Media Round-up on the city – March 2015
Downtown Cairo faces radical changes:
Downtown Cairo has been the scene of radical changes the last few weeks. In addition to the eviction of street vendors since August 2014 (See Media Round-up on the city from November 2014) the inauguration of the new parking at Tahrir Square at the end of January 2015, and the erection of an Egyptian flag on the centre of the square on February 2015 (See Media Round-up on the city from February 2015), Cairo Governor Galal Al-Saeed also issued a decree on February 2015 banning car parking in downtown streets in Cairo near Tahrir Square as part of a plan to prevent parking in all downtown streets. Al Ahram looks back at this policy this month and concludes that it “has had striking results” as the flow of traffic is reported to have improved “for the first time in decades”. Quoting Mohamed Ayman, deputy governor of the Southern Cairo District, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Tahrir Street and its extension to Al-Falaki Square, Talat Harb Street, Sherif Street, Al-Bustan Square and Sabry Abou Allam Street are all included in the parking ban. On the matter of downtown traffic congestion, the Cairo Governor also announced on March 17, 2015 the installation of an “integrated system for the development of traffic lights in the capital” by the Armed forces using camera in order to “monitor violations” and collect data on the volume of traffic for future planning.
At the same time, “beautification efforts” have also been announced in coordination with a number of businessmen to finance the renovation of 350 building facades in downtown Cairo over the next six months. The first phase of the work started in tree sectors: Orabi Square and its adjacent pedestrian street Alfi Street, the crowded area of Talaat Harb Square and Mohamed Farid Street and the area of Tahrir Square and Abidin.
Earlier in the month, during the week-end of the Sharm el-Sheikh Economic Conference (from the 13th to the 15th March 2015) coffeehouses of the Boursa district were closed for “security reasons” (CEDEJ’s source)… and then sealed by the authorities. The once vivid pathways of this downtown Cairo area are now empty, and used as parking spots.
After multiple bombings on civilian targets in the city of Alexandria, on March 9, 2015 and following similar events in Cairo and the rest of Egypt, Egyptian Streets investigates how schools, banks and shopping centres are becoming the new targets of terrorism in Egypt.
Meanwhile Mada Masr reports on how a misdemeanors court fined 68 people LE 50,000 each for illegally protesting on the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution on March 31, 2015 and how, according to the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” campaign 3000 civilians have been tried in military courts in the last five months, since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed new legislation treating certain state facilities as military institutions (see Media Round-Up on the city from September and October 2014).
On the right to water in Egypt: scarcity and pollution
Egypt’s Irrigation and Water Resources Minister, Hossam Moghazi, said on March 28, 2015 in a ministry event celebrating the international day of water that “Egypt has entered the era of water poverty”. He also added that Egypt needed to “rationalize consumption” and was “accountable to Egypt’s agricultural, industrial and drinking water needs“. This statement occurred a week after the signature of a declaration of principles between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over Ethiopia’s dam on the Nile (See the Media Round-up – Focus in French on the issue). Later in the month, inspectors from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) found multiple violations of environmental law in Alexandria (emissions violations, improper garbage and sewage disposal) including companies dumping waste directly into nearby waterways.
On February 2015, Legal Agenda already dealt with the subject of the right to water in Egypt where access to clean water is a struggle and emphasized on World Health Organization 2008 report that indicates that 5.1% of all deaths and 6.5% of all disabilities annually in Egypt are due to water that is unfit for drinking. Rise in the rate of water pollution is due to various factors, including industrial pollutants and the disposal of agricultural and home sewage water. Water pollution leads to raising the cost of purifying the water and consequently quality of water in Egyptian homes is subject to regional and class differences. The article underlines that water shortage (high population density, irrigation water waste) is also a problem for the country as the United Nations predicts that Egypt will be suffering from water scarcity by the year 2025. Already, the scarcity is causing drought in some areas like in Baltim (north coast) where dozens of farmers gathered this month in front of the City Council in order to protest against “contaminated irrigation water unsuitable for irrigating agricultural land, which pollutes crops and threatens the lives of citizens with diseases”.
In relation to these violations of the right to water, the Habi Center for Environmental Right (historial advocate for environmental rights in Egypt) published in April 2015 a guide on how to formulate a complaint on violations of the right to drinking water and sanitation.
The rise of solar energy in Egypt?
A series of statements on March 2015 deems to indicate the rise of solar energy in Egypt. Thus, on March 3, 2015, the Egyptian government announced its intend, within three months, to use solar energy for all lighting in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh (which currently relies on solar energy for 70% of its lighting) ; on March 5, 2015 the minister of Electricity announced the launch of a new power plant generated by solar energy in Siwa, ; on March 15, 2015 news agency MENA reported that Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding with global energy groups to generate electricity using solar power ; and on March 24, 2015 Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi said that solar power would be used in the first phase of the project to run irrigation in the Beheria governorate over an area of 500 acres. The Middle East Institute as well as Sada are also investigating on the rise of solar energy in Egypt.
Park tree “massacre” in Heliopolis
According to Egyptian Streets, the Merryland Park was victim of a tree “massacre” as over the last two months Heliopolis dwellers witnessed that “the number of the park’s trees was highly reduced”. Ali Moustafa – the Heliopolis Company for Housing and Development’s Chairman, the company owner of the park – asserted however that the trees were not chopped down but moved until the construction of an underground parking. Even though the Major General Hesham Khashaba, the district chief, asserted that this construction was approved by the district, Environmental Minister Khaled Fahmy ordered the stop of all development work and formed a committee to report on the incident within a week. The ministry also denied having issued any permits for the development of the park or the lake inside it.
