Posts tagged neighborhood

Cairo’s Traveling Peep Show Boxes


By Manar Moursi

It’s late in the afternoon on Sunday in Manial. Spring has arrived and bubbles are blowing in the air from an ice-cream cart look-alike. Two Cookdoor (fast food chain) employees in identical orange uniforms are seen peeping through the holes of what appears to be a cart but is tinted with pastel colors with a faceted form. A performer’s voice rings clear over this untouched quiet stretch of a corniche in Cairo with the words of a mawwal of Sheikh Immam:

“Protect your candle from the wind

Whether you choose to love or not

The morning is light dear fish;

Love whom you wish”

The ice-cream cart lookalike is the Wonder Box or Sandook El Agab, a storytelling-public art and design project inspired in form and function by the ancient Sandook El Donya/raree that were in use from as far as China to Europe and the Middle East from the 15th century onward. Earlier this month, two seemingly familiar objects a giant disco ball with Islamic patterns and an ice cream cart lookalike, visited the neighborhoods of Heliopolis, Bayn El Sarayat, Shobra El Kheima, Manial, Moqattam, Zamalek, and Ezbet Khairallah to awe and inspire audiences.


The traditional Sandook El Donya often took the form of a simple wooden box with magnifying lenses and a set of prints inside, which along with the storytelling talents of the showmen that accompanied it were a medium through which the public was transported through a magical journey of stories and places they had never seen before.

Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti is credited for the design of the first raree/peep show boxes in 15th century Europe. Alberti’s innovation was a mechanism which allowed users to look at perspective views through a small hole in a wooden box. Once viewers set their eyes near the hole they entered a private space of wonder beyond the mundaneness of their daily life. The traditional Sandook El Donya traveled from Italy to Egypt and once here, was modified with a form particular to this region, with puppets and “aragozes” that personified stories relating to this context.

Mahatat, a collective which brings art to public spaces along with curator Aida El Kashef conceived the idea to revive the medium of the old Sandook El Donya with new forms and techniques in early 2013. A year later, after receiving a generous grant from the Swiss Cooperation in Cairo, they invited 9 artists from multiple disciplines including architects to storytellers and musicians to work collectively on the design, construction and animation of 2 boxes with contemporary forms and techniques. These two boxes would begin their journeys across Cairo traveling from Moqattam to Shobra El Kheima.



Storytellers Laila El Balouty and Ahmed Mostafa collected stories from taxi and microbus drivers, as they were seen as vehicles which contain and collect everyday stories and myths that circulate around the city. These stories were merged and augmented through fictional devices. El Balouty and Mostafa worked in close collaboration with musicians Shadi El Hosseiny and Abdallah AbouZekry who composed the musical backdrop to the stories. Meanwhile architects Manar Moursi (of Studio Meem) and Mohamed Hassan worked alongside the visual arts team (comprised of Maya Gowaily, Yasmin Elayat and Youssef Faltas) to coordinate and integrate their structural constraints in the design of the two boxes.

For the design aspect it was important to visit and see existing traditional sandooks here in Cairo which are currently housed at the Agricultural Museum in Dokki and the Geographical Society in Qasr El Ainy. Further research was done not only on historical forms and techniques but contemporary uses particularly in India where the tradition is still alive in small towns across the subcontinent.





The artists decided from early on that one sandook would integrate traditional techniques with cutouts and projection mapping inside it while looking more futuristic from the outside. In contrast, the other sandook would integrate more interactive techniques while appearing to be more traditional in its exterior. Both sandooks were designed for private immersive experiences for the 4 viewers that were able to look through the holes at a time. The idea was to have 3 stories per sandook and to select members of the audience who could peep through the holes per story. The stories would be repeated in each performance site in order to allow more people to enjoy the experience. An important design objective was therefore to create a strong visual statement with the outer form of the sandook that would still captivate the non-peeping audience as they listened to the storytellers.

For the design aspect of the first sandook, I was inspired by a recent visit to Mashhad in Iran and the mirrored Islamic patterns that seemed to have psychedelic transcendental impact on those who witnessed their interiors.  I found those patterns repeated in egg shops and maklas (nut and seed shops) that dot Cairo. Seeing that mirrors were also employed as animation tools in the praxinscope-like techniques used inside the traditional sandooks, it was decided that mirrors in an Islamic pattern would be projected on a geodesic sphere to reference in some way both the context and these traditional techniques.

The form of a sphere was employed because of its purity and the desire to connect visually to magic crystal and disco balls. The designers wanted Cairo to have it its own giant disco ball that would travel accompanied by two storytellers and fantastical animated illustrations inside. The end result looked futuristic, like a giant space ship had landed in Bayn el Sarayat and in front of the Bazeleek Church in Heliopolis. Traveling around the city in an open truck the mirrors reflected light in brilliant patterns along their path.


The sphere was built as two geodesic domes that fit perfectly onto each other and these domes were further broken into 2 types of triangles that were attached together by joints that could be connected and disconnected. The idea was to construct something that can be assembled and disassembled easily on-site and then stored in a compact form in Mahatat’s office for future use.

For the second sandook, the form was derived from the everyday ice cream carts that one sees regularly around the city. The ice cream cart fulfilled both functional (size of projection screen) and aesthetic requirements as it was meant to disarm the viewer who would be called at by its everyday familiar sight with a slightly different palette of colors and form only to discover a whole set of digital interactive wonders to be experienced by peeping through its holes. In this sandook, the peeps were in a two level, dual layered experience for the viewer to move through. The peeps themselves were meant to be somewhat immersive thus their inward facing facets that acted as beehives of sorts to draw the viewers in.

The two sandooks will be traveling to Germany this upcoming July to perform at a university there. Upon their return to Egypt, the goal is to travel with both through different towns and small cities along the Delta.

Once out on the streets, the sandooks acted as transporters through time and space and purveyors of both edification and pleasure. In one story on the loss of the legendary Simon Bolivar’s sword, a drive through the city takes viewers to visit statues of the downtown midans, which come to life to startle and delight the viewers with their personal histories and contemporary stories.


Where Life and Death Share a Space


[A cemetery dweller in front of her (home).]

by Zeina Elcheikh

“I want to move from here, after all it is a grave, and I did not die yet”. These words may sound morbid, or perhaps coming from the afterlife. Yet, they were those of Mona, a lady I met at a strange place in Cairo. A place overcrowded like the city itself, not only from above the ground, but also from beneath…

During a stay in Cairo, where studying informality in the city was the main focus, I went to learn more about an unconventional type of informal housing: the cemetery dwellers, or the City of the Dead. Perhaps when this area, now stretching for about 7km, was established in 640 A.D. for the dead, no one had thought that it would become later a city of its own. Even the dead, resting in peace underneath, could not have expected that the living would eventually compete with them over space, their “home.” However, life has apparently treated those alive in such a way that they did not have any other chances for finding shelter.

Mona lost her husband few years ago. She cannot pay the low rent in the nearby informal area, so she came here with her younger son. The tomb is owned by her late father, thus it provides her with an accommodation free of charge. The widow was also lucky enough to have the tomb located in a strategic spot: on a narrow street where cars pass by, so she started a small business: a little shop. Her older newly-wed son is coming to join her with his bride, as his very low income is not enough to pay even a very low rent.

With my knowledge about burial customs from where I come from (Syria), I could not imagine how a tomb could be a suitable place to host activities of daily life. An Egyptian colleague explained broadly the concept of underground chambers, where the Dead are interred. She also mentioned the two rooms above the ground where family members could stay overnight, when they come to visit their late relatives, especially during religious festivities. A torabi (tomb keeper) gave me more details on how the burial system is undertaken here. There are two underground rooms, or spaces, so the dead are divided according to gender. These spaces, are not completely sealed, so a new comer can easily be added. The sight of four jars on the corners in several burial plots, reminded me of the four canopic jars, largely influenced by Ancient Egyptian customs, as well as the burial system itself. However, the torabi told me that many people insist on being buried in a single-person tomb, the type which I am more familiar with in Islamic culture, and which is called lahd.

