Cairo, like many cities across the globe, underwent a significant process of urban transformation in the mid-19th century. At the core of these transformations, which can be traced in cities from Latin America, Europe, and Asia, are sewage systems, street lighting, and drinking water systems. Most of these major infrastructural changes happen below street level, which explains why commentators on the 19th century often look up at what is visible, buildings, and rarely look below their feet. Also important to note that contrary to the dual city narrative 19th century infrastructural changes were implemented in both new and old parts of the city, with varying difficulty and speed for obvious reasons. Cairo has fallen victim to urban history that has elided the complexity of the city’s urban transformation during that time. I have already argued before that Paris was never along the Nile. On a recent trip to Paris I walked down the uniform apartment blocks of Haussmann’s Paris and stayed in one such building where behind the homogeneous facades are often small apartments reached by rickety small wooden stairs. Cairo’s 19th century (and early twentieth century) apartments were often dismissed as hastily-built Parisian simulacra in analysis obsessed by reductive East/West dichotomies and which privilege the eye. A closer investigation of Cairo’s “Parisian” architecture beyond reducing architectural history to facade reading, reveals a different set of socio-economic constructs that produced these buildings.
The focus on the above-mentioned aspect of 19th century urban development in Cairo has kept the major changes of that era in the footnotes of the official narrative. Today, as the city is desperately in need of comprehensive urban transformation and upgrading it is important to highlight the less visible but major projects carried out 150 years ago around the reign of Ismail that continue to shape the city today in ways more fundamental than mere aesthetics. Here are 7 major 19th century projects that reshaped Cairo:
1. Stabilizing the Nile Banks: The Nile in Cairo shifted with season which made the prospect of urbanization Nile-side a difficult one. Stabilizing the banks of the river, completed by 1865 and filling the adjacent areas that previously flooded made urban development possible and added riverside properties to the city’s real estate. However before the prospect of real estate the first large Nile-side building erected along the newly stabilized river were the new barracks of the Egyptian army (1865-68) known as Qasr el Nil. Tahrir Square would have been underwater if it wasn’t for this major infrastructural project. Qasr el Nil Bridge was also erected following the stabilization of the river and was opened in 1871.
2. The Northern boundaries: The areas north of historic Cairo near the recently built train station (1854) consisted of small hills which were flattened and and used in the draining and filling of the city’s lakes further south. Near by there were fields of radish فجل which were removed to make way for a new neighborhood named Faggala فجالة and Sakakini further north. A square was planned fronting the train station as the city’s northern entrance and Shubra street (tree-lined and extending north to Muhammad Ali’s Shubra palace) was connected to this area directly.
3. Abdeen Area: To the west of the old city was a small lake fronted by the estate of Abdeen Bek. The area was surrounded by marches to the west and slums to the east. The estate became the location for a new royal palace (moving the seat of power from the citadel down to the level of the city) and the new palace was built in 1863. The lake and marches were filled and a city square and new streets extending from the new palace were planned. The neighborhood of Abdeen was born.
4. Azbakiyya: Another area that was radically transformed was the posh district of Azbakiyya which overlooked a lake. The lake was filled and transformed into a garden during the rule of Muhammad Ali and the garden was redesigned again during the rule of Khedive Ismail. The transformation of Azbakiyya included the creation of several small public squares such as Khazindar and Attaba as well as Opera Square. The famed Cairo Opera House (1869) was built along side the public garden and several hotels were erected on the west side of the garden which was a linking space between the edge of the old city and the westward urban expansion that became downtown.
5. The East Bank: Major avenues were planned to crisscross the city connecting the western edge of the old city to the Nile. Such new streets were Emmaddidin, Muhammad Farid Bek, Almalika (Ramsis), Merit Pasha and Qasr el Aini. Ismailia Square (Tahrir) began to take shape by the 1870s as well as surrounding squares such as Bab el Louk and neighborhoods such as Mounira, Dawaween. These newly planned areas were paved with water systems underground, sidewalks and trees above and street lighting installed before building lots were developed by individuals.
6. The West Bank: Also following the stabilization of the river the west bank, which was raised two meters above water level, was available for development. Although it largely remained agricultural several new projects were implemented: The Orman Botanical Garden and the Giza Zoo as well as the Pyramids Road. A new Giza palace was erected as well.
7. Gezira Island: Known today as Zamalek, the island was consolidated out of several smaller islands and was largely left as a retreat with a palace and garden erected to host the French queen during her visit (today’s Marriott). With the exception of the palace the island was meant as an escape, a natural landscape dotted with wooden shacks/huts which gave the island its name. Eventually parts of the landscape were formalized into gardens and later streets were implemented such as Gezira St., Gabalaya St., Nile St., and eventually Foad St. (26th July).
These major projects were initiated during the reign of Khedive Ismail, however earlier projects took place during his grandfather’s rule such as the opening of several streets through the old city and the legislation of Tanzim laws for urban management. Also other major transformation took place later in the 19th century such as the filling of Khalij al-Masri (1890s) and the creation of Cairo’s first tram line in its route on what became today’s Port Said St.
[the arcades in Muhammad Ali Street.]
By Joseph Ben Prestel
For many passers-by, the Southeastern edge of Ataba Square might be marked by the hustle and bustle from a myriad of shops selling electronic gear, household amenities, and other essential goods for everyday life. In this neighborhood with buildings packed densely next to each other, the view up Muhammad Ali Street is surprising. As if unimpressed by its crowded surroundings, the street runs for about two kilometers straight towards Sultan Hassan Mosque. Looking up from Ataba Square, the dome of the mosque is visible at the very end of the thoroughfare. This perspective bears witness to the building initiative that Cairo went through in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Khedive Ismail (1863-1879) ruled the country. Yet Muhammad Ali Street dodges the “Paris on the Nile” narrative often used by travelogues and guidebooks to describe this period. Instead, the street carries a multiplicity of meanings that have been attributed to the urban environment over time. Allusions to it associate the street with a range of topics, from nineteenth-century Paris to Egyptian folk music.
Construction of Muhammad Ali Street was completed between 1872 and 1874. The street was part of the large urban renewal program under Khedive Ismail, whose aim was described by his minister of public works Ali Mubarak as making “the streets and buildings ready for the expansion of trade, to align the cityscape to the prosperity of the country.” Whereas Ismail’s building spree focused mainly on new quarters of the city, such as Ismailiyya or the area around Bab al-Luq, Muhammad Ali Street was one of the few interventions in the old part of town. The street was designed to provide an important shortcut between the eastern and western parts of the city. Prior to its construction, Cairenes had to cross at least five other neighborhoods in order to get from the then thriving quarter of Azbakiyya to the citadel. After 1874, Muhammad Ali Street offered a direct connection between these two centers of urban life. With a width of twenty meters, the new thoroughfare meant a tremendous intrusion in an area in which streets had up until then not been wider than six meters. The project required cutting through two kilometers of densely populated neighborhoods. According to some statistics, the construction of the street resulted in the destruction or partial destruction of about 700 buildings. A few structures on Muhammad Ali Street still show traces of this process today. In order to make way for the new street, the front part of the fourteenth-century mosque of Qusun was destroyed. The remainder of the building, however, was left intact and only a new facade was added, leaving behind evidence of the demolition process. With its unique view, its arcades, and a boulevard-like width, Muhammad Ali Street represents to some scholars a prime example of the kind of intervention that urban historians associate with late-nineteenth-century Paris. To them, the street is merely a Cairo version of the famed Rue de Rivoli in the French capital. Often, such accounts deplore the present state of the street, implying that Muhammad Ali Street lost some of the grandeur it held in the past.
