in works of art, literature and seen in film. The building, and others like it, is part of Cairo’s cityscape and it presents us with a challenge of dealing with its complicated history, ownership issues, accommodate/legalize its current users, maintain its architectural heritage, make it economically sustainable and make it accessible to the public.
The building should also be seen in its urban and social context. It sits at a unique location linking old and new Cairo and near Attaba Square where other key buildings such as the fire department and the original post office stand. Near by is the Attaba vegetable market, one of downtown’s central markets, and surrounding streets are bustling with commercial activity. There is massive potential in this area to organize, develop, accommodate current commercial activities while diversifying the uses and users by inserting new ones. However, the scale of needed development in Cairo’s central districts needs new strategies that move beyond the approach of focusing on individual buildings and seeking the needed funds to restore them without considering their relationship to context and their potential new uses. Many of the historic buildings which have been restored by the state following this approach have sat empty for years or have been transformed into “cultural centers” where no real activity takes place.
The Tiring Building is desperately screaming for attention for the entire district to be revitalized in cooperation with its current users. However, with the current governance structure which does not align with community structures in the city there will be no revitalization. Communities in Cairo are full of buildings around which the various districts can develop, whether the Sakakini Palace in Sakakini or the Tiring Building in Attaba, those buildings can act as the starting point in a community-driven, government-led approach that integrates buildings of historic significance with the communities that live in and around them in ways that protect the architectural heritage, stimulate economic development and provide new opportunities. Such efforts need sound policy and such policy needs to build on a political structure that empowers communities rather than treat them as mere squatters to be removed.
Bottom up approach to communicate heritage: a project in Downtown Cairo
How would it be possible to link the everyday users of the historical city with the tangible values of the building heritage?
Downtown Cairo is the district developed under the Khedive Ismail at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The city plan was inspired by the streets and squares pattern introduced by Haussmann in Paris, and several European (and Egyptian) architects built palaces and apartment buildings using a rich stylistic vocabulary. Nowadays Downtown is the main lively heart of the city, hosting small shops, offices, houses, cafes and restaurants in a complex social, religious and functional equilibrium. A general lack of regulations regarding how to deal with the heritage and an old rental system are the main reasons for the neglect of the architecture and numerous demolitions of the old Ismaelia buildings. Some studies and projects started surveying and analysing the architecture and the intangible heritage (oral histories) of Downtown, but the main problem still remain the lack of interactions and communication between these scientific works and the inhabitants of the historical buildings:
The first step for the conservation is knowledge.
This project has the main purpose to start and encourage the communication between specialists and inhabitants in both directions, developing and supporting the awareness of everybody towards the architecture of Downtown. The coffee shop in Mohamed Mahmoud Street was selected to introduce small modification in the objects of daily use with a corporate design based on images of buildings and information about Downtown. It becomes the location for activities related to the architecture of the area. On the other hand, the project team is collecting the memories and stories of the inhabitants related to the places to document and to share the link between the tangible and the intangible heritage of Downtown.
The Downtown project is initiated by Vittoria Capresi and Barbara Pampe - Architecture and Urban Design Program GUC - and financed by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD.
More info: www.baladilab.com
UPDATE November 22, 2012: The launch event on November 27th has been canceled.
UPDATE December 13, 2012: “Take a coffee with your heritage” launches TODAY!
Whose Monument: Participatory Design Project for Monument-Street Buffer Zones
A collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities and the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute. The project is a series of workshops, debates and meetings to discuss the relationship between the monument and the surrounding neighborhood, the entities responsible for it and those with a vested interest in it or even those inconvenienced by it. We discuss who owns it, who protects it and improves it and who puts it at risk. The objective is to provide a environment of communication of the different points of view of the three main stakeholders: residents, government and civil society.
In participatory design all stakeholders are involved in the decision making process in all its details and stages. This is to narrow the gap between the monument and the community and allow it to assume ownership of the monument and to protect it through use.
This general issue is discussed through a specific case-study; the monument-street buffer zone and in a specific area; al-Khalifa Street between the mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun and the shrine of al-Sayyida Nafisa.
The project consists of five phases, to find out more details visit the project website.
This scene photographed above may not last much longer if the state does not act to protect it. The ministries of interior, tourism, environmental protection, antiquities must act immediately
The following is an open letter posted by Youssef Abagui of The Sycamore - Al Gemeza eco lodge retreat and self study center
The Minister of Tourism
Mr. Hisham Zaazou
Subject : Dahshur - A World Heritage site.