I met a doubtful man, in his forties, who followed my husband and I with questions: “Are you coming from any authority in Cairo? Do you belong to a local or international TV channel? Are you journalists?” With my non-Egyptian accent and my student card, the torabi was also doubtful of my intentions, but he was less suspicious. However, he did not say much. He told me that he said a lot to the journalist who made a documentary last month, and the government does not want to change the living conditions for people here. Another torabi was so kind to walk us to the burial plot of an Egyptian famous actor’s family. He opened the gate and we entered. The family is a descendant of pashas. And even here, where death supposedly makes all people equal, signs of wealth cannot be missed. And people are divided, yet again in Cairo, into (very) rich and (very) poor.

Apparently our presence was not completely welcome. People know each other very well in the city of the dead, and a stranger is immediately recognized as such. People were staring at us, and to avoid being considered as a foreigners, we had to raise right hand and say every now and then “Essalamu Alaykom” (peace be upon you), the typical salutation. And it partially worked out. My curiosity kept arousing to hear the stories coming from people who did not mind to share their thoughts.


[Tombs surrounded by aspects of daily life.]

He used to come frequently here yelling and threatening us that he will throw us out. His funeral was just few months ago. Now he is among us, silent forever”. This was how Amal spoke about the owner of the burial plot, where she lives with her husband and five daughters. Before entering and talking to her, I asked my husband not to enter. Her husband was not at home, and that would be socially unacceptable. But when I joined him outside after my short meeting with Amal, he seemed to be in shock. He told me: “These two little kids wanted to rob me. The girl even asked me if I was looking for a mozza (hot girl, sometimes a prostitute)”.

I was warned not to go alone to the City of the Dead, as I would be subject to many unwanted encounters. With actually being there, all these rumors were put to rest. Stories followed from grave keepers and dwellers were frightening: they included cases of illegal new-borns burial or even secret hiding of murdered bodies. That is why many grave keepers said that they insist on having a burial permission before digging, but others do not demand the paperwork as long as they are paid handsomely.

We kept walking, surrounded by the tombs and curious eyes. Then, I heard some voices coming from the left side. I asked my husband if he still has curio to explore this place like I do: he nodded in agreement. There, a lady and a man were sitting and reading few verses of Koran. They were visiting some of their relatives, the dead ones, and came to bring some food and money to the torabi in charge of the tomb. “If we do not do so (bringing goods and money to the torabi) the graves could be illegally sold, or we might have a stranger buried among our family members” said the lady. The man added “My family had in the past seven tombs and burial plots. Now we only have two. I am here to show the torabi that someone is still following up on the family’s belongings. At least I will be securing a place for myself when I pass away”.

Some people eventually move all together, others stay and commute to where they work. The families who remain are typically families of tomb keepers torabi or sabi torabi (assistant of the tomb keeper). But others like Mona, and they are many, have no other place to go to except a family-owned tomb. A tomb that keeps her away from wandering homeless on the streets. Tomb life is (literally) informal: water comes mostly from a public tap on the street, electricity through illegal connections, and septic tanks instead of sewage networks (in order not to damage the deceased).

The City of the Dead deserves a visit. While it cannot be seen as tourist attraction, the site will interest a particular kind of visitor. Among the many uncommon encounters in Cairo, my visit to the City of the Dead was particularly enlightening. It is a place with extreme contradictions. Whether it is a failure of housing policy, uncontrolled population growth, or just a search for a cheap (free) accommodation, living among the Dead has become a (sad) reality. I understood the state of being alive as more than breathing and having vital parts still functional. I was enlightened by experiencing a place that is far more than what it appears. City of the Dead made me aware of the intimacy of life and death, so much complexity in one meter above ground and another below. It is a place more controversial than Cairo itself. A place where life and death share intimate space.

Zeina Elcheikh is a Syrian architect, holds a M.Sc. from Stuttgart University. She worked with German International Cooperation and the French Institute for the Near East in Syria. In Egypt, she joined the UNESCO office as an intern, while writing her M.Sc. thesis on Nubian Culture and Tourism in Southern Egypt.

Burgers, Neighborhoods and Egypt’s non-system


With new restaurants opening every week in Cairo it may appear that the government has been promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and facilitating the opening of new restaurants and cafes in some parts of the city as a way to stimulate local economy towards recovery. While the revolution seems to have been nearly all but suffocated three years after it started in January 2011, Cairo has been experiencing something of a food and beverage revolution that is looking up more and more. Since 2011 tens of new cafes and restaurants have opened in each of the city’s bourgeois pockets with some areas such as Zamalek literally swallowed by the rise of these new spaces of consumption that the island is becoming the city’s food court prompting some residents to call for the food encroachment to stop. In 2010 if you wanted to eat a burger in Cairo the options were clear: either the 90LE burger at the Marriot or a LE15 burger from a fast food chain with few or no options in between. Today Zamalek alone boasts half a dozen excellent burger shops each with its own character and taste with an average cost for a meal of 30LE. So what is happening here?

Burgers are no laughing matter; almost every American political race will involve a photo opportunity by a candidate in a small family-owned restaurant or café to send the message that small business is an important part of the economy. Indeed small businesses and entrepreneurs can play an important role in a city’s development and economic growth but policy and municipal vision need to be established in order to harness the maximum return for the city from these small ventures and to guarantee certain stability to the city particularly at the neighborhood level. At the same time clear regulations and procedures must be in place in order for investors to know that their effort will not be vulnerable to municipal corruption and personal relations. What we’re seeing in Cairo over the past few years is on one hand a sign of the potential for small and medium investment to enter the Egyptian market and compete if given the chance to do so. On the other hand this explosion in small/medium private investment in the food and beverage sector is not a result of a municipal policy rather it is the result of the absence of a clear vision and the corruption of local municipal councils and other state institutions. Nearly all the new restaurants and café have no license to work.

Having no permits or licenses however doesn’t mean that these new establishments are illegal. Legality in Cairo is a very slippery concept difficult to grasp. To illustrate what I mean here is an example. A friend opened an ice-cream shop in a posh part of Maadi. The procedures were not clearly established and in order to jump all the hoops and hurdles put in place by municipal officials many pockets had to be lined with cash, making something as simple as opening an ice-cream shop take a drastic turn into becoming part of the corrupt system of governance that has become the status quo in Egypt. Corruption is now structured into the system with loop holes designed specifically to allow for the widespread of corruption, money exchanging hands under the table and to give power to local officials (who are appointed not elected, pay allegiance to the ruling regime not the neighborhoods they serve and are often retired military and police officers) to abuse for their own benefit. Take for example the requirement in official procedures for every shop to have a hose long enough to reach the nearest fire hydrant. When was the last time you saw a fire hydrant while walking in Cairo? They nearly don’t exist in reality but they do on the municipal maps. So a shop owner is essentially required to play an absurd game and to provide a hose long enough to reach the non-existent fire hydrant in order to satisfy this particular requirement. Otherwise the shop is vulnerable to being reported and fined by the fire department. What this means is that unless you develop friendly relations with local officials and the various state institutions, and developing those relations means providing certain amounts of cash to various officials, a kind of invisible tax, those very institutions can use these structured loop holes in the system to shut you down. Insecurity is the name of the game and the result is a collapsing state structure that is best described as a non-system.

A non-system is very different from no system. In Egypt’s municipal non-system there are steps and procedures, there are state institutions, there are lawyers and contracts, there is a lot of paperwork, there are thousands of state employees most of whom are not there to make your life as a citizen or someone opening a small shop any easier, there are many signatures and stamps that must be granted and there is a lot of handshaking to do. It appears to be a system but it isn’t merely dysfunctional, it is actually designed to make the lives of everyone involved difficult. To open a new small business you have to follow the rules, file the papers, get insurance, get the fire hose to the invisible fire hydrant, even pay taxes yet your file will sit in limbo forever never fully processed through the system because that will keep you subservient to every employee in that system who may pass by your shop to get a little baksheesh or if you sell ice cream take a free cake for his child’s birthday (true story). Members of the police and security apparatus with its army of plain-clothed informants can go to your shop and have free food; if you have a small hotel or hostel they might even sleep for free. Is this a way to run a city? Is this a way to run a country?