[Screen shot from the movie Sharia al-Hubb (1958), in which the street and its arcades are depicted.]
Yet the symbolism of the street was never reduced to a seemingly apparent allusion to Paris. Instead of turning into a mark of French-inspired urbanism, Muhammad Ali Street soon acquired an ambiguous reputation as a center of musical entertainment. As early as 1880, police reports warned that it attracted dubious women from the entertainment industry. At the same time, brass bands such as the Hasballah group started settling on the street. By the middle of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali Street was well known as a center of Egyptian folk music. The street appeared in numerous cultural productions, such as the 1945 movie Sharia Muhammad Ali. In the 1958 blockbuster Sharia al-Hubb starring Abd al-Halim Hafez and Nagwa Fouad, the street serves as the backdrop for a story of social ascent. Through his musical talent, the poor Abd al-Munem finds his way to love and fortune, ultimately moving from Muhammad Ali Street to the opera house. The movie, which opens with a long shot of the street, exhibits Muhammad Ali Street as the place where musicians live, gather, and are contacted by potential customers, such as the hyped-up foreigner “Christo” who hires Abd al-Munem to teach music at a club for young ladies. According to studies on female dancers in Egypt, the entertainment industry on the street began to decline in the 1970s. Yet scholars were still referring to the street as a center of folk music into the 1990s. In his Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt, Walter Armbrust wrote: “Muhammad ‘Ali Street is famed as the street of traditional entertainers. Even today, when most of the entertainment business has moved to Pyramids Road in Giza, or other newer glitzier neighborhoods, Muhammad ‘Ali Street is thick with shops selling lutes and other musical instruments.” The number of music shops might have dwindled further since the publication of Armbrust’s book in 1996, but the name still conjures images of Egyptian folk music. Three years ago, a Cairo-based TV station produced a program teaching belly dance under the title Sharia Muhammad Ali.
It might be a telling irony that this street, which some historians like to refer to as Cairo’s Rue de Rivoli, is popularly known as a center of Egyptian folk music, thus linking characters as diverse as Eugène Haussmann and Nagwa Fouad. To the superficial observer, none of these references are immediately apparent. Today, Muhammad Ali Street is packed with furniture shops. Rather than recalling lutes or nineteenth-century Paris, it appears more like a place where you would buy an armchair along with a three-piece suit. Looking at Muhammad Ali Street from different historical perspectives illustrates that there is more to the streets of Cairo than meets the eye. Instead of one essential meaning, its history reflects the multi-layered symbolism attached to streets, squares, or buildings. Despite the intentions of political groups or planners, the meaning of these urban spaces can hardly be fixed.
by Aaron Jakes
Sometime in the middle of last March, while I was still living in Cairo, I was working at my desk when I heard a noisy argument outside my window. The street in Zamalek where I lived was home to about a dozen little shops, along with a small café and a cafeteria, and I had long since learned to tune out the shouts and clamors that punctuated the busy working day outside. So I didn’t take much notice of the altercation or the more subdued commotion that followed for the next couple hours. When I headed downstairs and into the street a bit later, I was immediately struck by the brightness of the afternoon sun and by a queasy feeling that something was out of place. The cause of these unexpected sensations, I quickly discovered, lay before me in a pile of logs, neatly stacked next to the curb. Those logs were all that remained of the trees that had formerly lined the entire block.
Two of the neighborhood shopkeepers were standing together across the street, so I wandered over to ask what had happened. Earlier that morning, they explained, a large branch had fallen from one of the trees, damaging the hood and windshield of a car parked on the street. When the car’s owner arrived a short while later, he flew into a rage and demanded compensation from the proprietors of the shops nearest to the car, alleging they were at fault for failing to care for the tree. They argued back and eventually resolved the dispute by paying him a token sum, but once the disgruntled car owner had driven off, they gathered a meeting of the other shopkeepers. The trees, my friends explained, were the property and responsibility of the Governorate of Cairo, but it had been years since the city government had sent anyone to clean or prune them. It had therefore fallen to the small commercial establishments on the street to fill the void of basic municipal services, even in this most affluent neighborhood of the city. The shop owners had loved the trees and enjoyed the canopy of shade they provided. But the day’s events had convinced them that the cost and liability of upkeep were more than they could bear. With some reluctance and an awareness that they were breaking the law, they cut them all down.
I have found myself thinking a great deal about those trees in the months leading up to this week’s referendum on the fiercely contested final draft of Egypt’s new constitution. Since the drafting began, debates have raged over the religious identity this document assigns to the state, over the privileged status it reserves for the military, over the rights it does and does not protect, and over the balance of powers it describes between the different branches of the national government. But despite the breadth and intensity of the struggle over both the text of the draft and the process by which it was written, all sides have overwhelmingly focused on the central state that governs the nation as a whole.
In this context, there has been very little discussion of the seemingly mundane articles dealing with provincial and local government. But as my colleague Mohamed Elshahed recently argued in a fiery posting on his blog Cairobserver, these articles fail to address in any adequate fashion the problems of urban and local governance that affect so many aspects of people’s everyday lives. The issues, of course, extend well beyond the erosion of basic services that led my neighbors to take matters into their own hands and chop down some trees on our block. Indeed, as Elshahed and others have argued, the highly centralized and profoundly undemocratic structures of governance below the national level have played a central role in driving forward a process of rapid, haphazard, and devastatingly uneven urbanization across the country. The corruption, incompetence, and institutionalized impunity of provincial governors and local officials, moreover, played a crucial role in the pillaging of public resources and the unplanned allocation of land in both urban and rural areas under the Mubarak regime.
Throughout Egypt are hundreds of shrines belonging to historic figures many of whom have become destinations for visitation and pilgrimage by various religious orders. Some of these “saints” have become the loci of the cities where they are located as in the case with Sidi Badawi in Tanta, Sidi Mursi Abul Abbas in Alexandria or Sayeda Zainab in Cairo. This means that over the centuries the shrines developed into significant landmarks with impressive mosque structures that became iconic in each of those cities. Cairo is dotted with many tombs and mausoleums belonging to various historic religious figures, however Sayeda Zainab is arguably Cairo’s patron saint. The grand daughter of the prophet Mohamed is known to have been buried at the spot where the modern-day mosque stands and for the past millennium it has been a site of pilgrimage for Egyptians and Muslims in general. To mark this venerable saint, various rulers of Egypt have built, rebuilt, renovated, expanded mosques at this location.
Architecturally, the most notable mosques built in honor of Sayeda Zainab started during Ottoman rule of Egypt when in 1549 Ali Pasha al-Wazir built a notable structure which was rebuilt in 1761 and in 1798 a renovation was interrupted by the French invasion of Egypt. The interrupted renovation was later completed during Mohamed Ali’s rule and ever since the ruling dynastic family of Mohamed Ali paid particular attention to Sayeda Zainab along with other key mosques around Cairo and Egypt. Another renovation took place in 1859 during which two additional shrines were added for Sheikhs Atrees and Aydroos (عتريس و عيدروس). The current structure however is a modern one dating to 1884 and was ordered by Khedive Tawfiq.
