Media round-up on the city : March 2013

The many architectural landmarks that have collapsed since early 2013, and the recent efforts to revitalise the urban space have led us to make enquiries about the heritage issue in Egypt. This topic will cover the “focus point” of this edition (see below).

 

* Recent articles about different destructions and deterioration over cultural and architectural heritage: (Most of the destructions are listed in Cairo Observer “Destruction Alert” section)

–        January 17th 2013 : Collapse of a section of  Mohammed Ali Shubra Pavilion (Cairo)

–        January – February 2013 : The Villa Ispenian was looted and destroyed (Cairo). Articles from Daily News Egypt and Al Ahram.

–        February 2013 : The Villa Casdagli (Cairo) was looted and its staircase was set on fire : articles from Cairo Observer, and Al Ahram,  January 8th 2013 and March 19th 2013

 

* Articles on urban regeneration and revitalisation:

–        Cairo Observer with the example of the « Tiring Department Store », December 2012

–        Al Ahram, April 4th 2013, on Downtown Cairo’s urban regeneration in the framework of a contemporary arts festival.

–        On March 28th 2013 took place a lecture by Jason Hilgefort on « Urban Regeneration beyond the building » at Megawra.

 

On February 27th 2013, Khayrî Ramadan, ABC journalist, was interviewed Tarik Wafiq, Minister of Housing. It is the first major televised interview of T.Wafiq since his nomination at the “Ministry of Housing and Urban Communities” on August 2nd 2012. He presented his Ministry’s medium/long-term strategy on: rental market development, secondary cities development (such as Suez and Port-Said), and social housing policy. A French transcript of the interview is available on Carnets du CEDEJ.

 

In relation to the previous Media round up which focus was on real estate developers and their projects, Orascom’s CEO, Nassef Sawiris, was banned to travel outside the country. The company owners are suspected of a LE14 billion tax evasion ($2,1 billion).

 

Since early 2013, the energetic situation of Egypt has worsened. Few actions are taken to save money and slow down the budget deficit’s growth. Such as, turning off half of the streetlights to save about 700 megawatts and LE6 billion ($917,000). Power outages have been numerous this last month. The Egyptian household’s budget allocated to energy has increased substantially since January 2013, due to inflation, to the hike of electricity prices in February, as well as to the oil crisis, and gas prices’ increase since 2012. All this deeply affects the household’s economic situation, and rationing the subsidies is more than ever on the agenda. Also, three projects of power plants (in Ain Sokhna, Bahna and Gizeh) are in stand-by due to major strikes.

 

« Egypt Urban Futures – Session 1 : Informal Areas after 25 January 2011 » 

On March 11th 2013, was hold – in Cairo, at the French Institute – a first session, called « Informal Areas after 25 January 2011 », of a workshop organised by the CEDEJ in collaboration with UN-HABITAT and GIZ.

This workshop – “Egypt Urban Futures” – aims to discuss major urban development issues that Egypt is facing, and to provide a platform to exchange experiences and knowledge on this topic. This workshop also aims to promote a dialogue between the public and private sectors, civil society, urban activists, development organisations and academia.

This first session delves into the conditions of informal areas in Egypt, their changes and evolutions, in light of recent political events. The following questions have been addressed: Considering that the recent Arab Spring event have been triggered in cities, how will the revolution affect the structuring and governance of urban spaces? How does the Egyptian government view and intend to deal with the challenge of informal areas? Will action follow the many promises made during the presidential campaign on social justice and the improvement of living standards for the poorest?

The session was divided into two parts. The first one – more introductory – presented the development of informal areas since January 25th 2011, with a quick historical overview of the phenomena in Egypt. The second one addressed the mechanisms for dealing with challenges of informal and unsafe areas. In this last part, actors from the government, civil society, international organisation and academia, intervened and left the floor to each other, in order to provide a better insight of the situation and realize the numerous existing perspectives.

This first workshop can be considered a great success as demonstrated the national press coverage of the event (articles in Ahram online, March 12th 2013, and in Egypt Independant, March 17th 2013) and the high number of almost 200 attendees.

With the lively discussions after every section and the numerous and very welcoming feedbacks, this workshop succeeded in reflecting the importance of the topic within the society. And managed to create an effective dialogue and debate between the speakers and the audience. Throughout the presentations and discussions, new issues have been highlighted and invite to undertake reflections about it, in the future sessions of “Egypt Urban Futures” workshop series. A detailed report (in French) has been published online (see Carnets du CEDEJ).

 

« Impact of World Bank policy and programs on the built environment in Egypt »

On March 20th 2013, took place a press conference of the report: « The World Bank’s Impact on Egypt’s Built Environment », at the EIPR office (Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights).

The BIC (Bank Information Centre) in collaboration with the EIPR’s program on housing rights held this press conference to present the research and report of Yahia Shawkat on this issue. Yahia Shawkat is an architect, researcher and creator of the blog  « Shadow Ministry of Housing » (which we covered in the Media round up of September/November 2012).

This study examines the recent World Bank’s investments in Egypt and their impact on the state of Egypt’s built environment. Yahia Shawkat based his research upon the study of the World Bank’s report « Egypt 2006-2009 Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) », and reached the conclusion that despite billions of Egyptian pounds invested, the World Bank failed to address the needs of the population.

This study shows of course a critical vision of the effects of policies and programs of international institutions, like the World Bank, but also invites to a dialogue and provides the occasion of perspectives’ exchanges from various development actors.