While the recent growth of the food and beverage sector is evidence of the city’s entrepreneurial potential it should also be seen as one of the ways the city and its residents are resilient to the structured corruption. These are not the outcome of a government program aiming to recover the economy, to the contrary. However, there are negative side effects to the phenomenon in some areas that also result from this non-system where the investors with the biggest pockets can buy their way into doing whatever they want, in some cases taking over entire sidewalks or blocking the entrances of residential buildings with tables and chairs. Heavy weight investors with access to Egypt’s ruling class of military generals might even get a piece of the otherwise inaccessible Nile waterfront to establish restaurants and cafes.

So what should/could a good city government do to harness the potential in these kinds of small/medium investments while safeguarding neighborhoods and the rights of residents?

First of all the governorate (municipality) needs to provide a streamlined system to ensure that the city’s small business have easy access to information and easy to follow steps to register. It is also the responsibility of the municipality and the state to guarantee that business owners have certain rights and are protected from the corruption of state employees. See for example New York City’s Business Owner’s Bill of Rights:


  1. Courteous and professional treatment by our employees.
  2. Inspectors who are polite, professionally dressed, and properly identified.
  3. Information about how long inspections will take and the cost of all related fees.
  4. Knowledgeable inspectors who enforce agency rules uniformly
  5. Receive information about agency rules from inspectors or other employees.
  6. Contest a violation through a hearing, trial or other relevant process
  7. Request a review of inspection results or re-inspection as soon as possible.
  8. Receive explanation from inspectors (if requested) on violation details and instructions for viewing inspection results
  9. Access information in languages other than English (In Cairo it would be Arabic and English as a second option).
  10. Comment, anonymously and without fear of retribution, on the performance or conduct of our employees.

The municipality should make it easier for businesses in Cairo to be established and to find ways for small business to foster the development of neighborhoods and to become an important part of the city’s economy. Small business is also where much of the city’s workforce will find jobs.


[residents of Zamalek called for a protest on November 2 against the corruption and bribery of local officials which have led to some of the district’s new cafes to take over certain streets while there has been no improvement in municipal services such as street cleaning and garbage collection.]

The city has a responsibility to provide municipal services such as street cleaning, paving sidewalks uniformly across the city and protecting neighborhoods from the encroachment of small business onto public amenities such as public space and walking paths. Improvements to the streetscape are an important aspect of this equation, this is why small businesses pay taxes part of which should be spent by the municipality on the maintenance of the street, which benefits the shops and the neighborhood in general. Road 9 in Maadi has seen an exponential growth in the number of new cafes and restaurants, for example, but not a penny has been spent on the maintenance of the sidewalks and the street, which is in rather poor condition. The shops are paying money, it is just not going into the system and reflected onto the city and that needs to be fixed.

New, good quality, non-fast-food, street level (not in malls) restaurants are a much needed development in Cairo and some have been exciting additions to their neighborhoods and some have even been exciting adventures with Egyptian cuisine. However there needs to be a balance between promoting small businesses such as these and the rights of local residents to having a say in their neighborhoods so that the highest bidders don’t pay their way into blocking streets, crowding sidewalks, and taking over parking spots allocated to residents. The answer to this issue partly lies in the need for real participatory democratic municipal government where residents can have a say in their neighborhood’s development. If residents of the posh and relatively privileged district of Zamalek have no say over what happens in their neighborhood then consider how dis-empowered the country’s impoverished majority must be when it comes to their neighborhoods. At the same time, small businesses can be powerful engines for neighborhood development if the corruption in the existing municipal system is eliminated and the process is streamlined so that those who want to play the restaurant game can focus on the product and service they offer rather than waste time, money and energy negotiating the city’s non-system.

Event: “AUB Neighbourhood Initiative” Lecture by Cynthia Myntti


مبادرة الحي للجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت

محاضرة أ/د: سينثيا مينتي  الجامعة الأمريكية ببيروت

السبت 13 ابريل 2013 -الخامسة مساءً - كلية الهندسة جامعة عين شمس

في اطار مبادرة جامعة عين شمس لخدمة المجتمع وتنمية البيئة المحيطة.تنسيق قسم الهندسه المعمارية كليه الهندسةبالتعاون مع جمعية الفكر العمراني (مجاورة)

عن المحاضرة:

تم اطلاق مبادرة خدمة المجتمع و تنمية البيئة للجامعة الامريكية ببيروت في عام 2007 لتشجيع مساهمة الكليات و الطلبة في حل المشاكل المؤثرة في منطقة بيروت الواقعة خارج اسوار الجامعة. يتم رعاية المبادرة من خلال مكتب رئيس الجامعة الذي يعمل مع الجهات الأكاديمية و الغير أكاديمية في الجامعة بالإضافة الى مجموعة واسعة من الأطراف المعنية  في الحي و الحكومة. بعض القضايا التي يتم تناولها: إختناق المرور، تلوث الهواء،  صعوبة التنقل للمشاه، قلة الاماكن الخضراء، شيخوخة السكان و تزايد الفوارق بين طبقات الأغنياء و الفقراء المقيمين بالمنطقة.


عن سينثيا مينتي

سينثيا مينتي استاذ في ممارسة الصحة العامة وهي رئيس مشروع مبادرة خدمة المجتمع و تنمية البيئة المحيطة بالجامعة الأمريكية ببيروت. حصلت على درجة الدكتوراه في علم الأنسان من كلية لندن للاقتصاد، درجة الماجيستير في العمارة من جامعة يال و درجة الماجيستير في الصحة العامة من جامعة جونز هوبكنز. بدأت علاقتها بالجامعة الأمريكية ببيروت عام 1972 كطالبة ثم كعضو في هيئة التدريس. قضت سينثيا قي القاهرة ما يقرب من عقد من الزمان وهي أيضا مؤلفة الكتاب الفوتوغرافي “باريس على النيل: العمارة في قاهرة الزمن الجميل” الذي تم نشره من قبل الجامعة الأمريكية في القاهرة.


عن مبادرة عين شمس:

عند الحديث عن مشكلات الواقع المحلي البيئي والعمراني ..الأسباب ، والمؤشرات ، وسبل الاحتواء .. لاينبغي أغفال دور الجامعة ، ذلك أن الجامعة ـ بالفعل ـ تكاد تجمع مالا يتوافر لغيرها من مؤسسات ، وجهات أختصاص .. ؛ فلديها مقومات البحث ، والقدرة علي التواصل مع مستحدثات الواقع ؛ لذا فخبراتها قل أن تخطئ كلا الأتجاهين : المشكلات .. البواعث والحيثيات  ، والحلول .. وسبل تقريرها .


لأجل هذا كانت مبادرة جامعة عين شمس لخدمة المجتمع وتنمية البيئة المحيطة بها..


وفي هذه المبادرة فرصة لمشاركة  أكاديميون وأعضاء هيئات التدريس من مختلف كليات جامعة عين شمس لعمل أبحاث عن حيّ العباسية. و تعتمد الأبحاث على العمل الميداني ،وتهدف الى الوصول الى نتائج قابلة للتنفيذ. وتهدف التجربة إلى الجمع بين تخصصات متعددة في سياق مستويات علمية متباينة كذلك تهدف إلى التعاون بين مع كافة الأطراف الأخرى المعنية بأهداف التجربة من خلال عملية متكاملة من العمل البحثي المرتبط بالواقع والذي ينمي داخل الجامعة روحا من المسئولية المجتمعية.



1.      إنتاج أبحاث أكاديمية متعددة المجالات ،مرتبطه إرتباطا وثيقا بإحتياجات المجتمع.

2.      تطبيق نتائج وتوصيات هذه الدراسات من خلال مشروعات تعود بفائدة على المجتمع.

3.      إستغلال هذا النهج لتقوية العلاقات بين الجامعة والحيّ المحيط بها وبين مستويات الدراسة الجامعية والدراسات العليا.