Important to remember that Khedive Tawfiq was the ruler of Egypt who also founded the Comite de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe for the documentation and preservation of Cairo’s historic monuments (mainly Coptic and Islamic). The new mosque of Sayeda Zainab was built during the same time as several key mosques of historic and religious significance around the city particularly those belonging to saints such as the mosque al-Hussein. The architecture of both Al-Hussein and Sayeda Zainab is a late 19th century academic rendition of Mamluk architecture. It must be noted that this also coincides with the construction of Egypt’s final grand mosque, Al-Rifai which was also designed in a neo-Mamluk style infused with Italian and other eclectic details (a reflection of the diverse team of architects and designers working as part of the Comite). The re-appropriation of the Mamluk style was an aesthetic reflection of how members of the royal family saw themselves vis-a-vis their Ottoman heritage and the Egyptian context which they ruled.
In 1898 when the Khalig al-Masri was filled (the water channel that ran through the old town where today’s Port Said Street is now located) the square in front of the mosque was created and was named after the patron saint of Cairo. Since the mid-19th century, this part of Cairo was home to many important families and institutions such as the Ministry of Education and the first National Library. Ali Mubarak, the planner of Cairo’s 19th century urban expansion known today as “downtown” lived in the Sayeda Zainab district. Also famous 19th century Azhar scholar Mohamed Abdu lived here. The area was also home to working class families and it was where the 1919 revolution grew and the square outside the Sayeda Zainab mosque was a place of protest during those events. The area continues to be one of Cairo’s most vibrant working class districts. At the beginning of the 20th century the district and area surrounding the mosque and the square was home to nine cinemas nearly all of which have been out of business for over a decade.
The mosque was expanded once again during the reign of King Farouk and reopened in 1942. After it was damaged during the 1992 earthquake Sayeda Zainab underwent yet another renovation in 1999 costing 30 million pounds. The mosque is owned and managed by the ministry of religious endowments (Awqaf) and despite its rich history and architectural quality it is NOT a listed monument. Only 500 of Cairo’s Islamic buildings (numbered in the thousands) are listed by the ministry of antiquities (perhaps an indication of the serious problems of how that ministry is managed).
The mosque continues to be a focal point for this community and it is the site of the annual feast dedicated to Sayeda Zainab which celebrates her birth. The coffee shops around the square and the mosque were places where some of Egypt’s most notable writers and journalists met and exchanged ideas. This is a district with deep historical roots with a monument that is not only significant for this part of the city but for all of Cairo. If there is any serious political will to work with the community to develop this district around Sayeda Zainab there is a lot of potential to be realized.
The mosque is open and is fully functional. If you visit make sure to visit the silver shrine inside.
The author of Architecture for the Dead, Galila El Kadi’s new book on Cairo’s central area and its development since the 19th century is a much needed addition to the literature on the city. The bi-lingual book, in French and English, combines disciplinary approaches such as history, social history, urban geography, architectural history and urban morphology. The Cairo central area “is composed of the medieval city, the modern city established in the mid-19th century, and the new district extensions dating back to the middle of the past century, which have received activities migrating from the original sectors as well as recent innovative technological activities. The CCA (Cairo Central Area) is the product of fusion of diverse areas that were separate cities in the past but have become central districts of today’s metropolis.” (14)
The area covered in El Kadi’s book is what David Sims referred to as the formal/historic core. It includes 1000 year old streets as well as more recent development dating from the 1970s. Districts included in this core are: Boulaq, Azbakeya, Ismailia (downtown), Daher, Old Town (a large area with several historic districts known as the medieval city, known touristicly as “Islamic Cairo”), Mounira, Garden City, Roda, Zamalek, Doqqi, Giza, and Mohandessine.
[Limits of the Cairo Central Area, according to El Kadi, p.15]
The book is divided into three well illustrated chapters each looking at the central area of Cairo with a different set of tools. The first addresses Cairo’s centrality within the national and regional contexts. The second provides an analytical approach to the city’s anatomical development over two centuries with particular attention to issues of urban form, pattern, landmarks, distribution of functions, and evolution of residential areas. The final chapter zooms in on a neighborhood, a square and a street to reveal further details about the layers of the city and its anatomy. In this final chapter architectural typology takes a leading position as the scale of analysis shifts from the urban to accommodate the architectural scale. Questions pertaining to urban morphology and fabric string the three chapters together.
[Ramses Street, an architectural catalogue, p. 157]
The third chapter is particularly interesting. The author identifies parts of the urban anatomy then follows three approaches in analyzing such parts to “grasp these spaces in their material and intangible dimensions.” The first approach is historical and aims to “grasp the initial moment of the urban project’s conception and its evolution.” The second approach is morphological and it “inspects the elements of urban make-up and analyses the interrelations between the hierarchy of thoroughfares, the forms of land division and the constructions.” And the third approach is what the author calls “sensitive” which “reflects on perceptions, impressions and illustrates the memories linked to specific place and imparts a new meaning to it.”
Galila El Kadi’s Cairo is a much needed, well researched, clearly written, and richly illustrated addition to the literature on Cairo. The book makes some significant departures from previous works on Cairo by demarcating the Cairo Central Area as a unit of analysis rather the conventional approach of focusing on parts of this central area (downtown, or the medieval city) severed from their context. The book also provides a wealth of new information regarding urban transformation of various districts over time. For example the district of Garden City is rendered in four maps on page 228 which show the development of this zone from 1930 to 2006. Such maps, and diagrams in addition to photographs provide an easy to read wealth of information that shows change over time rather than the conventional snapshot view of a particular location during a particular time. This is a book about Cairo as a changing and moving city.
The book concludes by suggesting that a close reading of the city’s development over the past several decades reveals the resilience of the central area as a focus of the city despite decentralization plans by the government. Perhaps this study will attract the attention of policymakers, and consultants who have mislead previous governments that moving away from the center is a worthwhile endeavor. It is time to reconsider plans to escape Cairo and to focus development and regeneration plans back to the center where the spirit of Cairo lives on.
يكتب خالد فهمي في جريدة الشروق
الاحد 23 سبتمبر 2012
فى زيارة أخيرة لى لمدينة أمستردام استرعى انتباهى ميدان «دام» المسمى عليه المدينة. الميدان يعج بالمارة من سائحين وسكان المدينة الأصليين، منهم من يعبر الميدان على عجل ومنهم من يقصد الميدان لذاته، فالميدان تحيط به المقاهى والمطاعم، وتوجد بأطرافه محال تجارية تجذب الزبائن على أنواعها. هناك أيضا كنيسة ضخمة يعود تاريخ إنشائها إلى القرن الخامس عشر.
ولكن ما يجذب الناس للميدان ليست تلك الأنشطة الدينية أو التجارية بل الميدان نفسه، فهو مكان للتلاقى وللجلوس، وهو أيضا مكان للفرجة والفسحة، فهناك الحواة الذين يجذبون المارة بألعابهم، وهناك الموسيقيون الذين يعزفون يرقصون، وهناك من يجلس على الدكة يقرأ كتابا، وآخر يتحادث مع محببوته، وثالث شارد الذهن يتفرج على الحياة التى تدب حوله فى الميدان.
