Selling Cairo: A plan to demolish the capital for the benefit of al-Sisi’s clients

Cairo’s heart is undergoing a systematic process in which the authorities share with international organisations and outside circles a plan to control the entire region from Mount Muqattam to the Nile River, and internationalise it to create a closed area inhabited and managed by foreigners. The process of change is being carried out under the pretext of preserving historic Cairo and restoring the capital’s heart to what it was in the nineteenth century, as stated in the map identified by scholars of the French campaign in the book Description of Egypt, 1807.

The cover through which the movement is being carried out is granting the area to UNESCO as a world heritage site. The result is the internationalisation of management, and the removal of state authority over the region, whether the archaeological sites or the new part. It started with a proposal made by the Ministry of Culture to UNESCO to annex Islamic Cairo to the world heritage for spending and restoration, and the initial conception revolved around Islamic archaeological sites, such as Fustat, Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque, the Citadel area and the surrounding Mamluk palaces, and Fatimid Cairo.

The pressure of Western circles to convert Cairo into a heritage site began early. In 1997, the United Nations Development Programme started taking care of the issue and issued a report in cooperation with the Supreme Council of Antiquities on the rehabilitation of Historic Cairo. At that time, he proposed a plan of action and a strategy for rehabilitation consisting of five urban areas, a heritage corridor, an institutional corridor, a nineteenth-century corridor, a transformation zone, and a community area. Urban policies have been proposed that include the feasible implementation of rehabilitation strategies.

The Egyptian proposals for the boundaries of the area to be annexed to world heritage were the focus of controversy and discussions with international envoys of UNESCO and the United Nations, until 2006 when the Ministry of Culture presented its vision of historic Cairo and its borders. The proposal of the Ministry of Culture was not accepted because it did not reach the limits seen by UNESCO experts. In 2007, the Supreme Council of Antiquities presented a new vision for the demarcation of Historic Cairo, showing five primary areas and three buffer zones for protection.

The Supreme Council of Antiquities’ perception did not include the port of Bulaq, nor did it include contemporary areas, which UNESCO did not approve, which insisted on annexing the entire region from Muqattam to the shore of the Nile. At this time, the National Organisation for Urban Coordination role appeared. Law No. 119 of 2008 gave it the authority to delineate and define “areas of distinct value.” And the perception of the boundaries of the region, submitted by the National Organisation for Civilised Coordination, coincided with the UNESCO proposal, “The World Heritage Property of Historic Cairo,” and the northern part of Zamalek Island was annexed to it.

European enthusiasm, especially France, increased, and there was a rush to seize the heart of Cairo in 2009 when the late President Hosni Mubarak thought about passing on power to his son, as they found it an opportunity to pass the plan to control Cairo through Gamal Mubarak. After several demands and the insistence of the World Heritage Committee, the Egyptian government agreed with UNESCO to prepare joint activities aimed at protecting and reviving the urban heritage of Historic Cairo within the framework of UNESCO’s programme, “Protection of Cultural Heritage in Egypt.”

Since 2010, the UNESCO “Urban Regeneration of Historic Cairo” project began its work. Because of the revolution in January 2011, the committees’ work was temporarily hindered, so the project period was extended to 42 months, until December 2013. Still, the project did not stop despite the political conflict and instability that followed the revolution.

After the coup, and in light of al-Sisi’s desire for international support, it was decided to appoint Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb as head of the ministerial committee to implement the necessary measures for the Historic Cairo project and move forward with the UNESCO project. Amid the talk of returning Old Cairo to the nineteenth century, it made no sense for the western region, overlooking the Nile, to turn into skyscrapers crowded with foreigners. That is why another international body entered to provide the umbrella through which the demographic and urban change plan is carried out.

At this time, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme that stands behind the Cairo 2050 plan appeared, passed by the Urban Planning Authority and adopted by Gamal Mubarak before the revolution. This plan is being implemented now, and its axis is the disposal of the population and their expulsion from the central area in Cairo. The plan includes the closure of markets and commercial spaces such as Ataba, al-Tawfiqeya, Abdulaziz Street, al-Azhar, and others. It provided that the expelled residents go to el-Shorouk, el-Obour, and Badr in northeast Cairo, and the 6th of October City, west of the Nile, and the land will be handed over to investors to build hotels and towers that would accommodate more foreigners as a future international administration area. The maps revealed an expansion to the west of the Nile, to create a backyard across the north of Zamalek Island and Warraq Island. The government is making attempts to expel its inhabitants, bringing the void to Mohandeseen, where the so-called Khufu axis begins.

Researcher Amer Abdel Moneim says that the most crucial goal of the Cairo 2050 plan is to build a modern settlement and a contemporary urban area east of the Nile, which has no connection with historic Cairo. The term “historic Cairo” is just a justification for which they justify the eviction and sale of state assets. The multi-story building has not stopped despite the end of construction in Cairo and all governorates. He pointed out that the Western minds behind the control of the heart of Cairo are the ones that select the Gulf companies, especially the Emirati companies that undertake construction in the strategic area and build the towers. The Egyptian government has no role but to expel the population, dismantle the government, and sell its assets.

Amer added, “We are facing an international crime of robbery in the heart of Cairo, and a cunning attempt to hijack the capital of the largest Arab country with twisted plans that appear to protect its heritage.” He confirmed that these plans include the theft of the land and the displacement of the residents residing there and replacing them with others who are not Egyptians.” He continued: “The plan also aims to dismantle the government and its apparatus and expel it to the desert, and to evacuate the markets that represent the backbone of the economy in Egypt.”

Amer explained that we would see a new settlement that will be governed and managed by the modern population, who represent investors and businessmen who have bought most of the companies’ shares in the stock exchange, and ownership of state assets will be transferred to them.”