Saturday, 13 April 2013: 5:00 pm  - Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University

In the context of a proposal for Ain Shams University Neighborhood Initiative - Proposed by the Department of Architecture in partnership with the Built Environment Collective  - Megawra

The Neighborhood Initiative of the American University of Beirut was launched in 2007 to encourage faculty and students to contribute to solving the problems affecting the district of Beirut located just outside the university walls.  The Initiative is housed in the President’s Office, and works with academic and non-academic units across the university and a wide variety of stakeholders in the neighborhood and in government.  Among the issues addressed are congestion, noise pollution, poor walkability, the near absence of greenery, an aging population, and growing disparities between rich and poor residents.

Cynthia Myntti is Professor of Public Health Practice and Project Leader, Neighborhood Initiative, American University of Beirut.  She received her PhD in social anthropology from the London School of Economics; a Masters of Architecture from Yale University; and a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins.  She has been associated with the American University of Beirut since 1972, first as a graduate student and later a faculty member.  Cynthia also spent nearly a decade in Cairo and is author of the photographic book ‘Paris along the Nile: Architecture in Cairo from the Belle Epoque” published by AUC Press



Any attempt to understand our local problems – their reasons, indicators and potential solutions – cannot afford to ignore institutions of higher education as principle stakeholders that are able to contribute effectively to the problem-solving framework. The contribution of universities ideally builds on a capacity for conducting research linked to a universal knowledge base and an ability to tap into an unrivaled pool of human resources taken from its students and staff.

In this initiative, academics from Ain Shams University come together to carry out research on the neighborhood of al-‘Abbasiyya - where the two Ain Shams campuses are located. This research is built on field research and is meant to produce results that can be applied in interventions for the betterment of the neighborhood. It is also meant to bring together academics from different fields (humanities – social studies – sciences) and different levels (post-graduate and undergraduate) and stakeholders from different backgrounds (academia – government – residents – civil society – CSR) in a process that orients the university towards a holistic realistic approach to research and builds within it an ethos of social responsibility.

The objective of this initiative is therefore threefold:

  •  to produce interdisciplinary academic research that is linked to societal needs and concerns and grounded in real-life observations;
  • to implement the results and recommendations of this research in urban interventions of benefit to society and that ultimately enrich the research process;
  •  to use this process to strengthen multi-lateral ties: between the university and the surrounding neighborhood; between post-graduate and undergraduate programs; between the different disciplines; between academia, civil society and the government.

Bulaq: the struggle over a neighborhood

image image

كتب علي محمد احمد

هندسة عمارة- بوليتكنيكو دي ميلانو

لقاء مع نائب محافظ القاهره عقب قطع أهالى بولاق لطريق الكورنيش


خرج أهالى مثلث" ماسبيرو" فى عدة وقفات أحتجاجيه حتى قاموا بقطع طريق الكورنيش فى أخر وقفه و ذلك بعد أستمرار تجاهل مطالبهم خلال الوقفات الأولى.

تقوم المحافظه بالتفاوض مع ملاك الأراضى ( المستثمرين ) لمحاولة أصدار قرار أستيلاء على جزء من الأرض لبناء 64 برج لأهالى ماسبيرو لتسكينهم بها, و صرح نائب المحافظ بأن عملية بيع الأرض تمت بين الأهالى و المستثمرين دون تدخل من الدوله و أن دور المحافظه يقتصر على التنسيق من أجل توفير مسكن بديل للأهالى.

أكد أيضا نائب المحافظ أن هناك مخططات موضوعه لتطوير المنطقه و تحويلها الى فنادق و مبانى أداريه و غيره.


مثلث ماسبيرو هو ذلك المثلث الذى تتكون أضلاعه من شارع 26 يوليو فى المنطقه الواقعه بين قنصلية أيطاليا و كورنيش النيل مرورا بمسجد أبو العلا و الضلع الثانى شارع الجلاء فى المنطقه الواقعه بين قنصلية أيطاليا و فندق هيلتون رمسيس مرورا بشركة أسكندريه للتبريد و المدرسه الأرمينيه و الضلع الثالث طريق الكورنيش من الفندق لوزارة الخارجيه مرورا بمبنى" ماسبيرو”.

يخترق المثلث شارع أبو طالب الممتد من شارع الجلاء حتى ظهر جراج الخارجيه موازيا لطريق الكورنيش, و بمجرد دخولك الى شارع أبو طالب تجد الكثير من المشاهد التى تجسد أهمالا متراكما يتمثل فى الحاله المتدهوره للمبانى و السيارات المنتشره فى الطريق التى يعمل بعض من أهل المنطقه على أصلاحها من أجل الحصول على قوت يومهم و ليس لدي أغلبهم ورش خاصه فقد يضطر الى المبيت فى كثير من الأحيان داخل أحد السيارات ليوفر ثمن الذهاب الى مدينة النهضه ( أحدى الأماكن التى وفرتها الدوله كبديل لأزاحة السكان عن بولاق) , فى شارع أبوطالب يمكنك أن ترى وجوه أرهقها العمر و لكن أبدا لم يهزمها, بعض من هؤلاء السكان رحل أبائهم من النوبه القديمه و أستقر بهم الحال عند ساحل بولاق ( الميناء القديم للقاهره ), و لم يكن يخطر ببالهم أن أجيالا قادمه سوف تتعرض لشبح التهجير و لكن هذه المره فى قلب العاصمه و ليس من أجل مشروع قومى ولكن من أجل بناء فنادق و منتجعات و مونوريل و أطماع مستثمرين.

بولاق بشوارعها و حواريها و أهلها جزء أصيل من قلب القاهره و نسيجها العمرانى القديم و هي حلقة وصل بين شبرا و السبتيه و رمسيس و القاهره الخديويه وهذا النسيج التاريخى هو دليل على الوجود و على البقاء


موقع المثلث و المنطقه المخطط أزالتها داخله

من يملك 

هناك بعض المبانى فى المثلث ملكيتها ثابته أو على الأقل غير متنازع عليها مثل : القنصليه, وزارة الخارجيه, مبنى الأذاعه, الفندق, مجموعه من العمارات فى حاله جيده على شارع 26 يوليو و الكورنيش, و المدرسه الأرمينيه.

و بالطبع فأن محل النزاع هى بيوت أهالى المنطقه الذين ليس لهم سند فلا هم فندق و لا وزاره و لكن الدوله تتعامل معهم على أنهم ملكيه عامه يمكن التحكم فى مصيرهم حسب هوى السلطه.

قامت الدوله ببيع هذا الجزء من الأرض منذ عدة عقود لمستثمرين من السعوديه و الكويت بالأضافه الى شريك مصرى هى شركه تدعى ماسبيرو لا أحد يعلم من يقف خلفها, و برغم من أن الدوله لا تملك الأرض و أن أهالى المنطقه يملكون عقود للأرض ترجع الى بدايات القرن الماضى و تنتمى لأجدادهم و لكن الدوله أتمت صفقة البيع و قامت بوضع مخطط لتطوير المنطقه فى أطار مخطط القاهره 2050 و قامت بتوفير مساكن بديله للأهالى على أطراف القاهره بمدينة النهضه و تم تسجيل العقود بأسم المستثمريين الجدد و ربما هذا ما تم أستغلاله للتحايل على العقود التى يمتلكها السكان حيث أنها تنتمى لعصر قبل أن يتم أعتماد نظام التوثيق فى الشهر العقارى و غيره , و حتى تضع الدوله السكان الذين رفضوا مغادرة منازلهم أمام الأمر الواقع قررت حظر الترميم و التنكيس للمبانى حتى يتثنى لهل الأستيلاء على العقارات التى تسقط بفعل الزمن و يصبح الساكن أمام الرحيل للنهضه أو المبيت فى العراء, و لما كان أنهيار المساكن مسأله وقت لقدمها فكان حظر التنكيس و الترميم هو الحل السحرى للأستيلاء أولا بأول على أجزاء من الأرض مقابل مبلغ زهيد و شقه فى النهضه بأيجار أعلى من ااموجود ببولاق, و تكون هذه ورقه ضغط على السكان فى حالة أظهار عقودهم تثبت أنهم قد تنازلوا , و أمام أبتزاز الحكومه لم يجد البعض مفر من الذهاب للنهضه و لكن الغالبيه صمدوا و ظلوا فى منطقتهم و أصبح الوضع الجديد أن الدوله بائع و المستثمر مالك و أصحاب الأرض الأصليين متطفلين بل عائق أمام تطوير قلب القاهره فى حين أن بولاق ملك أهلها و القاهره ملك سكانها و ليست ملك مستثمر أو مسئول