قبل تلك الزيارة بأسبوعين كنت فى لندن فى زيارة أخرى قصيرة، ووجدتنى مشدوها بميدان آخر له نفس الشهرة العالمية أو أكثر. فى ميدان «الطرف الأغر» فى العاصمة البريطانية لفت نظرى شىء لم ألحظه من قبل. فالميدان كما هو معروف يتوسطه عمود عملاق يحتل قمته تمثال للورد نلسون بطل المعركة البحرية التى سمى الميدان على اسمها (1805). وفى الأركان الأربعة للميدان توجد أربع قواعد تماثيل، ثلاثة منها لقادة سياسيين وعسكريين (الملك جورج الرابع، وسير تشارلز نابيير وسير هنرى هافيلوك، وكلاهما قادة عسكريون فى الهند)، أما الرابعة فكانت لتمثال طفل صغير على حصان خشب! كانت تلك أول مرة ألاحظ فيها هذا التمثال، وبدا لى منظر الطفل المرح المعتلى صهوة جواده الخشبى غريبا على الطابع الرصين الذى تضفيه على الميدان التماثيل العسكرية. وبقراءة الشرح المكتوب على قاعدة التمثال تبين لى أن هذه المواجهة بين رصانة القادة العسكريين ومرح الطفل هى القصد وراء هذا التمثال، فقد كتب الفنانان اللذان صمما التمثال (أحدهما دانمركى والآخر نرويجى) أنهما قصدا «رفع الطفل لمصاف الأبطال التاريخيين، بالرغم من افتقاره لأفعال بطولية. هناك فقط مستقبل يحلم به. رأينا أن نقيم نصبا تذكاريا لا يحتفى بقيم الانتصار أو الهزيمة، بل يمجد معارك الحياة اليومية».
لدى عودتى للفندق الذى كنت أقيم فيه أخذت أبحث عن تاريخ هذا التمثال وتبين لى أنه حديث العهد جدا، وأن قاعدة التمثال الرابعة تلك كانت دوما خالية نظرا للاختلاف حول التمثال الأجدر بوضعه عليها. ولكن فى عام 1998 استقر الحال على أن تستخدم القاعدة الرابعة لعرض أعمال فنية مؤقتة يجرى استبدالها من حين لآخر. وكان القوة المحركة وراء هذا القرار المبتكر عمدة لندن المنتخب الذى شكل لجنة من بعض الشخصيات العامة والفنانين والموظفين العموميين لاختيار الأعمال الفائزة.
خطرت فى بالى هذه الأفكار والذكريات عندما قرأت صفحة رئيس الوزراء، هشام قنديل، على الفيس بوك التى دعا فيها المواطنين لتقديم اقتراحات عن الأسلوب الأمثل لإعادة تخطيط ميدان التحرير. أنا لست مولعا بعقد المقارنات بيننا وبين «أوروبا والدول المتقدمة» لتوضيح مدى التخلف الذى نعانى منه، ذلك لأنى كنت دوما أستطيع أن أعقد مقارنة أفضل مع ماضينا نحن، وليس حاضر دول أخرى، لتوضيح هذا التخلف. إلا أنه عند عودتى لتاريخ ميدان التحرير، بل لتاريخ مدننا بشكل عام، لم أستطع العثور على لحظة تاريخية يمكن أن استخدمها كمثال يحتذى.
المثالان اللذان ذكرتهما هما لمدينتين ملك سكانهما، مدينتين يشعر فيهما المواطن بإنسانيته ويستمتع فيهما بحريته ويمارس فيهما حقه فى الاجتماع فى المكان العام مع أصدقائه أو زملائه أو أحبائه، بل يستطيع أن يشارك، كمواطن، فى اتخاذ قرارات تتعلق بشكل المدينة وتخطيطها وتصميمها. أمستردام ولندن، وغيرهما من المدن العالمية، لديهما أماكن عامة تمارس فيها الديمقراطية ليس فقط بتوزيع المنشورات أو بإلقاء الخطب أو بتجميع التوقيعات على العرائض، بل بإتاحة الفرصة لكل المواطنين أن يجتمعوا فى نفس المكان على قدم المساواة، عكس أماكن العبادة التى تستبعد الأغيار وعكس المولات التجارية التى لا تحبذ الفقراء.
أما مدننا، فإضافة إلى تميزها بالقبح وفساد الإدارة وسوء توزيع الدخل، فإنها تتميز بأن أهم مثال للتخطيط فيها هو ذلك التخطيط الذى يجعل من تلاقى المواطنين فيها، كمواطنين متساوين، أمرا مستحيلا. والميادين العامة خير شاهد على ذلك، فميدان رمسيس أو ميدان التحرير، مثلا، لا توجد بهما أشجار يستظل بها المارة، ولا توجد فيهما دكك يجلس عليها الناس للراحة أو للفرجة أو للقراءة أو للتحادث أو حتى للشرود السرحان، وأعمال «التطوير» التى تدخل الميدان من حين لآخر تقتصر على تبليط الأرصفة ببلاط لامع زلق يصعب السير عليه، وبوضع أسوار قبيحة لا تعزل فقط المارة عن السيارات بل تمنع الناس من ملاقاة بعضهم بعضا. أنا لا يساورنى أدنى شك فى أن الغرض الرئيسى وراء تصميم مياديننا هو منع الناس من التقابل والتحادث، وهو ما تطلق عليه السلطات لفظ «التجمهر»، وهو لفظ يوحى طبعا بالخطر وبالخروج على القانون.
من هنا تنبع أهمية ما قمنا به فى ثورتنا السلمية، فقد نزلنا لميادين التحرير، ووزعنا العرائض وألقينا الخطب وهتفنا بسقوط النظام وطالبنا بزوال العسكر. ولكن الأهم من هذا وذاك أننا قابلنا بعضنا بعضا وتحدثنا مع بعض وتعرفنا على بعض. وكان من نتاج ذلك أن احترمنا بعضا وإن اختلفنا فى الرأى، بل منا من بدأ صداقات وعلاقات تعدت حدود الأصل والدين والطبقة الاجتماعية. كانت ميادين التحرير تعج إذن بأسمى الممارسات الديمقراطية، وبذلك أثبتنا، لمن كان ينقصه الإثبات، أننا جديرون بالديقراطية، قادرون عليها.
وتزداد أهمية الثمانية عشر يوما فى التحرير إذا عرفنا أن الميدان ذاته، بمكانه وزمانه، دليل على صراعنا الأبدى مع القهر والسلطة. فالكعكة الحجرية الشهيرة كانت فى الأصل ساحة تدريب جيش الاحتلال البريطانى، وكانت ثكنات الجيش تحتل الحيز الذى يحتله غربا الآن مبنى جامعة الدول العربية وفندق النيل ومقر الحزب الوطنى المحروق. فإذا أضفنا إلى الجنوب مبنى المجمع الضخم الذى يرمز لبيروقراطية الدولة المصرية العتيدة، وإلى الشمال المتحف المصرى المقام لخدمة السواح الخواجات وليس لمتعة سكان المدينة وتثقيفهم، فيبقى الطرف الشرقى وهو ذلك الخط من البنايات السكنية الذى كان حتى الثلاثينيات من القرن العشرين هو حدود تمدد المدينة غربا، والذى يمكن أن يعتبر بالتالى خط التماس مع السلطة ومؤسساتها (المتحف، المجمع، وزارة الخارجة، جامعة الدول، الاتحاد الاشتراكى/الحزب الوطنى).
ميدان التحرير، إذن، كان طوال تاريخه الحديث أرض فضاء، غير مخططة، نظرت إليه السلطات بريبة وحذر، واعتنت به فقط كتقاطع ضخم للسيارات، واجتهدت لمنع الناس من «التجمهر» فيه، أما الشعب فقد حارب دوما ليجعل من البلد بلده، ومن المدينة مدينته، ومن الميدان ميدانه، وفى الثمانية عشر يوما المجيدة حقق بالفعل انتصارا مدويا فى حربه تلك.
