Raising the alarm in Alexandria
With spring just weeks away, this year's winter seems to have unduly damaged Alexandria, reports Ameera Fouad
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Chaos is killing Alexandria slowly but surely: scenes of illegal constructions sprouting up, street traders taking over main roads and garbage dumped on the streets bring back sour memories of the coastal city in the 1990s before its facelift
A week or so from now, spring begins, with the new season bidding farewell to the greyness of winter and introducing flowers and greenery. However, this year residents of Alexandria may be putting a poor smile on their faces as they open their eyes to the devastation winter has wrought on the coastal city, with pavements cracked or split apart and roads broken by the winter weather.
The unusual damage has not just been caused by the winter weather, however. Thieves have been having a field day in Alexandria, ripping out wires from street lamps or stealing iron or copper covers, as well as gates and even metal basins. Hawkers have been selling their wares throughout the city, spreading chaotic behaviour and displaying black market products in the middle of main roads.
Alexandria has almost been turned into a city where every boundary line has been crossed, with wildcat buildings sprouting up everywhere despite the lack of building permits, and pavements, if not cracked and broken, then taken over by street traders and the threat of hooligans robbing passers-by at every time of day, even in broad daylight.
Reports appearing in Al-Ahram Weekly and other papers have drawn attention to the illegal constructions that have been going up in almost every street in Alexandria. Yet, no one seems to be listening to the cries of alarm, and the constructions continue, killing Alexandria slowly but surely. The city's residents have been doing what they can to stop such barbarism, but the illegal construction goes on. As Alexandria emerges from winter into spring, Alexandrians are able to see all too clearly the ravages that have been going on in their city.
The traffic jams have reached unparalleled heights, with people stuck in their cars for hours as they try to reach their destinations. The problem does not only lie in an increased number of cars, or increases in the volume of traffic. Instead, the jams are caused by some roads being impassable, their surfaces so damaged that they cannot be walked through let alone driven along.
Instead of using such roads, drivers are being diverted along secondary routes, leading to ever more traffic jams. No roads are being repaired, and no buildings are being stopped because of the lack of official permits. No official seems to have protested about the situation either, and after complaining bitterly the public mood is now one of resigned silence.
"Alexandria is becoming misshapen and disfigured," says Mustafa Mohamed, a 65-year-old resident of the Sporting Club neighbourhood. "Everywhere in Alexandria, from the most expensive areas to the most impoverished, you can see buildings that have been constructed illegally and towering apartment blocks erected on the sites of historic villas. Roads are being ripped up, and masses of garbage dumped on both sides of the streets, in the middle of squares, even on highways."
"However, what really bothers me is not the garbage or the illegal construction, but the fact that the governorate officials don't seem to be dealing with it at all. The city is fading away before our eyes, and nothing is being done," Mohamed exclaims.
While the police can be seen on the streets of Alexandria like in other Egyptian cities, this does not seem to have stopped all kinds of robbery, ranging from shoplifting to burglaries. Nabil Barrage, a 60-year-old businessman, recalls the day his car was stolen. "My car was parked under a building in Kafr Abdu, which is one of the best districts in Alexandria, with various embassies and other institutions," he said.
"However, this also means that Kafr Abdu is attractive to thieves, and only last week a gang entered a nearby villa and completely trashed the place. We have reported these problems many times since the beginning of the revolution, but no one has been caught or arrested. These criminal doings are being committed under the eyes of the governorate officials, and no one is taking action to stop them."
As far as the state of the city's infrastructure is concerned, the problem does not only lie with the harsh winter that broke up already damaged roads. Instead, the problem lies in the sub-standard materials that have been used, from poor-quality cement to sub-standard concrete, all used to make higher profits for contractors.
The winter rains have only exposed such problems to the public view by washing away the sub-standard constructions. This has made residents feel that the city is truly on the brink of disaster, when entire buildings can crack and fall as a result of winter weather and shoddy building practices. Today, Alexandrians feel that their 7,000-year-old city may be on the brink of being changed forever, its features spoiled with multiple deformities.
Alexandria is being damaged, and no one seems to care. No one is rescuing the oldest city on the Mediterranean Sea coast.