من يعد

كن الوعد الأول هو أعادة تسكين أهالى المنطقه فى مدينة النهضه على طريق الأسماعيليه فى كتل خرسانيه فى الصحراء, بعيدا عن مدارس أطفالهم و أماكن عملهم و بعيدا عن محلات وسط البلد التى تمدهم بقطع الغيار و لوازم الحرف و الأعمال المختلفه من أصلاح سيارات و غيره, و أيضا بعيدا عن مختلف وسائل المواصلات فبولاق محاطه بمترو جمال عبد الناصر و موقف عبد المنعم رياض و العديد من وسائل المواصلات الخاصه ,و يترتب على هذا الأنتقال فى بعض الأحيان أخراج الأطفال من التعليم لعدم القدره على تحمل أعباء المواصلات و فقدان الأهل لوسيلة كسب الرزق المتمثله فى الورش المختلفه فلا يوجد من يقصد النهضه لأصلاح سياره مثلا.

الوعد الثانى بعد الثوره كان الأستجابه لرغبات الأهالى بعدم التهجير و بحث اليات أيجاد بديل ( حيث أن هولاء الأهالى حاليا ليس لهم صفه و هناك مالك اخر للأرض ), و تم التوصل الى بناء 64 برج على قطعه معينه من الأرض لم يتم تحديدها و أن كان الأهالى أقترحوا أرض شركة الأسكندريه للتبريد ب 22 شارع الجلاء و هى غير مستغله حاليا مع أستمرار تنفيذ مخطط التطوير من جانب الدوله و المستثمرين المجهولين على باقى الأرض, و أذا كانت الحكومه تنكر ملكية الأهالى للأرض من الأصل و تنكر أنها طرف فى عملية البيع فلابد من أن المستثمر قد أشترى من طرف ثالث !

الوعد الثالث و الأخير حتى الان عقب أحداث قطع طريق الكورنيش الأخيره و هو أعطاء المحافظه مهلة أشهر للأهالى حتى تنظر فى قانونية وضع الأستيلاء على المساحه المطلوبه لبناء الأبراج و أن المحافظه فى وضع المنسق بين الأهالى ( المالك الحقيقى ) و المستثمر ( المالك الحالى ) حتى لا تتعدى على حقوق المستثمرين


أرض شركة الأسكندريه للتبريد على شارع الجلاء

من يستحق 

مفهوم أن يكون طموح السكان هو ال64 برج فهو بالنسبه لهم أستحقاق أفضل من أن يجدوا أنفسهم فى الشارع أو فى مدينة النهضه فى صحراء لا يعلمون عنها شيئا و لكن الغير مفهوم أن تبارك الدوله بأجهزتها هذا الأستحقاق و أن تبارك مخطط تطوير يقوم بأزاحه مواطنين من أماكنهم و تكبيدهم متاعب يوميه أكثر و ليس مخطط لتطوير معيشة السكان أنفسهم و توفير حياه أفضل لهم فى محل أقامتهم.

أرض بولاق أستحقاق أصيل لأهل بولاق و أستحقاق أصيل لنسيج القاهره العمرانى و التاريخى لا يجوز أزالته و لكن يجب حمايته و ترميمه و بقاءه كجزء من ذاكرة المدينه, حق تحديد المصير أيضا أستحقاق لأهل المنطقه فلا يجوز لأحد التقرير بالنيابه عنهم بل دور الدوله هو حمايتهم من أطماع الرأسماليه و حمايه نسيج القاهره العمرانى القديم من خطر الأزاله, يجب توفير مسكن ملائم لأهل المنطقه على هذا النسيج و ليس فى أبراج. حق تقرير المصير هذا يجب أن يكون ناتج من حوار بين الأهالى و متخصصين و هذا يأخذنا لدور المحليات الغائب عنه التمثيل الحقيقى للمواطن.

القاهره تستحق أفضل من مخطط القاهره 2050, و تحتاج الى تطوير حياة سكانها الحقيقيين الذين هم دينامو الحياه اليوميه للمدينه و لا يستحقون التهميش, القاهره لا تستحق محو ذاكرتها المعماريه و تحويلها ألى دبى جديده تتنافس فى رؤيه النيل و أهلها يصارعون من أجل مأوى و لقمة عيش, قلب القاهره يريد أن ينبض من جديد بتحسين أوضاع سكانه و ليس بدعاوى تطوير زائفه, و كورنيش النيل حق لمواطنى العاصمه لا يجوز حرمانهم منه فى أنفاق حتى يتثنى لقاطنى الفنادق الأنفراد به بعيدا عن أنظار الماره


لا تحتاج القاهره الى أبراج زجاجيه و مجتمعات مغلقه جديده فى قلب المدينه لخدمة شريحه معينه تريد أن تنعزل عن باقى المجتمع وتنفرد بالنيل حتى تتحول فى النهايه القاهره الى مجموعه من الحواجز و الأسوار نتحرك بينها مثل الأقزام.


هل حل المشكله فى توفير 64 برج أم الحل هو النظر فى جذر المشكله ؟

هل يجوز قلب الحقائق حتى يصبح الأهالى هم المتطفلين وقطاع طرق و هم من يثقلون بطلباتهم على كاهل الدوله ؟

ما المقصود بمراعاة السلميه فى التظاهر السلمى ؟ السلميه تشترط توافر حكومه محترمه تنظر فى مطالب المواطنين من أول وقفه أما مقابلة الوقفات بمبدأ الكلاب تعوى و القافله تسير يفتح الباب على مصراعيه للتصعيد و تخطى حدود السلميه حتى لأيصال أصواتهم.

ما هو دور المحليات و المتخصصين ؟ و ما هى حدود دور المسئول فى أتخاذ قرارات مصيريه تخص حياة المواطن ؟

لماذا لا تخرج الدوله ممثله فى المحافظ أو أيا من كان بمنتهى الشفافيه لتعرض علينا الطرف البائع للأرض هل هى الدوله أم الأهالى ؟

هل من المنطقى وجود مخطط لتطوير المنطقه لأستخدامات أخرى دون وجود نيه لأزاحة السكان ؟

هل من المنطقى أن تنكر الدوله ملكيه الأرض للسكان فى يوم من الأيام و تمنع تنكيس و ترميم المبانى و تعطى مقابل مادى من أجل نقل السكان الى مكان أخر و يكون الطرف البائع هو أهالى المنطقه و ليس الدوله؟

ما المقصود بكلمة تطوير هل هو محو ذاكرة منطقه و تغيير قلب المدينه على الخريطه, أم عمل مشروعات تنمويه تصب فى تحسين معيشة سكان المدينه اليوميه ؟

أذا لم يتم الأجابه عن هذه الأسئله بمصداقيه و شفافيه و وعى بخطورة ما نقوم به من أجرائات على المدى الطويل تؤدى الى طمس معالم المكان الذى نعيش فيه, فلنودع القاهره و لنرحب بعاصمه جديده كرتونيه, فالحلقه بين المواطن و المسئول و بين الدوله و المجتمع مفقوده, و ما بولاق الا حلقه فى سلسله متصله لمحو ذاكرة أمه بفصل المكان عن الزمان.

نعم للتطوير لا للتهجير.

لقاء مع أهالى بولاق


صوره من مخطط القاهره 2050

جميع الصور لمنطقة بولاق من تصوير كاتب المقال على محمد احمد

Muhammad Ali Street and the shifting symbolism of Cairo’s cityscape


[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.  