الشعب ينتظر الآن من حكومته المنتخبة أن تترجم انتصاراته فى التحرير لحقائق جديدة تعكس هذه الانتصارات. الشعب لا يريد إقامة نصب تذكارية تدعى تمجيد الثورة ولكنها فى الحقيقة تطوى صفحتها. الشعب يريد أن يرى التحرير ميدانا مملوءا بالناس على اختلاف مآربهم ومشاربهم، ميدانا مفتوحا أمام مقابلة الأصدقاء ومخاطبة الغرباء، ميدانا تمارس فيه أبسط، وأعمق، الممارسات الدمقراطية؛ تلاقى أبناء الوطن الواحد فى المكان العام على قدم المساوة. فإذا لبى هشام قنديل هذا النداء فسيكون قد انتصر فعلا للثورة ولمبادئها السامية.
الصورة من مجلة زاوية
In 2009 the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale in Cairo published a two-volume book by Istvan Ormos on the life and career of an important figure in modern Egyptian history and Cairo’s history: Max Herz Pasha.
Max Herz “was born in Hungary, studied in Hungary and Austria, spent his active life in Egypt, died in Switzerland and is buried in Italy.” Ormos’ extensive research pieces together the life and career of this exceptional personality so central to the study, conservation and documentation of Islamic and Coptic architectural heritage in Cairo following his first visit to Egypt in 1880.
In 1881 Herz was employed as a draftsman by Franz Pasha, the director of the Technical Office of the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Waqf) and was later appointed as engineer. Herz subsequently held several positions including director of the Arab Museum in 1892 (Islamic Art Museum) and in 1901 became director of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe. Throughout his career in Egyptian civil service Herz developed a reputation that led him to being honored with the title Bey in 1895 and later Pasha in 1912.
From the middle of the 19th century Cairo was undergoing mass modernization efforts and the Ministry of Public Works sought to improve the hygiene and safety of the city. In some cases this called for the demolition of historic buildings and monuments because they were structurally unstable (and therefore posed a safety threat to communities). What is important to remember here, and this is something the author explains at some length, is that the decision to demolish buildings that posed a threat even if they are several hundred years old, reveals a different conception of urban memory. The concept of “monument,” the author tells us, was a recent European conception where buildings were seen as carriers of memory. There are ancient monuments in Egypt that belong to past civilization and which were not part of daily life in the 19th century, such as the ancient temples or pyramids for example. However, in Cairo antique buildings, from the medieval period for example, were lived and used in daily life, unlike monuments of a more distant past. Therefore the concept of preserving buildings that may be posing a threat or are no longer fulfilling their functions, or are in the way of modernizing urban projects was relatively new. Hence the significance of Herz Pasha in saving many of Cairo’s ailing historic buildings by restoring and rebuilding, in addition to documenting and studying buildings that would have been erased by turn-of-the-century modernizers (as happened in many European capitals earlier).
[Left: The central court of the Maridani mosque after restoration; Right: same space before restoration]
[Left: Aqmar mosque facade in 1901; Right: Aqmar mosque facade after restoration]
Take for example the minarets above the famous Bab Zuwayla. What we see today is in fact the product of restoration and rebuilding supervised by Herz Pasha. Until the 1890s the tops of the minarets had been destroyed. Another example is the Aqmar Mosque (1125) which was reconstructed with particular attention given to the facade, which was later replicated in the Coptic Museum. St Mercury’s church (known as Abu l-Sayfayn), St Sergius (Abu Sarga), St Barbara (Sitt Burbara) are among the Coptic monuments restored under his supervision. The Maridani Mosque (1340) was in ruins before the Comité team arrived and rebuilt it. Sultan Barquq complex, Al-Azhar and many other mosques around the city were restored under the helm of Herz but his most significant work was on the Sultan Hassan Mosque (1356), Cairo’s iconic Mamluk monument for which he produced a monograph in 1899. Furthermore, many buildings lining the historic and now popular Muiz Street were missing domes, minarets or were near collapse due to the rise of the water table under that part of the city, however what we see today is in fact largely due to the works of restoration carried out a century ago by Max Herz. In addition to works of restoration Herz also designed several buildings and completed the architectural design of the Refai Mosque, Cairo’s royal mosque, after work had been interrupted for several decades and its original architect, Husayn Pasha Fahmi, had died.
[Left: Bab Zuwayla with minarets of al-Muayyad mosque in 1892. Sometime between 1860 and 1890 the tops of the minarets collapsed. Restoration of the mosque had already begun long before Herz appeared on the scene; Right: minarets after rebuilding as seen in a 1920s postcard. The minarets were rebuilt while Herz was in charge of the project.]
[Left: Rifai mosque before the resumption of work in 1906, Right: Rifai mosque in the 1930s with new minarets and dome designed by Herz.]
Herz was spending the summer of 1914 in Europe when WWI broke out. The British occupying forces in Egypt expelled all officials of Austro-Hungarian origins. Upon his return to Egypt in October 1914, British officials forced him into retirement and demanded he leave the country. The European war had direct repercussions on Egypt as the British interfered directly into Egyptian affairs and even deposed Egypt’s ruler Abbas Helmi who was in Istanbul on official visit and was not allowed to return. Herz Pasha left Egypt before the end of 1914, his family awaited him in Italy but in 1919 he went to Zürich for treatment and died during an operation. He is buried in Milan at the Cimitero Monumentale.
Arguably after Herz Pasha’s sudden departure the Comité and by extension the preservation of Islamic and Coptic monuments, which as a field developed almost entirely under his helm, were no longer the same. Although the Comité was not disbanded immediately, its budget was severely cut and no head architect comparable to Herz Pasha’s expertise headed the organization thereafter until it was officially inactive in 1953.
[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.
Al-Aqmar Mosque on Muizz Street is a small but not to be missed building. The original building dates from 1125 making it among Cairo’s oldest mosques. The building is notable for its symmetrical facade with the sunburst arch motif above the threshold at the center. It is also a notable example of the negotiation found in many of Cairo’s early mosques where the building negotiates the direction of the street, its immediate and worldly context, and the direction of Mecca, distant sacred context. The center of the mosque is a small 10-meter open court surrounded by roofed and semi-interior space.
[Aqmar Mosque plan, via archnet.org]
However what we are looking at is not a building from 1125, rather this is a 19th century reconstruction of the original twelfth century edifice. The Comite, founded in 1881, and tasked with the conservation and documentation of Egypt’s “Arab heritage” undertook this reconstruction project soon after it was formed. The mosque had been heavily damaged and what was left by the time the Comite members arrived on the site was a pile of stone, brick and timber with some parts still standing but others, such as the facade were entirely destroyed.
To rebuild this facade the members of the Comite had to closely study the site, document and collect fragments as well as study the building’s physical and historical contexts. This is a scientific engagement with the past. Based on these studies the facade (and the building) was reconstructed using new but similar technique to the original (brick walls and stone facing).
Of course the Comite which was composed of a diverse group of Europeans and Egyptians, had its politics and interests in the past. The Comite was formed by a decree from Khedive Tawfiq in an effort to piece together Egypt’s past, document it and narrate it. The Mamluke buildings received particular attention and the royal family adopted neo-Mamluke for many of its new buildings built at the end of the 19th century. In fact, these categories of “Mamluk” and “Fatimid” were created as part of this effort to categorize the past.
What interests me here for the purpose of this post is how this particular facade is replicated in the building of a new edifice across Cairo only a short time later. Al-Aqmar facade was rebuilt once more, this time in a new location, with minor decorative adjustments, and using all new materials in the construction of Cairo’s Coptic Museum in 1910.
