Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The end of Zamalek?

Residents of the upscale Cairo district of Zamalek are protesting against preparations for the area’s new underground metro station, writes Nesmahar Sayed

photos: Yasser Al-Ghoul

Despite protests by residents worried about additional traffic and noise affecting the upscale Cairo neighbourhood, Ministry of Transport officials say the new Zamalek metro station will be built in the earmarked location as planned.  

The station is on the third line of the Cairo metro, which when finished will be 33km long with 29 stations of which 27 will be underground. The line will connect Cairo International Airport in the east to Imbaba and Mohandessin in the west, crossing the downtown area and Heliopolis.

Preparations for digging the Zamalek station started a week ago, and many streets in the district have been closed. A decree has been issued to remove certain buildings and to carry out work that will affect others.

photos: Yasser Al-Ghoul

“I am going to have to move out of Zamalek. We tried to make the officials understand that a metro station is not possible in a narrow street like Ismail Mohamed Street”, resident Ahmed Bertawi said.  

Bertawi is a businessman who was raised in Zamalek. Like many other residents of the district, he is deeply concerned at what is going on and thinks that if all Zamalek residents had been united the place of the station could have been changed.   

Barriers have closed off Brazil Street, the entrance to west Zamalek, as well as Ismail Mohamed and Ahmed Heshmat streets.  

In Ahmed Heshmat Street, Naima Loutfi, a former UN employee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that reaching her home has become a nightmare. “As far as I know the width of a street for an underground station should be 50m, but Ismail Mohamed Street is only 12m. How is it possible to start a project like this in the midst of the summer vacation, when in a couple of months the schools will start again and it will be a disaster entering and coming out of Zamalek,” she asked.   

One of the owners of the Al-Tarabishi building in Brazil Street is concerned for herself and her grandchildren. “Walking between the buildings and the barriers is not safe at all. There is no planning being done. During this week they have changed the places of the barriers many times, and we were told they may reach the entrance of the building itself,” Maha Al-Tarabishi told the Weekly.

photos: Yasser Al-Ghoul

Her neighbour, Hassan Onsi, confirmed such fears and added that he was entirely against the new metro station. “We are surrounded with dangers. A few days ago there was a fire in one of the coffee shops in Ismail Mohamed Street and the firemen could not reach the shop on time as the streets were closed. As a result the apartment on the first floor above was totally burnt out,” Onsi said.

Mounir Noubi has been living in Zamalek for almost 50 years and owns a shop there. He said the main problem was the large number of schools that had been set up in former villas and private homes, leading to increasing traffic in the district. “Instead of spending billions to build a metro station, it would have been better to build schools outside Zamalek. The villas should be used for other purposes,” he said.

At a time when the government is planning the new capital to which all government buildings will move, “we should keep Zamalek as a historic district that has witnessed many important events,” Noubi concluded.

Farid Shunbo, an environmental consultant, said residents needed to know why the government had insisted on building the new station. Engineer Hani Iskander agreed, stressing that residents’ opinions were very important. “Older buildings may collapse as a result of the digging and the later operation of the metro underneath them. We should all be looking for another place to live,” Iskander said.

Sherine Al-Sakka, an Egyptian tennis champion and Zamalek resident raised and married in the district, wanted to know why the government had decided on its plans. According to engineer Emad Zaki, the project was being forced down residents’ throats.

“We sent our concerns to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is part funding the project. The students asked if they wanted the metro or not go to Helwan University and are not Zamalek residents. The Zamalek Association only asked visitors to the district if they wanted the new station. No one asked us, the residents.”

“There was an alternative solution to build a station between Kit Kat and Zamalek that would have served both districts, but this was rejected by the government,” he said.

While many residents are upset at what is happening, others are just as sad at the image the media has been presenting of them, claiming they are elitists.

“The vast majority of Zamalek residents are very modest and polite,” Noubi said, adding that the residents’ opinions had been “totally ignored” during the planning stages.  

Abdallah Saad, 33, who works in development agreed with Noubi and added that many Zamalek residents had met with former minister Saad Al-Gioushi to make their feelings known. “We do not need a station in Zamalek as we already have the Opera Station. Al-Gioushi said the line would be changed so that it would not pass through Zamalek,” Saad said.

According to Zaki, “all our properties are documented. We pay taxes and go through all the legal channels. Our interests should not simply be ignored.” Mona Al-Hosari, who lives on the other side of Zamalek, said that “it seems that we are ruining everything beautiful in the country. As long as there is an alternative making use of Imbaba Bridge, why do we insist on taking the wrong direction?”

One resident asked, “if there are funds for a project not needed by the residents, why not use this money to fund other projects?” She said there should be far greater community dialogue.

A meeting of Zamalek residents took place at the district’s El-Sawy Culture Wheel recently to discuss the issue, concluding that the residents needed to remake their media strategy and file a lawsuit against the project.

Eman Sayed Al-Ahl, an academic, said she was surprised that the project had started when it was still pending in the courts. “There are many alternatives to bringing students to Zamalek by metro,” she said.

Letters were sent to the ministries of antiquities and environment, she said. “Their opinions must be known before implementing the project, taking into consideration that many professors at the Faculty of Fine Arts oppose the idea of a metro station in Zamalek. Zamalek residents should be listened to in the same way as Heliopolis residents who managed to save Merry Land Park from development,” she said.  

For Abdel-Latif Imam, an academic, such a situation would be impossible abroad. “Cutting down the trees in Sedki Square is not acceptable. Yousreya Louza, head of the Zamalek Association, has sent approvals to the European Bank as if all Zamalek residents accepted this project,” he said.

Outside Zamalek, many are also concerned about the future of the island. Marwa Abdel-Rahman, a law graduate who has been working in one of the bakery shops in Zamalek, believes the new station will destroy the nature of the district.

“I live in Haram and come to Zamalek every day, but the new metro will not make things easier for me. In addition, the nature of the Zamalek district will change,” she said.

Moataz Shaaban, who comes in daily from Kit Kat for work, added that “the area does not have a large population that needs new forms of public transportation. The embassies in Zamalek do not need the metro.”

Many workers in Zamalek are worried about their futures, among them Islam Khaled who has been working in the district since he was 16. After he graduated from the Faculty of Tourism, he started work as a retail branch manager and is worried about decreasing sales. “Zamalek is a historic area. Zamalek and the downtown areas should be preserved for the sake of our country,” Khaled concluded.

Letters have been sent to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and notices put in the newspapers asking for support to halt the building of the Zamalek station. Groups have also been created on Facebook as a way of mobilising public support against the project. 

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