Dahshur is not only an important heritage site constituting three of the oldest pyramids - prior to the Giza pyramids - The Royal lake - an ancient water reservoir that has remained so far as a one of the last vestiges of Egypt’s agricultural ingenuity - and until recently a spawning ground for migratory birds. The antiquity of this area is one of the least officially explored sites and contains some of the crucial clues to Egypt’s past. All this is surrounded by superb palm grove countryside.
In the absence of security forces and lawlessness the area lately has seen drastic changes. Mass antiquity thefts of the plateau east of the Pyramids by local sponsored gangs and in broad daylight. The ease of usurping non guarded antiquities land; by digging wells and planting trees on what could potentially be of paramount importance hence left to oblivion.
In addition, the degradation of the countryside by local land prospectors is in agreement with local officials who have little or no foresight, except for individual profit at the cost of the ruination of pristine irreplaceable nature.
The lake too, that once filled in September - a paradise for bird watchers, has been left fowl for three years as part of a plot to ruin it, then buy it as land for an imaginary tourist project - thus ending a six thousand year old tradition of migratory birds that found it an ideal winter home.
This rapidly degrading situation brought about in the name of ‘tourism’, is associated by unchecked corruption of some of the local officials - the neglect of the police, or the turning of a blind eye to infringements, and not to go so far as aid.
The situation has become drastic, as acres are being torn down actually, for two roads that are least needed; these will accelerate ecologic degradation. Local sand and stone quarries nearby are beneficiary - and they have increased profusely in the area too close to the monuments - causing a vast amount of trucks to pass and damage the ecosystem of such a special place. In fact it was the lack of large roads, and traffic, that had kept Dahshur beautiful and clean.
Roads have lead to obsolete gas stations in the midst of greenery that gradually ruin the land around them like a cancer - and giving a pretext to more of the thousands of tire shops and car mechanics - least needed in that area supposedly a World heritage site.
In the past decades - the state’s attempts to “over sophisticate” tourism sites has had contrary effects - the ruination of those very sites. The continuation of heavy handed tourism is no longer compatible with this day and age - especially that such examples are already set and hard to compete with. On the contrary - a more eco friendly tourism is paramount - a gentle approach - where Egypt’s image is that of a romantic journey in time - something few countries can offer, but certainly not one that has great roads or concrete hotels.
We the inhabitants of the area, see the urgency of an action to stop all works immediately, and to send an independent investigative team - that can see for itself the transgressions - and thus bring the issue to your close attention.
The prime assets we have as a nation are our ecology and our heritage, and to preserve those we need the full cooperation of all state ministries for that crucial purpose.
As a quarter of a century inhabitant of Dahshur - facing the lake - having passionately loved the place, and known it intimately - I can’t begin to tell you what we are on the verge of losing as a nation - ‘Magical mysterious Egypt’.
Surely no one should take that chance - therefore we the undersigned, will stand hand in hand with all local authorities as responsible citizens to preserve our heritage from extinction.
Youssef Abagui - 16th of October 2012.
Share this and spread till the authorities know we and the tourists watch nature not concrete.
[Top floor of the Railway Museum photographed in 2009, before renovation]
[The museum in 2012, note the removal of the original 1930s light fixtures, as well as the removal of the original floor tiles which were in near perfect condition.]
In 1933 Egypt hosted the international railway conference. Egypt’s national railway history goes back to 1854 when Alexandria was linked to Cairo. Muhammad Ali had initially planned earlier in the 1830s to link Cairo with Suez but those plans were not realized. By 1933 Egypt was already celebrating nearly 80 years since the inauguration of the Cairo-Alexandria railway line. The museum, established for the occasion of Egypt hosting the 1933 conference, was the first of its kind not only in the region but in the world (Britain didn’t get its railway museum until 1975).
The museum consisted of two floors in a building attached to Cairo’s main train station at the end of platform 1. The bottom floor contained 3 restored steam locomotives and royal train cars in addition to models depicting railway networks. The top floor housed a large collection of photographs, posters, adverts, and architectural models of various train stations across the country such as Alexandria’s, Tanta’s among others. The museum also had a library and documents kept in bookcases out of public reach but potentially available to researchers. Other documents were put on display such as the letters between Khedive Abbas and Robert Stephenson about the construction of the Cairo-Alexandria line. This museum is not only of national significance but also significant in the history of railways worldwide.