Thus the World Bank presented some comments and answers towards the critics and interrogations of the study – while supporting this kind of approach (i.e. the critical study) – :

–        The World Bank recommends expanding the methodology and scope of the study. And encourages following a more wide ranging and in-depth evidence-based analysis, instead of relying only on qualitative, textual analysis of one document (i.e. 2009 Egypt CAS)

–        The World Bank underlines that a shift in approaches occurred, and that the Interim Strategy Note (ISN- covering July 2012-December 2013) reflects indeed the post “Arab Spring” context and differs from the past Bank engagement in Egypt. The World Bank also recommends including the « MENA Regional Strategy Update 2012 » in the study. And points out that all programs presented by the ISN are articulated around the following pillars: economic management, jobs, and inclusion – which are designed to lead to sustainable longer-term benefits.

–        The World Bank also stressed that some projects – non-reflected in the BIC/EIPR report – have major positive impacts, especially in the social field, the economy and health.

The national press also took care of relaying these items of information such as Al Ahram or Egypt Independant.

 

 

« FOCUS ON… »

The challenge of heritage safeguarding in Egypt

 

Since January 2013, three architectural and historical landmarks brought the attention of many national newspapers due to their collapse or deterioration. For example, a part of the  Mohammed Ali Shubra Pavilion collapsed, on January 17th 2013, although a restoration took place seven years ago. Then the Villa Ispenian having been looted and destroyed received an important media coverage by Al Ahram. The article stresses that these actions occur despite the fact that the mansion was on Egypt’s heritage list, status that didn’t protect it from the negligence of the State and inactivity of the civil society.

 

These destructions, whether they are due to bad restoration, neglect, abandon, or accident, aren’t a new phenomenon. The cases of deterioration or destruction of 19th or 20th century’s mansion and landmarks are more and more frequent and reveal the failure of the State to ensure the heritage’s safeguarding. Some think that the fault isn’t the State’s only; that the responsibility falls also upon the society, which failed to take over, and raise population’s awareness – and not only the elites. Other blames the revolution and the tensions existing in the society (the destruction of Villa Casdagli could be due to a security vacuum). Nevertheless, the general failure to heritage protection is clear since few decades, and isn’t limited to the capital. The situation in Port Said and Alexandria is as well alarming. The Egypte/Monde Arabe journal published in 2009 a special edition entitled:« Heritage Practices in Egypt and Sudan », which gives an overview on the pre-revolution situation.

 

As a last example, the Villa Casdagli was extremely damaged after a fire in February 2013. The villa is located in Garden City (Cairo), on Simon Bolivar Square. On the 8th of January, a journalist called for an urgent restoration, noticing the dangerous and accelerated degradation of the villa. However, no action was undertaken. After the incident, the cairene society seemed to be more shocked than the usual witnessing this lack of reactions. Consequently, on the 19th of March, Al Ahram revealed that the Ministry of Antiquities designed a new restoration plan.

Could this last case prove an improvement in taking into account the safeguarding of the cultural heritage?

 

In 2010, in a book entitled « Urban Spaces on the threshold of the 21th century: heritage and cultural legacy », Anna Madoeuf said that in Cairo, “if there are indeed many contingent and occasional actions, there isn’t any global restoration or planning policies regarding the Old Cairo district». Anna Madoeuf stressed also that, « Nowadays, the landmark’s deterioration is expressed as a collective suffering and is a recurrent issue presented by the medias (…) the press condemns vehemently the administrative dysfunctions ». In the framework of a workshop organised by the IRD/IRMC/CEDEJ in December 2012,Galila El Kadi made a presentation on « The cultural and architectural heritage on the revolution’s test» and emphasised the increasing role of the medias in conveying information. The new social networks also take part to these attempts in raising awareness; facebook is a great example of this trend with its numerous groups.

 

In the article  « Heritage enhancing in Cairo » (Journal : Autrepart 1/2005 n.33) G. El Kadi and D. Elkerdany presented an historical overview of the heritage issue and its management in Egypt. According to the authors, the term of heritage should be used in its plural from, as each part of the population identifies itself to a different heritage. « Only a small educated minority is capable of embracing the whole heritage and to relate to it”. Consequently tackling the heritage issue at the state level is more complex. As the identification to the heritage varies from one social group to another, what type of heritage should be taking into account, in priority?

In their article G. El Kadi and D.Elkerdany talk about the 1992 earthquake’s catalyst effect of change, (cf article and analysis by G. El Kadi of this phenomenon – in French). It indeed alarmed the population and leaded to a legislation process – with no real impact according to the authors – and to awareness campaigns. Then followed attempts to classify and list the landmarks to officialise their value. We ergo assisted, in Egypt, to a “heritage fabrication and manufacturing”, which occurred through several stages: « First is the appropriation step of the “colonial” legacy, the recognition and evaluation of its various values. Secondly is the values’ awareness process (…) thirdly and finally is the listing process, which was difficult to complete. » Regarding the heritage management, many lacunas are still existing. There is no real and effective cooperation between the different actors. The budget of the Ministry of Culture is as limited as the heritage field is huge. Plus, the local bureaucracy’s problems and the quasi-impossible consultation between the different ministries have to be accounted. And finally, even listed the buildings aren’t protected from possible degradation and destructions.

 

Beyond a simple safeguarding, it seems that there is a certain desire to offer a new dynamic to these historical landmarks. This article of Cairo Observer summons to building’s revitalisation, it states the importance of the restoration and renovation but criticizes their future when the urban and social contexts aren’t taken into consideration. As a consequence, it is said that, the buildings often “seat empty for years of are transformed into “cultural centres” where no real activity takes place”. In « The Rehabilitation of Old Cairo » published in 2001, K. Sutton and W. Fahmi were already calling for resident’s participation in the rehabilitation process and to integrate the buildings to their social and urban environment.

In this same logic of “revitalisation”, the « Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival» (D-CAF) provides the opportunity of bringing back to life the neighbourhood. Al-Ahram newspaper talks about a possible urban regeneration under the artists’ actions.


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