Transportation and mobility:
Collective transportation: development of the tram in Alexandria, projects for the New Urban Communities and delivery of 200 buses for Cairo
On March 2015, Egypt Independent states that “informed sources at the Transport Ministry” have revealed the postponement of the subway project in Alexandria due to the development and electrification of the al-Raml area tram. According to the source, the new project will cost the state only 10 percent of the value of the establishment of a metro and has been estimated at 300 million euros by the French Development Agency. On its part, the New Urban Communities Authority signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to carry out a study for a plan over collective transportation, using buses with allocated lanes on main roads to link the cities of New Cairo, 6 October and Sheikh Zayed to the external transportation lines while the UAE has delivered 200 buses to Egypt, the first (delayed) instalment in its promise to donate 600 buses to the public transport authority in Cairo, as part of their announcement in November 2014 to invest $10 billion in development projects in Egypt.
Zamalek officially loses battle against proposed metro 3 route
Regarding the metro, “Zamalek” has lost its battle against the proposed metro 3 route as the President endorsed on March 25, 2015, the Cabinet’s decision to dismiss some residents’ demand that the metro do not penetrate the (“upscale”) district or at least to be diverted so it would not pass through Ismail Mohamed Street (see Media Round-Up on the city from September and October 2014). According to sources at the Ministry of Transport approving the demand would have trigger other neighborhoods to follow suit such as in the neighboring blue-collar district of Imbaba where “in case the demand of their rich neighbors was approved, they would not evacuate the buildings or lands in their area to leave room for the metro”.
New mobile App to move in Cairo: map of bus and microbus routes and launch of taxi services
In its article “The most important transportation innovation of the decade is the smartphone”, City Lab underlined that almost all movement in a major city now begins with a phone as mobile apps and interfaces helping in their trips. Clues of this new inclination are also visible in Cairo. For instance, Cairo Scene features Cairo Bus Routes, a new website and mobile app that maps out bus and microbus routes across Cairo while Mada Masr looks at Easy Taxi (to book regular white taxis) launched in Cairo in January 2015 and Uber (an on-demand car service) which is currently doing a Beta launch in Cairo. According to the article, both have “the potential to change the way Cairenes approach their daily commute” as it is more comfortable and accessible but currently suffer from practical problems that will make “unlikely that most commuters will change their routines for daily trips, especially around the city center”.
Housing and Planning
World Bank set to loan Egypt $500 million for housing project
Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouli announced on March 22, 2015 that negotiations over a $500 million loan has been finalised between Egypt and the World Bank to be allocated to social housing or the 1 million residential units project (announced on March 2014 by el-Sisi when still Minister of Defense).
Sadat City farmers protest against bulldozing lands
Following a previous gathering outside the Press Syndicate in Downtown Cairo on February 23, 2015, dozens of farmers from Sadat City (governorate of Menufiya), staged a protest on March 3, 2015 outside the Ministry of Housing to demand stopping the bulldozing of the lands they cultivate and the destruction of their houses as well as the regularization of their situation on the affected area. On March 8, 2015, dozens of farmers returned to protest outside the High Court.
Egypt’s New Urban Communities Authority approves Madinaty LE9 billion settlements
It has been reported that the New Urban Communities Authority approved the Madinaty settlement of LE9 billion with real estate developer Talaat Moustafa Group (TMG) over the land issue. Directly sold to TMG without a public auction (as required by Egyptian law) during Mubarak-era, the land on which developed the Madinaty project became mired in legal dispute.
Heritage and culture
Ahram Online proposes to look back at Minya’s twentieth-century golden age while the Guardian focuses on the history of the step-pyramid of Zoser, the oldest large-scale stone monument still standing, as part of its series “A history of cities in 50 buildings » and Mada Masr proposes its own “Beginner’s guide to downtown’s alternative art scene”.
Street art: 4th edition of D-CAF
On March 19, 2015 was launched the 4th edition of D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival) which aim is, “the revival and reclamation of Downtown Cairo as a vibrant cultural centre”. On its article “Public art in private spaces: D-CAF’s Urban Visions”, Mada Masr notices however that this year was, has shown, a lack of suitable public spaces to host the events that mainly took place at the GrEEK Campus due to abrupt changes of location, procedural changes that enabled the festival to get the authorizations on due- time as well as security clampdown. Cairo also witnessed a clown performance by the Egyptian theater troupe Outa Hamra (Red Tomato) at Al-Moez, in front of the historic Qalawun Mosque on March 27, 2015.
Heritage jeopardized by parking and road projects:
In Alexandria, pieces of the historic east wall of the harbor have been destroyed for the construction of a private parking to serve the tribunals in the Manchiya area where lawless parking caused traffic congestion. According to Mohamad Awad, architecture professor at the University of Alexandria; the wall, built in 1905 during the reign of Abbas Helmi II, has been put on the city heritage list established in 2003.
On the issue of the Monastery of St. Macarius jeopardized by the construction of a governmental road-building project in the Fayoum oasis (see Media Round-up on the city from February 2015), Egypt’s Orthodox Pope, Pope Tawadros II, admitted that the priests occupied the monastery illegally (even stressing that the monastery does not follow the Coptic Orthodox Church) on March 11, 2015.
Head of Egypt museums arrested for taking bribe in Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art restoration
Ahram reports that the head of the museums section at the antiquities ministry, Ahmed Sharaf, was arrested on March 23, 2015 for taking bribes in contracts related to the restoration of Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art. The museum has been under restoration since January 2014 after a car bomb exploded outside the Cairo security directorate adjacent to the museum.