Neighborhood: Fagala


في دائرة الضوء: عندما تتراجع الثقافة لمصلحة الأدوات الصحية

المصدر:الأهرام-الطبعة الدولية

بقلم سيد صالح

الفجالة.ليست مجرد شارع عتيق في منطقة عريقة بل إنه جزء حيوي بحكم الجغرافيا والتاريخ من ذاكرة القاهرة الخديوية وإبان الدولة الإخشيدية، والفاطمية، وفيه أنشأ الخديو إسماعيل سكة الفجالة التي كانت بمثابة نقطة تحول في تاريخها، وفي أوج مجده وعزته في عصرنا الحديث بعد أن عرف هذا الشارع المطابع أصبح مقصدا للثقافة بلامنافس وموردا للإبداع الذي لاينضب في بحار المعرفة، ومكانا مرموقا لإنتاج الأدب المصري والعربي وتعددت فيه المنتديات والمقاهي الأدبية في عصر كان الكتاب سيده والأدباء تاجا علي رأس أمة عرفت الحضارة منذ فجر التاريخ.

وقبل ثلاثين عاما فقط، كان رواد شارع الفجالة الراحلون: عميد الأدب العربي الدكتور طه حسين، وأديب نوبل نجيب محفوظ، وتوفيق الحكيم، ويوسف السباعي، ومحمد عبد الحليم عبد الله، وعلي احمد باكثير، وغيرهم من الكتاب والمثقفين الذين كانوا يترددون علي دور النشر التي تقوم بنشر مؤلفاتهم، أو كانوا يشترون أحدث الكتب من هناك.
الصورة الآن تغيرت.والأحوال تبدلت، فكثير ممن يترددون علي شارع الفجالة حاليا، لشراء الكتب، والأدوات المدرسية، يضربون كفا بكف!والشارع الذي كان مقرا رئيسياً لبيع الكتب في مصر علي الإطلاق، تحول إلي محلات، ومستودعات لبيع الأدوات الصحية، والسيراميك وأطقم الحمامات، والأدوات الصحية.حتي اسم الشارع تغير من الفجالة إلي شارع كامل صدقي!

باختصار. كان شارع الفجالة معرضا دائماً للكتاب طوال العام. لكنها حركة التاريخ التي تؤكد أن دوام الحال من المحال!

بستان المقس

مدخل شارع كامل صدقي”الفجالة سابقاً”كما يقول حمدي أبوجليل مؤلف كتاب”القاهرة.شوارع وحكايات”محاط بثلاثة فنادق عتيقة، هي راديو بالاس، ورمسيس، والشعب، وهي تنتمي جمعياً لأواخر القرن التاسع عشر، وكانت هذه الفنادق تلقي قبولاً لدي القادمين من الصعيد، الراغبين في الإقامة لليلة أو ليلتين، ويبدأ شارع الفجالة من ميدان رمسيس، وهو أكبر ميادين القاهرة، حيث يستقبل ملايين الزوار يومياً، لوجود محطة القطار الرئيسية، وقد بدأ تاريخ شارع الفجالة قبل تاريخ الفتح الإسلامي لمصر، ويقع الشارع علي مشارف بستان المقس”و”المقس”هو اختصار لكلمة المقسم، حيث كان يجري تقسيم الغنائم في تلك المنطقة إبان عهد عمرو بن العاص عندما فتح مصر.ولمن لا يعرف فبستان المقس هو الاسم الذي أطلق علي المسافة التي تفصل بين ميداني رمسيس والعتبة.

وفي بداية عهد الدولة الأموية، كانت الأرض التي يتوسطها شارع الفجالة الآن، تعتبر خارج الزمام(أي خارج سور القاهرة الفاطمية)، فأمر صلاح الدين الأيوبي، وزيره الشهير قراقوش الأسدي بأن يبدأ في بناء سور جديد للقاهرة، حيث جري بموجب السور ضم هذه المنطقة للقاهرة، وكانت بقايا السور موجودة حتي نهاية القرن التاسع عشر بالقرب من شارع الفجالة، ومن ناحية باب الشعرية، كانت بالفجالة قرية تدعي كوم الريش، وقد تحولت إلي تلال عالية، حيث كانت مأوي للصوص، والخارجين علي القانون، حتي جاءت الحملة الفرنسية علي مصر، فقررت تنظيم شارع الفجالة، وأزالت التلال، لكن بقايا التلال ظلت موجودة، حتي جاء علي مبارك وزير الأشغال في عهد الخديوي إسماعيل، وأنشأ مقر السكة الحديد، ومستوصفا طبيا في هذه المنطقة.

الفجالة وزراعة الفجل

وقد أطلق اسم الفجالة علي الشارع والمنطقة منذ ما لا يقل عن مائتي عام، ويرجع الاسم علي أن هذه المنطقة كانت تشتهر بزراعة الخضروات، وخاصة الفجل، أما اسم كامل صدقي فقد أطلق علي الشارع في أواخر أربعينيات القرن الماضي، وكامل صدقي هو النقيب الحادي عشر لنقابة المحامين، وكان وزيرا بارزاً في حكومة الوفد في عام 1940.
وتذكر كتب التاريخ ان هذا الحي كان عبارة عن قرية اسمها (أم دنين) ولما تولي الامير ابو بكر محمد بن طغج الاخشيدي رأس الدولة الاخشيدية حكم مصر عام 935م قام بتعمير ارضها وأنشأ بستانا سمي البستان الكافوري، اما الخلفاء الفاطميون فقد اتخذوا من الفجالة مقرا للهو وفبنوا فيها المناظر وغرسوا البساتين بل انشأوا السراديب تحت الارض من الأزهر حتي الفجالة، لكي لا يراهم عامة الشعب عند ذهابهم للهو. ويعتبر الأمير سيف الدين المهراني أول من بني جامعا وعمارة ودارا ومسكنا بالقرب من الفجالة وسماها منشأة المهراني، وأطلق اسم الفجالة الحديثة علي هذه المنطقة منذ نحو مائتي عام لشهرة أرضها بزراعة الفجل، وكانت إلي عهد قريب من أكثر المناطق ازدحاما بالمسيحيين ، ويرجع ذلك الي عائلة قطاوي اليهودية التي كانت تمتلك أرضا هناك فباعوها لبعض أعيان الاقباط.
شهدت”أرض الفجالة”في القاهرة المملوكية نمواً لنشاط نسخ وبيع الكتب الأدبية والسير الشعبية والأزجال المصرية موازياً لنشاط شارع الأزهر في نسخ وبيع كتب التراث”وعلوم الدين!بل يمكن القول إنه إذا كانت منطقة الأزهر الشريف قد تخصصت في الكتب الدينية الإسلامية مع بعض الكتب الأخري، فقد تخصصت أرض الفجالة في كتب الأدب والفن والفلسفة مع كتب الديانات والطوائف غير الإسلامية!

ومع دخول المطابع بداية من الحملة الفرنسية، ثم انتشارها في عهد الأسرة العلوية، تحولت هذه “الأرض” إلي “شارع” استطاع أن يحفر لنفسه تاريخاً جديداً، فإلي جوار مكتبات نشر وبيع وتوزيع الكتب، ظهرت محلات بيع الأدوات الكتابية! التي ظلت لوقت قريب مقصدا لسكان القاهرة توفر لأبنائهم مستلزمات طلاب المدارس والجامعات من تلك الأدوات.
والفجالة كانت في الماضي مكانا مزدحما بالناشرين، وكانت المكتبات تتراص علي الجانبين في مشهد مهيب، وأقدم هؤلاء مكتبة نهضة مصر التي تأسست في عام1938، ومكتبة مصر التي أسسها سعيد جودة السحار في عام1934(وهو ناشر نجيب محفوظ)، والمكتبة المصرية التي تأسست في عام1940، وأحدث هذه المكتبات هي مكتبة دار المعارف، والتي افتتحت في الشارع منذ الستينيات، يضاف إلي ذلك مكتبات الغريب، والأهرام، والعهد الجديد، وتحول الشارع إلي ساحة للمكتبات، وانطلقت بها أسرة زيدان الشامية الشهيرة، حيث أسس إبراهيم زيدان مكتبة الهلال أقدم مكتبة بشارع الفجالة في عام1889، وإبراهيم هو ابن عم جورجي زيدان صاحب الروايات التاريخية الشهيرة، ومؤسس دار الهلال للصحافة.