The museum was founded by Markus Simaika after the approval of the Coptic Church. This was one of four museums established from the end of the 19th century and early 20th which were aimed to categorize, collect and display Egyptian history into four discrete eras: Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic. The flaw of these categories is that same as the flaw with the architectural categories created for different eras of Islamic art, things simply aren’t that neatly discrete and I think Egypt particularly with its diverse cultural history presents a serious challenge to such constructions of historical eras which are supposed to be associated with aesthetics, architecture and art of their own and not shared by others.
In any case, the Coptic Museum was the first attempt to collect and gather fragments from Coptic history from throughout the country and assemble them for public access in one institution in Cairo. The replica of the Aqmar facade was done by Italian architect Achille Patricolo (Italian, Catholic), who worked under the supervision of Max Hertz Pasha (a Hungarian Jew who was in charge of the Comite- tasked with the conservation of Islamic architecture). There hasn’t been research done on why exactly should the Coptic Museum have a facade that is a reproduction of a Fatimid mosque (from the early days of Islam in Egypt). Although some readings of this design choice by Simaika and the architects have suggested that it was a stylistic choice by Simaika to counter the Comite’s focus on Mamluk and its revival and adaptation by members of the royal family. There is no evidence to support this claim. I would like to offer a less sectarian reading of the choice to reproduce the facade.
As I tried to allude to above the team behind the building of the Coptic Museum was very diverse, nationally and religiously. The same goes for the Comite in general. I argue that what was celebrated in the Coptic Museum with Simaika’s approval of replicating the facade of Aqmar mosque was not the facade’s Fatimid Islamic identity but rather it was the facade as a symbol of the triumph of modern social sciences, the tools which were necessary to turn a pile of stone into a recognizable and readable document of the past. Making the past readable was in fact the mission of creating a museum of Coptic history. I think the choice to replicate the facade was about its reconstruction’s significance at the turn of the twentieth century rather than having to do with the original facade’s significance as Fatimid in the twelfth century.
By 1924 some of the features of Aqmar were separated and elaborated upon by architects creating new buildings for different functions. Here is the sunburst arch (from above the portal in Aqmar mosque) altered, and placed above the portal of the Royal Automobile Club in downtown on Qasr el Nil Street. This time Aqmar’s facade has become a source of inspiration for an inventive attempt at creating a Cairo specific deco facade for a building with no religious association what so ever. This hasn’t stopped the architect from inserting the name of god in the center of the sunburst motif. The Automobile Club was a social club for the elite where the best brandy in town was served.
[photography studio Khalil, Palestine 1890]
Cairo doesn’t have one, but it should. Egypt is probably one of the most photographed countries from the advent of photography. Like all of Egyptian modern heritage, photography has been neglected by the regime and not taken seriously as a significant medium for recording Egyptian history and heritage. The National Archive has dismal photographic collections and the best facilities in Cairo are in the Rare Books Library at AUC. However, a country like Egypt needs a massive institution (something like the International Center for Photography) with access to resources to collect, organize, display, and make available to researchers Egypt’s photographic memory.
Photography wasn’t always neglected, in fact until the 1960s there was an active community of photographers ranging from studio, journalistic, documentary to experimental and the state hired many of them regularly for official shoots and for the culture ministry’s publications. Before 1952 the royal family took an interest in photography and photographers were on hand to document family life and official occasions. In addition the emergence of photography in the popular press, beginning of 20th century, transformed Egyptian popular culture dramatically and made pictures and images accessible and consumable by the general public which intern took interest in photography.
When I took a “history of photography” course in New York a few years ago I learned that photography from the Middle East in general is unknown, dismissed or ignored and doesn’t figure into the canon of the history of photography. I have written about a similar experience with the history of modern architecture. Modern development, or the trappings of modernity as experience by the people of the region, are seen by the west as derivative and therefore unimportant. Unfortunately since 1970 Egypt has been ruled by an elite class that had adapted those narratives and saw no need to research and to construct alternative narratives. Collections in scattered archives remained scattered, were lost, sold and forgotten. The profession eventually declined and only few collections such as the photographs of Van Leo were saved (at the AUC archive). While the Arab Image Foundation has continued to attempt to salvage as much of the region’s photographic history as possible. Since the 1990s the state under Mubarak even forbid photography in public places using the “threat to security” logic which drove much of the regime’s policies.
[street scene in downtown Alexandria, 1920]
[pyramids during the flood season, 1920]
[Cairo opera soon after construction, 1869]
[student protests in Cairo, 1936]
However since last year’s uprising began there have been two major changes: 1) photography made a come back not only as an artistic endeavor but as a tool of popular journalism and pictures have flooded the internet showing everyday life, protests, political events and artistic experimentation by professional and amateur photographers. 2) the last several months have witnessed the appearance of multiple groups on Facebook that share daily tens of images from Egypt’s and the region’s photographic memory. These groups have been immensely popular with membership in the thousands. The group “The people of Egypt long ago” or اهل مصر زمان is nearing 100,000 followers. This means that there is a surge in the production of images and photographs, which are documents of the contemporary moment, but also a surge in the sharing and consumption of images from the past.
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.
Excerpt from Ahram Online:
Amid the endless crowds in Abbasiya Square that spreads out into numerous, equally busy streets lie architectural gems that witnessed the rise and fall of a district and all the social history in-between.
This historic neighborhood was named after its founder, Abbas Helmi I (1848-1854). The first and cornerstone building was the desert Saray of Abbasiya (Abbasiya Palace), which he surrounded with military schools. The palace was described as grand, with 2,000 window facades. The palace today, however, is tucked away in a barely breachable military area behind the present-day ministry of electricity in Abbasiya.
According to Nihal Tamraz’s book, Nineteenth Century Cairene Houses and Palaces, Abbasiya case study, the district was built in three phases: western Abbasiya of upper-class mansions and villas, eastern Abbasiya filled with bourgeois and middle-class residences with four-storey building residences and, later on, Abbasiya Al-Qebliya, where workshops and markets boomed and dominated the rest of the neighborhood.
Read full article on Ahram Online, here.
الطابع القومي و العمارة في مصر
القى المهندس المعماري سيد كريم خطابا في الجمعية الجغرافية يوم ١٩\٤\١٩٤٠ سآل فيه:هل للعمارة في مصر طابع قومي؟
ما يلي هو جزء مختصر من ذلك الخطاب و الذي قد يكون له صدى في الوقت الحالي في ظل التخبط المعماري في مصر و هيمنة”الهوية”أو”الطراز”على الوضع الراهن.
لست اول معماري يرفع الصوت مناديا بحاجتنا الى طراز قومي، فقد سبقني الكثيرون، و لم يطلبوا فقط ان يكون لنا طراز قومي، بل ذهبوا الى ما هو ابعد من ذلك، فوضعوا له أسسا و قواعد.و تنبأوا بما يجب ان يكون عليه هذا الطراز، و بما يتشكل به من ابتكارات و اقتراحات اقتبست من الطرز القديمة بعض خصائصها، أو وجدت بين حلياتها مرجعا لزخارفها، بينما رأى البعض الاخر تكوينه عن طريق مسابقات محلية او عالمية تحدد اشكاله و قواعده، و مع ذلك فسرعان ما تلاشت تلك النداءات في ضجيج عجلة العمار، و هي تندفع في طريقها الذي تشقه هي نفسها، و لم تكن كل محاولة أو اقتراح، اكثر من ضربة مجذاف في تيار جارف تحاول تغيير سير مجراه.لقد طلبوا في كل مرة تحديد الدواء، و نسوا تشخيص الداء نفسه، فقبل أن نتكلم عن حاجتنا إلى طراز قومي لعمارتنا، يجب أن نعرف ما هي العمارة، و كيف تلون طابعها من عصر إلى عصر، و تغير في أمة عن أمة.