Not only did the museum beautifully document and illustrate the history of the railways in Egypt from the mid 19th century well into the 1960s but it also displayed items pertaining to urban rail transport and aviation. Urban trams in Alexandria and Cairo were well documented in addition to the early years of Egyptian aviation.
[architectural model of the Tanta train station built at the turn of the century. The model is built for the museum in the early 1930s]
The museum was built by a state and railway company that were proud of Egypt’s railway history and sought to document and exhibit the company’s accomplishments. Alas, since the 1970s the museum fell out of the picture as local tourism dwindled and international tourism was directed away from sites that document Egypt’s modern advances and towards Egypt’s ancient history. The museum, like many others such as the postal and natural history museums, was frozen in time, preserved as an antique curiosity. It was still there at the end of platform 1 for anyone who wanted to see it until last year when the railway company decided to renovate the station.
The museum was ignored, forgotten and unmaintained but at least it was still there. In 2010 when train and railway enthusiasts complained about the conditions of the museum, the railway company decided to renovate the museum along with its renovation of the station. This has led to the overnight disappearance of this wonderful time capsule as the contents of the museum were removed to an unknown location, the original lighting from the 1930s seen in the picture above (installed at the tops and middle of the columns) was removed and air vents were installed on the ceiling which was painted a dark gray color. The beautiful and once perfectly intact original 1930s floor tiles were removed. Since then there has been no progress in the construction and renovation of this museum.
The questionable renovation of the station is already problematic because it altered the aesthetics of the station’s architecture rather than actually improve services. In addition the quality of the renovation construction work is embarrassingly off. Although it was opened last year, the station still looks like a work in progress with many of the building’s sections incomplete, and parts which are completed already look like they need a renovation. In this context the fate of the Railway Museum is not looking good. It is still unclear what the plan is for the museum, if professionals in museology are involved (doubtful), if historians are involved (doubtful) and if the unique collection is safe.
The railways have had a significant impact on the development of Egyptian national culture, economy, society and identity. Moreover, Egypt’s network being the first in Africa and the Middle East and one of the earliest national railway networks (not colonial, such as Pakistan or India) internationally makes it of major significance to the history of railways in general. The loss of this treasured museum which was fully intact until recently is a national catastrophe. This museum was taken apart by a decision from the heads of the railway company, the same heads who agreed to allow the disaster of a renovation that ruined the historic character of the capital’s main train station. If the country wasn’t experiencing so many other tragedies this story should have been a scandal as it underlines the problems with how Egyptian public institutions are managed but also how low Egypt’s cultural management has gone and further how Egypt’s modern history is being erased.
There is no set date for the museum’s reopening.
[Faten Hamama at Studio Misr, 1949]
Over the past several weeks there have been at least three situations that further illustrate the continuous attempts to jeopardize the integrity of Egypt’s cultural landscape. State institutions are the culprits. The result is the erasure of old as well as recent cultural memory.
1. Rotana Zaman was a television channel part of the Rotana Network, owned in part by Rupert Murdoch and Prince Alwaleed, which showed classics of Egyptian cinema 24/hrs a day. Several weeks ago the channel morphed into Rotana Classic showing a combination of classic Egyptian films and television programs in addition to classic American films and television programs. Now you can watch a 1950s Egyptian film followed by an episode of the American series Dynasty, a 1980s American drama about suburban life and the newly rich.
There is a problem here: Rotana owns the originals and airing rights to over 4000 Egyptian films. After the company acquired those films Rotana Zaman became the exclusive television network where these films can be viewed by the general public in Egypt and across the Arab world. Classic Egyptian cinema, films created from the 1930s to the 1960s, is evidence of Egypt’s cultural development during those decades and many of these films document Egyptian attitudes, customs, representations of the self and of segments within society in addition to testifying to an era of serious engagement with the art of filmmaking. Classic cinema to this day continues to be consumed by the general population and it has not retreated to the niche of “classic film lovers” or “film connoisseurs” because of their mere age, to the contrary many Egyptians continue to watch 60 year old films. By keeping this memory alive Egyptians had a window into the past as it was portrayed by Egyptian actors and directors. Egyptian cinema from that era also exported Egyptian cultural norms and colloquial language to Arabic speaking audiences from Morocco to Kuwait. This is part of national heritage and it should have never been sold without any conditions.
