|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
3 - 9 September 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
She sells seashells
For many years, Alexandria was the seaside resort to which Egyptians of all classes flocked in the summertime. Its clear water and fresh weather earned it the moniker "the bride of the Mediterranean". With time, however, things changed and Cairenes went elsewhere, complaining that the port city had lost much of its allure. But at the beginning of this summer, many visitors to Alexandria were claiming that the new governor, Mohamed Abdel-Salam Al-Mahgoub, had done much to restore the city's bridal blush. Al-Mahgoub listened to the inhabitants' requests and held meetings with businessmen and specialists. He is keen to give credit where it is due: "Without what was in place before I came, I would have done nothing." Al-Mahgoub believes that most of the necessary developments had already been provided for by his predecessors.
Four million inhabitants and over one million visitors annually crowd the governorate of Alexandria. Noise was a particular problem. This year, after the governor's decision to seriously prohibit the use of car horns -- and his strenuous enforcement of the rule -- visitors are no longer disturbed by car horns. Only the waves, and the far-off cries of children, disturb the calm. The police have been instructed to fine violators of the car horn rule LE51; the offender's license is suspended for two weeks. Repeat offenders pay double the penalty.
This summer, despite a record two million visitors, traffic was also smoother, the result of the project to develop and beautify the city's main squares. The project included Muharram Bek Square, developed at a cost of LE12 million, with a parking lot which can hold 4,000 cars and 160 buses. The statue of the Khedive Ismail was taken from the garden of the Fine Arts Museum and now stands in the square named after him. A paved alley was laid out for promenades between the trees, and a parking lot holds 70 cars. This project cost LE2,5 million.
Saad Zaghloul and Al-Shuhadaa squares were also targeted by the governorate's upgrading efforts. Six million pounds were spent on widening the streets in the train station area, and parking facilities for buses and taxis were improved, while 2,200 square metres of greenery were planted. The streets around Al-Shuhadaa Square were widened to 21 metres.
Many inhabitants of Alexandria join the throngs of tourists in Al-Shuhadaa now that it is a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. One grandmother from Amriya brought her daughter and grandchildren. As the two women talked, the children flew paper kites. While they like the peace and quiet, they complained that the trees were a nuisance: "The kites are destroyed when they hit the trees," complained seven-year-old Hisham.
Amm Mohamed, who sells socks, and Gaber, who peddles old books, are pleased with the improvements. But they have lost out, they say. They want the city officials to give them small shops in the newly renovated square. Street vendors are a bane to the inhabitants of the area surrounding Al-Shuhadaa, who complain of the clutter they create on the footpaths.
At Al-Manshiya Al-Gadida, small workshops have been built to accommodate half a million artisans. Small projects have also been initiated in cooperation with the Social Fund, allowing young people to start up small businesses.
In keeping with the spirit of private enterprise the governor seeks to foster, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce contributed funds to the renovation of the buildings that face the Eastern Harbour. The 116 buildings on the waterfront, from Ras Al-Tin to Al-Silsila, were painted in an effort to reverse the ravages of time and humidity.
The first phase of the plan to widen the Corniche between Khaled Ibn Al-Walid and Al-Mahroussa Club is equally spectacular. The chalets that for so many years typified Alexandria's golden beaches were demolished, and a real effort has been made to clean up the area. A private company is responsible for cleaning the streets, and young people can make some extra money in the summer by chipping in. Fatma Mohamed, a summer visitor, says "Alexandria looks brighter this year than it has for a while. " But she believes the main problem is the garbage. "Although there is great effort to keep Alexandria clean, officials should find a better way to collect garbage from the houses," she says.
Racquetball and football have been banned on the beaches, and a new game has taken their place: billiards. Twenty-three-year-old Ahmed El-Sayed is a fan, and has turned his love of the sport to profit. "Last year my brother and I hired two tables on Al-Asafra beach. We gave the owner of the casino half the profits. This year we came to Miami Beach for a change. We get the most customers between 10 at night and two in the morning."
Other equally visible developments include Abdel-Salam Eid's mural of Alexandria's history on the Mustafa Kamel Hospital. Covering more than 500 square metres, the mural was executed by 40 workers and 4 engineers, led by Eid, professor of painting at the College of Fine Arts. Five months after they set to work, this "representation of religious tolerance", in Eid's words, had taken its final shape.
Along Alexandria's 20-kilometre coastline, still more is to be done. The customs house will be developed, and a special customs house created to facilitate the import of automobiles. A tower will be built on the island off Miami Beach. The area around Bir Masoud is to be transformed into a tourist venue. All these efforts will be directed at making Alexandria a domestic tourist attraction all year round. Ibrahim Fawzi, chairman of the General Investment Authority, has decided that an international mall will be built in front of the Authority's building in Amriya. It will include banks, offices and a hall for the Alexandria stock exchange, as well as a hall where a permanent exhibition of products from the free zone and Borg Al-Arab industrial city will be held.
There is a cheerful, optimistic look to the city. An international airport will be built, Mahgoub says, and plans are afoot to create a diving centre enabling visitors to view the monuments in Alexandria's natural "underwater museum".
A Franco-Egyptian encyclopaedia on Alexandria has also been published. The civilisations, monuments, and cultural figures that have merged, influenced and been influenced by Alexandria are listed. Alexander the Great, of course, figures prominently.
Photos: Hussein Fathi and Nesmahar Sayed