لو كان الطراز هو العقود و القباب و نسب الوحدات، فلايجب أن ننسى أن الصراحة في التعبير عن مواد البناء و طرق الإنشاء الخاصة بكل منها، هي التي حددت تلك الأشكال و النسب.فالعقود بأشكالها، و الأعمدة بنسبها، و الحوائط باسماكها، نشأت كلها على أساس إنشائي صريح مرتكز على علم مقاومة المواد.إن العقود التي بناها العرب بالطوب، غير تلك التي بنوها بالحجر الجيري، غير تلك التي بنوها عندما استعملوا الحجر الرملي.فلو بنى قدماء المصريين بالطوب و الخشب، لماغطوا فتحاتهم بالمكمرات و الاعتاب، و لو بنى العرب بالخرسانة و الحديد، لما لجأوا الى العقود و القباب لتغطية الفتحات و الصالات.
لست أفهم أن تبنى العمارة في مصر، و في القرن العشرين بالخرسانة المسلحة و الحديد، ثم تغطى بالبياض الذي ترسم عليه الحجارة و الطوب.
لست أفهم أن تبنى شرفات عماراتنا بالخرسانة المسلحة، و نعلق في اسفلها كوابيلا من الجبس باسم الطراز، فأصبحت الشرفات تحمل الكوابيل بعدما كانت الكوابيل تحمل الشرفات.
لست أفهم أن نعطي الأعمدة الخرسانية نسب الحجر و الطوب، و نترك داخلها خاويا، أو نبنيها بالحديد و نكسوها بحلة مستعارة من الجبس و السلك، تقليديا للطوب و الحجر باسم الطراز.
لست أفهم أن نبني بالحديد و الخرسانة، و نغطي فتحات مبانينا بالعقود المختلفة، و نكسوها بالبياض الذي نرسم عليه تقسيم الطوب و الحجر باسم الطراز.
لست أفهم أن نكسوا حوائطنا بالبويات و نرسم عليها الرخام و الخشب باسم الطراز.
أيريدوننا نحن المعاصرين، أن نظن أنها بنيت بمواد الماضي، و طرق انشاء الماضي، لا، فقد رأيناها رأى العين، إنما سيكون منها لأحفادنا عندما تتقوض أركانها، و ينكشف ما استر منها، مادة لنكاتهم و ضحكهم، حينما يتكلمون عن عمارتنا القومية التي هي طابع قوميتنا.
فلا التقليد الاعمى، و لا التقاليد الموروثة، و لا الابتكار، و لا التجديد، هي التي ستحدد طرازنا القومي.
يجب أن تكون للشعب قدوة في عمارة مبانيه العامة و الحكومية، ليسترشد بطابعها و لتوجهه الى الطريق الصحيح.فاذا كانت تلك المباني ليس لها طابع خاص، و اختلفت من مبنى عن آخر، فلنعذر الشعب إذا تشعبت اتجاهات عمارة مبانيه و قد ضل الطريق.
نحن في حاجة إلى قوانين معمارية تلائم حالتنا الراهنة، و التي ليس لها مثيل في العالم أجمع، فالقوانين التي وضعت للدول الغربية لا تنفع لنا.إننا في حاجة إلى قوانين خاصة بنا، تراقب كل دقائق عمارتنا، من مواد الانشاء، إلى طرق البناء، إلى شكل المبنى، ثم إلى علاقته بالمحيط المجاور من المباني.
نحن في حاجة إلى قوانين معمارية صارمة تعمل للصالح العام و تطأ حب الذات و المنفعة الفردية في سبيل قومية المجتمع.نحن في حاجة إلى قوانين معمارية تحدد مسئولية، و تقرر عملا، و تقرر حقوقا، لكل من المعماري، و المقاول، و المالك، و التاجر، و السمسار (و الساكن)؟
نحن في حاجة ماسة إلى راع و مراقب يهيمن على زمام عمارتنا. أي في حاجة إلى بلدية تسيطر على الحركة المعمارية، و تتأكد من صلاحية كل حجر في يوضع في بناء طرازنا المعماري، فنمهد الطريق لإحياء طابعه القومي
إضافة مني، يجب ان ينتخب المختصين لرئآسة مؤسسات مثل البلدية و يجب ان يكون الشعب مشارك في تلك الاجهزة و التي يجب ان تهدف الى تحقيق المصلحة العامة
[Aerial view of Tel Aviv’s White City]
In 2003 UNESCO added Tel Aviv’s “White City” to its list of world heritage sites. The “White City” consists of three zones (central White City, Lev Hair and Rothschild Avenue, and the Bialik Area) containing around 4,000 buildings built from the 1930s to the 1950s in various interpretations of the modernist style. Tel Aviv was initially founded in 1909 in Ottoman Palestine. The city later developed following the urban plans of Scottish architect Sir Patrick Geddes (1925-27) during the Mandatory Palestine period.
According to the UNESCO, the area was included in its heritage list for two criterion:
Criterion (ii): The White City of Tel Aviv is a synthesis of outstanding significance of the various trends of the Modern Movement in architecture and town planning in the early part of the 20th century. Such influences were adapted to the cultural and climatic conditions of the place, as well as being integrated with local traditions.
Criterion (iv): The White City of Tel Aviv is an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century, adapted to the requirements of a particular cultural and geographic context.
“Authenticity” of the architecture and the “integrity” of the area are cited as additional reasons for inclusion. With its new status the area can now enjoy conservation efforts to maintain its 20th century stark modernity, along with the rise of its real estate value and its maintenance along strict guidelines to ensure the preservation of this now world heritage site. Here is a bit more of the site’s description:
The three zones have a consistent representation of Modern Movement architecture, although they differ in character. Zone B was built in the early 1930s, and zone A mainly from the 1930s to the early 1940s. Zone C, the Bialik district, represents local architecture from the 1920s on, with examples of Art Deco and eclecticism, but also a strong presence of ‘white architecture’. This small area represents a selection of buildings that became landmarks in the development of the regional language of Tel Aviv’s modernism. The buildings reflect influences from the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn. The buildings are characterized by the implementation of the Modernist ideas into the local conditions. The large glazed surfaces of European buildings are reduced to relatively small and strip window openings, more suitable for the hot weather. Many buildings have pilotis, as in Le Corbusier’s design, allowing the sea breeze to come through. Other elements include the brise-soleil to cut direct sunlight; the deep balconies served the same purpose, giving shade, as well as adding to the plasticity of the architecture. The flat roofs were paved and could be used for social purposes. A characteristic feature is the use of curbed corners and balconies, expressive of Mendelsohn’s architecture. The buildings also include a certain amount of local elements, such as cupolas. The most common building material was reinforced concrete; it had been used since 1912, being suitable for less-skilled workers. Other materials were also introduced, such as stone cladding for the external surfaces, and metal. There was some use of decorative plasters, although decoration became a matter of carefully detailed functional elements, such as balcony balustrades, flower boxes and canopies
[detail from the Gamalian building in downtown Cairo designed by Kamal Ismail 1939-41]
The inclusion of the site also notes that although this is the work of European architects who either emigrated to or were commissioned to do work in Mandate Palestine, “their work in Tel Aviv, they represented the plurality of the creative trends of modernism, but they also took into account the local, cultural quality of the site.” Moreover, “None of the European or North-Africa realizations exhibit such a synthesis of the modernistic picture nor are they at the same scale.”