[Faten Hamama classic film, do3a2 el karawan (The Nightingale’s Prayer) 1959]
By slowly reducing the dosage of accessibility to Egyptian classic cinema, Rotana is depriving younger generations of Egyptians access to the remaining tangible evidence of a different Egypt, with its social and cultural norms, its politics, its fashion, architecture and its technique. Today, after watching Faten Hamama in the classic “The Nightingale’s Prayer” one might be confronted with an episode of Dynasty, a drama that may appeal to suburban residents of Cairo who have been lured to reproduce suburban failures from 1980s Texas, or Denver Colorado. If Egypt can not reclaim ownership of its filmic heritage, in five to ten years the children of the residents of New Cairo will not know who Fatan Hamama was and the cast of Dynasty might become more familiar. In April members of the Freedom and Justice Party proposed legislation that allows the state censor to edit out scenes from classic films deemed “inappropriate.”
Rather than protect one of the world’s earliest film industries, invest in cinema infrastructure such as theaters, renovating old cinemas, capitalizing on the touristic value of Egypt’s classic film studios, establishing a cinemateque with a museum, library and exhibition space to celebrate the memory of Egypt’s cinematic tradition, instead of all this the state sells and debates cutting and editing whatever is left.
2. Order for demolition (Alexandria): Last month, Mohamed Adel Dessouki reported on his blog “walls of an exhausted city" yet another unexplained direct order from the prime minister for the demolition of a listed building. Does the prime minister have nothing better to do than order the removal of buildings from the heritage list? There are many implications here about governance and why a prime minister, especially in Egypt during a "transitional period," has any say in a matter that should be the concern of local municipality, Culture Ministry or the SCA. But what is significant here is that the PM is facilitating the process of erasure of Egypt’s cultural memory or editing of history. The state has continuously refused to protect Egypt’s modern heritage and by targeting villas and residences of Egypt’s upper classes from the early and middle of the twentieth century, a heritage that has not been thoroughly documented, the state is directly participating in denying nearly 80 years of Egyptian modern history, as if it never happened.
These are the houses where many of the scenes of Egypt’s classic cinema were shot. These were the houses where the society that produced and consumed Egypt’s classic cinema from the 1920s to the 1960s lived. The cinema was sold and the houses demolished. Documents of a recent history no longer with us, how will this history be remembered by future generations when the documents have been intentionally destroyed, the evidence deleted?
Conservatives in Egypt can care less about Egypt’s cultural production including film, architecture, music and literature from the “liberal period” (1920s-1950s) just as Western conservatives never recognized this heritage to be an accurate representation of Egypt and Egyptians.
3. The whitewashing of murals in the vicinity of Tahrir Square at the end of May was yet another example of a deletion, denial, and the state’s emphasis on controlling not only history but also commemoration.
Everyday there are many more incidents that amount to a systematic assault on Egypt’s historical memory both modern and contemporary. Egypt is suffering from state induced amnesia. Here we are in a country “of 7000 years” yet the state seems hell bent on erasing traces of the last century and where collective national memory is constantly deleted or heavily edited.
This article appeared in English on Aljazeera.
يقال أحيانا إن حماية تراث مصر، مثلها مثل حقوق الانسان والديمقراطية، هى مسائل لايمكن أن يتولاها المصريون وحدهم. اصحاب هذا الرأى يدعون أن انتشار الفساد والفقر والجهل يشكل خطرا داهما على تلك القطع التراثية التى تتمتع بأهمية عالمية
المجلس الأعلى للآثار فى مصر له موقف معروف فى هذا الشأن. فقد أطلق زاهى حواس، الأمين العام السابق للمجلس، فى سياق إظهاره لمدى التزام مصر بحماية “التراث القومى”، حملة دولية حققت بعض النجاح لإستعادة تلك الآثار التى خرجت من مصر “بدون وجه حق”. فى سياق تلك الحملة، عادت إلى مصر مومياء من أتلانتا، جورجيا، وأقيمت لها مراسم جنائزية مضحكة، حيث قام اطفال المدارس بالإنشاد بمصاحبة موسيقى القرب العسكرية. زاهى حواس، الذى كان معروفا بحماسه الشديد للقطع الأثرية الذائعة الصيت، مثل رأس نفرتيتى وحجر رشيد، لم يعر اهتماما كبيرا لأعمال السرقة المستمرة لقطع التراث الأحدث فى مصر، مثل العقود التجارية العثمانية والسجلات الخديوية، التى كانت تختفى من مصر لتظهر بشكل مفاجىء فى المجموعات الخاصة والعامة بالخليج، وظلت مثل تلك القطع خارج اطار حملة الاستعادة التى تبناها.