شارع الفجالة من الخارج-تصوير:شريف محمود

الشوام واليهود سكنوه

أما سكان الفجالة فكان معظمهم من الشوام، واليهود، ومن أبرزهم عائلة قطاوي اليهودية، والتي كانت تمتلك جزءاً كبيراً من ارض الشارع، كما أن من ابرز الشخصيات التي أقامت به السيدة روزا اليوسف، والتي أسست فيما بعد دار روزا اليوسف للصحافة ومقرها شارع قصر العيني، وربما يعود ذلك لكون الموقع الجغرافي للشارع متميزا، فهو علي بعد خطوات من قلب القاهرة، حيث حي الأزبكية بحدائقه ومسارحه، وشارع عماد الدين، وشارع كلوت بك بملاهيه ومقاهيه، إضافة لوجود الشارع ضمن نطاق حي الضاهر، الذي أنشأه الظاهر بيبرس، كحي متميز للنخبة الإجتماعية، بمبانٍ فخمة، وبعدد من المعابد والكنائس للطوائف الدينية، كل ذلك أعطي للفجالة خصوصية الرخاء والإزدهار الذي يتولد عادة من التنوع الإجتماعي والفكري

ذهبنا إلي أحد سكان منطقة الفجالة، وهو عاطف جورج، والذي يقيم فيها منذ عام 1974، ويصف لنا حال المنطقة، الذي تبدل بمرور السنوات، فقد كان الشارع هادئا، ومعظم سكانه من الشوام، واليهود، وفضلاً عن نظافة المكان، وبعد السادسة مساء كان الشارع يدخل في حالة من الهدوء العميق، ثم تبدأ حركة السكان في اليوم التالي، وكان معظم من يترددون علي شارع الفجالة يأتون لشراء الكتب، أو لطباعتها، حيث كانت المنطقة تضم العديد من المطابع.
وفي أواخر الستينيات من القرن الماضي، نشأت لوكاندة”فونتانا”وكان معظم نزلائها من الروس، والإسرائيليين، وكان سعر الليلة لا يتجاوز الــ14جنيهاً، وحالياً وصل سعر المبيت لليلة واحدة فيها إلي نحو55دولاراً، أو ما يعادل258جنيها مصرياً.

بداية الانقلاب علي الكتب

وشارع الفجالة، كما يتذكر عاطف جورج، كان منارة للثقافة، ومقراً للعديد من المكتبات، والمطابع، حتي تراجعت الثقافة لصالح تجارة السيراميك، والأدوات الصحية، والتي بدأت بصورة طفيفة في الستينيات من القرن الماضي، حيث كانت تضم ستة من المقاولين السباكين( الذي يتعاقدون علي تنفيذ أعمال السباكة في العمارات، والمباني السكنية) ومن أبرزهم أديب، وزكي شاروبيم، وأبناء سعد حنا، وإخوان مقار، وحامد مصطفي، وعبد الحميد رشوان، وعطا لله، وبولس لوقا (المقلب آن ذاك بملك الزهر في الفجالة).

وقد تزامنت سوق الكتب في الفجالة مع نشأة سور الأزبكية، ومعها أقيمت المكتبات، التي صارت سمة مميزة لشارع الفجالة دون غيره، حيث كان ولا يزال عدد كبير من المثقفين، والباحثين عن الكتب المدرسية الخارجية، والأدوات المكتبية يرتادون هذا الشارع، وإن كان عدد المكتبات قد انخفض، ومعه انخفض عدد المترددين علي الشارع، بعد أن طغت تجارة السيراميك، والأدوات الصحية علي النشاط التجاري بالشارع.

غادرنا عاطف جورج، وانطلقنا في مختلف شوارع منطقة الفجالة، حيث يقع عدد من البيوت العتيقة الخالية من سكانها، وقادتنا أقدامنا أنا ومصور الأهرام إلي شارع لينان باشا، حيث يقع مسجد عامر، وهو أقدم مساجد الفجالة علي الإطلاق كما ذكرنا، وقد بني منذ 59 عاماً، وجري تجديده من الخارج عدة مرات، حيث تم طلاء أبوابه، وشبابيكه، وحوائطه، ويتم فتحه أمام المصلين في مواعيد الصلاة فقط.

في شارع لينان باشا، وبالقرب من مسجد عامر، يجلس الحاج إسماعيل عبد الفتاح أمام ورشة تشغيل المعادن، وتبدو تجاعيد الزمن علي وجه الرجل، فهو من مواليد شارع قصر اللؤلؤة بالفجالة في عام1947م، ومن هذا التاريخ وهو لم يغادرها، ويسترجع الحاج إسماعيل تاريخ الفجالة من ذاكرته، حيث يقول إن الشارع كان يضم مكتبات، ومطابع، وخمارات، فقط لقربه من شارع”كلوت بك”الشهير الذي كان يرتاده بائعات الهوي، وراغبو المتعة الحرام، وبين هذا الكم الضخم من المكتبات كانت تقع محلات السباكة، وبدأت المنطقة تتوسع في تجارة الأدوات الصحية لقربها من منطقة السبتية، وهي المصدر الرئيس للأدوات الصحية المصنوعة من الزهر.

السيراميك في مواجهة الثقافة

أما كيف استوطنت محلات السيراميك في منطقة الفجالة، فتفسير ذلك لدي الحاج إسماعيل عبد الفتاح أن المحلات كانت رخيصة السعر، وإيجارها لا يتجاوز الأربعة جنيهات شهرياً، وكان تجار السيراميك يغرون المستأجرين من أصحاب الحرف، والأنشطة البسيطة، فيدفعون”خلو رجل”يتراوح بين10آلاف جنيه، و15ألف جنيه للمحل حسب مساحته، وعمر المبني، وبدأت تجارة السيراميك تنشط شيئاً فشيئاً حتي حاصرت تجارة الكتب، وانحسرت معها أعداد المكتبات، والآن وصل سعر المحل في الفجالة علي مليون جنيه، أو ما يزيد علي ذلك بحسب الموقع، والمساحة، وحالة المبني، وبعد أن كان عدد محلات الأدوات لصحية لا يتجاوز ستة محلات في المنطقة، وصل حالياً علي أكثر من400محل، في مقابل ما لا يزيد علي50أو60محلا لبيع الكتب.

مستقبل الفجالة في خطر

غادرنا شارع لينان باشا، وتركنا الحاج إسماعيل لنعود إلي شارع الفجالة، حيث المبني رقم 37 من الشارع، هناك تقع مكتبة مصر الشهيرة، التي أسسها سعيد جودة السحار في عام 1931م، وهناك يسترجع أمير السحار ( وعمره 71 عاماً)، وهو أحد أصحاب المكتبة، ما كان عليه الشارع في الستينيات من القرن الماضي، حين كانت الفجالة كلها عبارة عن مقاه، ومكتبات، وخمارات، ومحلات للحلاقة، ومحلات بيع وإصلاح الساعات، وقد باعها أصحابها لمحلات الأدوات الصحية والسيراميك، بسبب الإغراءات المالية التي تعرضوا لها، فحصلوا علي المال، وقاموا بشراء محلات بأسعار اقل في مناطق أخري، ومن ثم أصبحت الفجالة سوقاً رئيسية لتجارة السيراميك في القاهرة، أما المكتبات فحالها يدعو للأسي، حيث تراجعت أعدادها علي الربع تقريباً بسبب زحف تجارة السيراميك، والأدوات الصحية علي نشاط تجارة الكتب.
وحتي لانكون من أولئك الذين يبكون علي أطلال الماضي أو نقف في وجه حركة تطور تبدو طبيعية، بحكم الحاجة، يبقي علينا في نفس الوقت ألا نتجاهل “القيمة” قيمة الأثر التاريخي والعلمي لبعض الأشياء بما يدعو لحمايتها وتمييزها استثناءً من قانون العرض والطلب وحتي لايتوه منا الطريق فلننظر قليلا للوقائع المماثلة في الداخل والخارج وعلي سبيل المثال وليس الحصر: تمتعت بعض الأماكن المماثلة لحماية وزارة الثقافة المصرية، كما حدث مع شارع “خان الخليلي” في القاهرة القديمة من حماية لتجارة البازار السياحي في أوروبا الحديثة حيث تتفنن البلديات في منح إمتيازات للأنشطة ذات البعد الثقافي والسياحي والتاريخي علي حساب أنشطة السوق التجارية التي توجه لأماكن جديدة ومجمعات صناعية وتجارية متخصصة!
ومن هنا يجب علي وزارة الثقافة بالتعاون مع المحليات أن تتشدد في شروط الترخيص والتجديد للأنشطة الصناعية والتجارية البعيدة عن النشاط المميز للشارع وتمنح في نفس الوقت بعض التسهيلات التي تضمن إستمرار أنشطة نشر وبيع الكتب حتي تظل”الفجالة منورة بأهلها”