So why is this important or relevant to Cairo’s or Egypt’s urban heritage? The statement quoted above in bold argues that one of the reasons this particular urban site (encompassing 4,000 buildings) is important is because it is unparalleled not only in Europe but also in North-Africa. In affirming its modernity, the Tel Aviv application for heritage recognition denies the availability of modernist heritage of its kind and scale in the supposed source of modernism-Europe, and in its geographical vicinity-North Africa.
Egypt and Morocco (and Lebanon) had extensive experiences in the production and realization of modernist architecture. In both cases modernist architecture was the product of an awareness of international discourses on architecture. Modernist architecture in Egypt was also the product of the re-imagination of the national self. Modernist architecture was perceived by architects as the language of the time but also of the place. Despite many architects being educated in places as diverse as Liverpool, Zuirch and Paris, they all returned to Egypt and engaged in a discourse that emphasized that their architecture was responsive to both time and place, a kind of localization of an international movement with references to various schools of modernist design.
Egypt’s case offers a particularly interesting counterpoint to Tel Aviv’s. The architects practicing in Egypt using this 1930s onward style were Egyptian or first/second generation Egyptians (of Syrian, Lebanese or other origin who have settled in Egypt). This is one stark difference with the Israeli case where the practitioners, according to the official story, were themselves escaping Europe or visiting architects. The second point that makes Egypt’s modernist legacy interesting is that those architects were Egyptian educated until university then traveled abroad where schools of architecture offered Masters and PhD degrees in architecture then returned to Egypt. They went to a variety of schools that had their own schools of thought regarding the development of modern architecture, yet they all returned to practice side by side in Egypt producing a melange of variations of modernist design. Furthermore, from the 1930s modernist design was seen as a nationalist response to the previous three decades of ornamental architecture introduced in middle and upper class dwellings by European architects (as opposed to the visually modern 19th century stripped down middle and upper class Egyptian house, whose facade was already void of aristocratic references). While Western observers today dismiss the authenticity of Egypt’s modernist episode, Egyptian architects at the time saw their work as an embrace of the moment’s architectural language but also the simple forms, plain facades and flat roofs were reminiscent of Egypt’s architecture from the not-so-distant past.
Modernist design was widely accepted and had become popular among the business elite, the upper and middle classes who built new apartments, banks, offices and villas. The Egyptian government’s 1940s experiments in workers and village housing were in the minimal modernist style. It was so pervasive that it didn’t have the “avant garde” status attached to modernist design in Europe (Where the idea of a flat roof was considered controversial aesthetically but also functionally. The flat roof and modernism’s cubic forms were after-all inspired by North African dwellings from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.) And thus Cairo, Alexandria, smaller cities and even villages were places where modernist design was seen.
Important to note is the contrast between Europe and Egypt regarding the development, significance and uses of modernist design. While In Europe the modern movement’s development was directly linked to questions of affordability, socialism, revolution and worker housing, in Egypt the design practice embracing modernism was paired with grand apartments, aristocratic villas and the clients were the wealthy capitalist elite. This means that the kind of modernist design found in Egypt was combined with particular standards of comfort and luxury reflected in the square-footage of Egypt’s modernist apartments, and their finishing materials and fixtures. Modernist design developed in Europe during a time of economic hardship while Egypt was experiencing relative economic prosperity.
Egypt’s experience with modernist architecture spanned the mid-1930s into the 1960s. Yet there has been a deep reluctance by western scholars to consider Egyptian contributions or iterations of modernism. Similarly, this wealth of architectural discourse and practice has been forgotten within Egypt with only minimal research done on the material. Western observers claim that 20th century architectural modernism was purely a European and later American project that was then exported and copied in other locations. Similar arguments have been made about 19th century modernity (specifically modern urbanism) and in fact about modernity in general. Following this Eurocentric perspective some Egyptians have also adopted this narrative, seeing no importance in uncovering Egypt’s experience of modernist architecture. The central argument by the naysayers is that this modernist aesthetic was not an authentic representation of Egyptian architecture and that it was mere mimicry (despite numerous texts, publications and lectures by those architects stating exactly the opposite). It is in this context that the World Heritage inclusion of the “White City” has deep political implications.
[page from a 1942 Egyptian journal showing an article “Architecture in Arab Lands” with a picture and site plan of Haifa government hospital in Palestine designed by Erich Mendelsohn in 1938]
In the case of the “White City,” the majority of the participating architects were admittedly imported, European transplants. Furthermore, much of the work celebrated in the “White City” was from the 1920s-1940s when the state this World Heritage site belongs to did not yet exist. Following the current narrative, the work of Egyptian/Arab architects Ali Labib Gabr, Charles Ayrout, Antoine Selim Nahas and others in Egypt isn’t representative of Egyptian architectural identity while the work of Mendelsohn and other European architects is an authentic expression of Israeli modernity! The “white” in “White City,” it seems, doesn’t only refer to the modernist buildings but also to the builders. Modernism, it seems, is a white enterprise and everyone else is simply a copycat.
In 1950s and 60s Egypt the Egyptian state allowed some architects who were active in the 1930s-40s to practice their modern design at an unprecedented scale. The state fully embraced modernist design as an expression of national progress, in what I argue is continuity rather then a rupture from pre-1952 Egypt. However, by 1970 when Sadat took office Modernism had died and Egypt was nearly bankrupt. Egypt’s modernist heritage from the previous decades was not seen as worthy of protection and its proliferation made it mundane and taken for granted. In the course of the forty years of Sadat and Mubarak Egypt lost much of the modernist heritage that accumulated over the previous forty years.
The 2003 inclusion of the “White City” has provided a physical and architectural proof of one of Israel’s founding myths that it is “the only Modern country in the region.” This contrasts with the emphasis on Egypt as an ancient country by the Sadat and Mubarak regimes (at the expense of Egypt’s modern heritage). Following Nadia Abu El Haj, who focuses on Israel’s manipulation of archeology and ancient heritage, I argue that the “White City” is also being used to provide “facts on the ground” to legitimize a certain myth or narrative about the state as a white modern haven amidst a brown and unmodern Middle East.
In the meantime, here in Egypt, since 1970 there has been near systematic erasure of modernist heritage coupled with a reluctance by the state to embrace modern heritage in general as evidence of Egypt’s advances in the last two hundred years. The result, despite the fact that Egypt had an extensive, locally designed and elaborated version of modernist design, what remains is the melancholy of black and white nostalgic images pieced together from the scattered archive in personal collections, used book dealers and sidewalk vendors. State institutions including the so-called ministry of culture are the culprits. Egypt may never have a UNESCO World Heritage site from the 20th century but it is never too late for Egyptians to rediscover what was so common not too long ago.
*Addendum: The purpose of this post is to highlight how the reasoning for one site’s inclusion (by UNESCO and international observers) as worthy of preservation and heritage status are nearly the same reasons for excluding Egypt’s contribution from the same period. Equally important is to highlight the failures of Egypt’s heritage and cultural institutions to recognize and protect Egypt’s modernist heritage.
[Apartments for Mme Khairat Bek in Zamalek, 1938]
[apartments for Qershi Pasha in Asyout by architect Albert Abbasi 1946]
[Villa for Mme Valadji in Heliopolis by architect Charles Ayrout 1938-39]
[Apartments for Ahmed Kamel Pasha in downtown Cairo by architect Ali Labib Gabr, 1939]
[Villa for Kamel Bek Abdel Rehim in Heliopolis by architect Charles Ayrout 1932]