كان تركيز المجلس الأعلى للآثار هو على احتياجات السياحة الجماعية وليس على مصالح المصريين العاديين، وبهذا تم اهمال تلك القطع التى لا يمكن عرضها فى فاترينات والتقاط الصور لها. وتم تجاهل تاريخ مصر ما بعد الاسلامى – وبالذات فى القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين – وكأنه ليس من اختصاص المجلس.
ولعل الزوبعة التى اثيرت مؤخرا حول بيع أرشيفات نجيب محفوظ قد أوضحت مدى عجز الدولة عن حماية تراثها “الحديث”. ومع أن دار مزادات “سوذبى" قد ألغى عملية البيع فما زال كثير من المصريين ذوى الاحساس الوطنى يشعرون بالضيق الشديد. لقد أثارت الصحف المصرية تساؤلات حول الكيفية التى تمت بها بيع مسودات الروائى المصرى الحائز على جائزة نوبل إلى دار مزادات عالمى ولماذا لم تتدخل الدولة لحماية تلك الوثائق. ومع هذا فإن تلك الأزمة تطرح تساؤلا أهم بخصوص طريقة التعامل مع الأوراق الخاصة للشخصيات المصرية العامة.
على سبيل المثال، لقد توفى مؤخرا الروائى المصرى إبراهم أصلان، مخلفا وراءه أوراقا وكتابات غير منشورة. كيف يمكن لورثته، لو شاءوا، أن يضعوا تلك المواد تحت تصرف الباحثين والمهتمين؟
من الناحية النظرية ليست هناك مشكلة، فالمفترض أن دار الوثائق القومية أو دار الكتب القريبة منها يمكنها أن تتكفل بالأمر. ولكن من الناحية العملية فإن طريقة عمل المؤسستين تجعل الأمر أكثر تعقيدا مما يبدو عليه.
نشأ الأرشيف القومى بشكله الحالى عن سلسلة من المحاولات المتفرقة لتكوين مخازن وثائقية بدأت فى العشرينات من القرن الماضى. وتم تصميم الأرشيف الحالى بشكل مركزى يستهدف توفير البنية التحتية لكتابة التاريخ بشكل يخلق هوية موحدة للدولة (ويبرر نظامها الملكى). فى تلك الفترة كانت الوثائق التى تخالف وجهات نظر معينة بشأن التاريخ المصرى والأسرة المالكة يتم استبعادها أو التخلص منها.
فى الفترة اللاحقة استمر الأرشيف القومى واقعا فى قبضة السلطات الرسمية. فأجهزة أمن الدولة (والتى اطلق عليها لاحقا الأمن القومى) هى الآمر الناهى فى القرارات الخاصة بإتاحة مواد الأرشيف. وبرغم الجهود التى بذلها المؤرخ المصرى القدير خالد فهمى فإن تلك الأجهزة تستمر فى تقييد إتاحة المواد الوثائقية للجميع باستثناء القلة المحظوظة من المؤرخين الرسميين الذين لا تتعارض أعمالهم مع الرؤية التاريخية الرسمية والتى تتسم غالبا بالنعرة القومية الزائدة.
لدى تلك الأجهزة، التى لعبت دور الحارس على تاريخ مصر، القدرة على تحديد مسار معظم الدراسات المتعلقة بتاريخ الدولة المعاصر. وهناك مشكلة إضافية تتمثل فى أن الأرشيف المصرى لا يمكن الاعتماد عليه فى كثير من الأحوال بسبب مشاكل متنوعة منها سوء التبويب وعيوب الادارة وأعمال السرقة.
فى مناطق اخرى مجاورة أدت الحروب الأهلية وقلة الموارد وقلة الاهتمام إلى اختفاء مجموعات كبيرة وهامة من الوثائق العامة والخاصة. وهو ما يعنى أن الباحثين، بدلا من أن يختاروا أبحاثهم ردا على تساؤلات هامة أصبحوا يختارونها فى ضوء المادة التاريخية التى تتاح لهم.