Abbasiya: Protest venue…historical district

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.

Bulaq - Among the ruins of an unfinished revolution.

On 25th January thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, sparking what we call now the Egyptian Revolution. Only a few hundred meters far from the world-famous square, the people from popular neighborhood Bulaq joined protesters, finding in demonstrations something more than a glimmer of hope. Through their voices, ‘Bulaq’ portrays their collective struggle against eviction and social marginalization, whose destiny seems to be strictly intertwined with the hesitant fortunes of the Egyptian spring.

Runtime: 25 min

Lessons from elsewhere: Jane Jacobs

The following excerpt is from a seminal 1958 essay by Jane Jacobs republished by Fortune in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

If the downtown of tomorrow looks like most of the redevelopment projects being planned for it today, it will end up a monumental bore. But downtown could be made lively and exciting — and it’s not too hard to find out how.

By Jane Jacobs

This year is going to be a critical one for the future of the city. All over the country civic leaders and planners are preparing a series of redevelopment projects that will set the character of the center of our cities for generations to come. Great tracts, many blocks wide, are being razed; only a few cities have their new downtown projects already under construction; but almost every big city is getting ready to build, and the plans will soon be set.

What will the projects look like? They will be spacious, parklike, and uncrowded. They will feature long green vistas. They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery. And each project will look very much like the next one: the Golden Gateway office and apartment center planned for San Francisco; the Civic Center for New Orleans; the Lower Hill auditorium and apartment project for Pittsburgh; the Convention Center for Cleveland; the Quality Hill offices and apartments for Kansas City; the downtown scheme for Little Rock; the Capitol Hill project for Nashville. From city to city the architects’ sketches conjure up the same dreary scene; here is no hint of individuality or whim or surprise, no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own.

These projects will not revitalize downtown; they will deaden it. For they work at cross-purposes to the city. They banish the street. They banish its function. They banish its variety. There is one notable exception, the Gruen plan for Fort Worth; ironically, the main point of it has been missed by the many cities that plan to imitate it. Almost without exception the projects have one standard solution for every need: commerce, medicine, culture, government—whatever the activity, they take a part of the city’s life, abstract it from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and set it, like a self-sufficient island, in majestic isolation.

There are, certainly, ample reasons for redoing downtown—falling retail sales, tax bases in jeopardy, stagnant real-estate values, impossible traffic and parking conditions, failing mass transit, encirclement by slums. But with no intent to minimize these serious matters, it is more to the point to consider what makes a city center magnetic, what can inject the gaiety, the wonder, the cheerful hurly-burly that make people want to come into the city and to linger there. For magnetism is the crux of the problem. All downtown’s values are its byproducts. To create in it an atmosphere of urbanity and exuberance is not a frivolous aim.

We are becoming too solemn about downtown. The architects, planners—and businessmen—are seized with dreams of order, and they have become fascinated with scale models and bird’s-eye views. This is a vicarious way to deal with reality, and it is, unhappily, symptomatic of a design philosophy now dominant: buildings come first, for the goal is to remake the city to fit an abstract concept of what, logically, it should be. But whose logic? The logic of the projects is the logic egocentric children, playing with pretty blocks and shouting “See what I made!”—a viewpoint much cultivated in our schools of architecture and design. And citizens who should know better are so fascinated by the sheer process of rebuilding that the end results are secondary to them.

With such an approach, the end results will be about as helpful to the city as the dated relics of the City Beautiful movement, which in the early years of this century was going to rejuvenate the city by making it parklike, spacious, and monumental. For the underlying intricacy, and the life that makes downtown worth fixing at all, can never be fostered synthetically. No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at the boulevards of Paris, as the City Beautiful people did; and they can’t find it by looking at suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities.

You’ve got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)

You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.

If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York’s handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?

It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.

Read the full essay, here.

Al-Ashraf Street شارع الاشراف

Al Ashraf Street is slightly south and east of Ibn Tulun Mosque. Historic cemetaries fall in the area between Al Ashraf Street and Salah Salem (right of the image) while to the west of Al-Ashraf are Nasser/Sadat era housing known as al-Masaken (left of the image)

Al Ashraf Street leads to midan Sayeda Nafisa. The street is about 4 meters wide and on one side has little shops (barber, café, refreshments, etc) while on the other the street is lined by some of Medieval Cairo’s many shrines, mosques and historic houses in between more recent self-built houses. I went there last week with my friend Gamal who challenged me that he will take me to some beautiful buildings that I had never seen. Of course I said something along the lines of “I’ve seen it all.” I had never been to Sayeda Nafisa, Sayeda Roqaya, or even on that street all together. I don’t know about the history of this particular street but on the surface of things it is a typical “Islamic Cairo” street: there is a strong neighborhood feel, seems to be ignored by authorities and any updates seem to have been carried out with very limited resources by residents, there are amazing architectural gems and historic monuments, some of those such as the mosques of Nafisa and Fatma are in good shape because they are religious shrines and must have some kind of endowment or are looked after by the Awqaf ministry, other medieval or historic buildings are unlabeled, unidentified, neglected, some contemporary shanty structures have climbed over the historic fabric, utilities and basic services such as trash collection seem to not exist.

It was hard for me to pass through this street and not imagine what it so desperately wants to be. I couldn’t help but imagine cobblestones, a few trees, the neglected historic monuments restored and accessible. There are men hanging around on a few mended chairs with no skills or jobs. With little investment these men can be trained and given building and restoration skills that will be used to repave the street, rebuilt and repair the housing fabric, restore the monuments, refurbish the commercial edge and maintain the street. the commercial edge can be revamped and updated and micro-credits can allow those businesses to flourish. Neighborhood facilities can be updated with some state investment, some private investment, some micro-loans to the community and put people from the street and the neighborhood to fix and maintain the area. I know this is a bit romantic but I am allowed to fantasize.

A street like this has been neglected because the state is only interested to develop areas in historic Cairo if they have touristic potential, such as El-Muez Street. Besides the fact that El-Muez is a particularly significant street with a high density of historic sites along its route, it is also easy for the state to secure. And that is the key here; the state saw common Egyptians as predators from whom tourist must be kept away from. El-Muez Street has been transformed into Cairo’s version of main street in Disneyland, there is no sense of community or a neighborhood feel anywhere along the entire length of the street itself, despite the tightly knit communities that live just off the street. Those communities were not the intention of repairing El-Muez Street and putting it on the tourist map.

So if for once, tourists aren’t the only motive for Cairo’s development projects, rather residents and communities are the motive and they themselves become active participants in urban renewal I think the final result will be better communities, more people with useful skills, a much bigger tourist map within the city, as more back alleys and streets will open up to visitors both foreign and locals from other parts of the city, and ultimately it will have a positive effect on the economy and preserve some more thitherto neglected historic sites (not for the sake of tourism but because they are essential to national patrimony!)