وقد حاول الجيل الجديد من الباحثين، فى محاولة للإلتفاف حول القيود التى يضعها “حراس التاريخ المصرى" التركيز ليس على شئون الدولة ولكن على أحوال المواطنين. والملاحظ أن أهم الأعمال التى كتبت مؤخرا فى الغرب بشأن تاريخ مصر ارتكزت بشكل رئيسى على المطبوعات الدورية أو المواد المتوافرة فى معاهد الأبحاث الأوربية والأمريكية أو فى المجموعات الخاصة.
هناك كم كبير من المواد التاريخية فى المجموعات الخاصة. ولكن منذ أصدرت محكمة مصرية قرارا فى 1963 يرغم أسرة الزعيم القومى سعد زغلول على “اهداء" مذكراته إلى الدولة، أصبح المقتنون يفضلون الاحتفاظ بوثائقهم الثمينة بعيدا عن الأنظار. فى نفس السنة، شكلت وزارة الثقافة لجنة “لإعادة كتابة التاريخ المصرى" استهدفت التعرف على الوثائق ذات “الاهمية القومية.” وبالتالى تمت مصادرة تلك الوثائق من أصحابها ووضعها فى الأرشيف القومى. هذا التصرف كان من المفترض أن يؤدى إلى توسيع مجال المعلومات المتاح للجمهور، ولكنه أدى إلى العكس. فأصحاب الوثائق – والذين قد يكونوا قد ورثوها أو اشتروها – أصبحوا يحتفظون بمجموعاتهم بعيدا عن أعين الباحثين.
بسبب القيود التى فرضتها الدولة، وأيضا الاحتياطات التى اتخذها المقتنون، وصل تداول المواد الأرشيفية إلى طريق مسدود. وباستثناء قلة قليلة من المتفائلين، لم يعد هناك من يثق بقدرة الدولة على القيام بدور الوصى على تراث الشعب (وبالذات التراث الحديث).
بعد أيام من أزمة بيع وثائق محفوظ، احترقت الآلاف من الكتب التى لا تقدر بثمن خلال مناوشات بين المتظاهرين والجيش بقرب المجمع العلمى المصرى الذى يعود تاريخه إلى القرن التاسع عشر. ويرجع الفضل فى انقاذ القليل من وثائق هذا المجمع إلى مواطنين عاديين.
نمر حاليا بفترة يتم فيها اعادة تعريف الهوية ، حيث تزايد اهتمام المثقفين والجمهور بعد الثورة بما كانت عليه مصر فى الماضى وما يمكن أن تكون عليه فى المستقبل. لذا لا يصح أن نستمر فى النظر إلى التراث الثقافى والتاريخى لمصر وكأنه أداة لتحسين صورة الحاكم إو لتنظيم عروض أثرية “تخطف الأبصار" حول العالم. التراث المصرى يمكنه أن يصبح عنصرا هاما فى العملية الثورية. وبينما يحتدم الصراع فى البرلمان حول هوية مصر ما بعد مبارك، فإن الباحثين المستقلين يجب أن يستمروا فى عملهم الذى زادت أهميته عن أى وقت مضى، وعليهم أن يطرحوا الأسئلة حول الدولة الشمولية وسيطرتها على كتابة التاريخ.
لو كان لمصر بارقة من أمل فى التحول إلى دولة غير شمولية، فإن على الدولة أن تتخلى عن محاولتها للسيطرة على “الثقافة.” لا يصح أن تستمر سلطات الأمن القومى فى التدخل فى أمور “الأدب" و “التاريخ" و “الفن”. ولا يصح أن يتهم بالهرطقة كل من يبحث فى قضايا التاريخ المصرى خارج أطر النعرة القومية. ومن الأفضل بالنسبة للمثقفين المستقلين ومن يحذو حذوهم أن يتباعدوا عن الدولة بدلا من أن يتقربوا منها.
التراث المصرى يخص المصريين جميعا، ولو كنا نريد أن نستفيد منه على النحو الصحيح فى فترة ما بعد الثورة، فمن اللازم أن نشجع “المصريين العاديين،" أى أولئك الذين كانوا يسعون دائما إلى خلق مؤسسات مستقلة عن وزارات الثقافة والتعليم، للحفاظ عليه وتفسيره واستلهامه. هذا هو الطريق الوحيد الذى يمكننا من تقييم المائتى عام السابقة من الإنتاج التاريخى والفنى. وهو طريق يتطلب كسر احتكار الدولة فى هذا الصدد.