Egypt government prepares to remove dozens of historical buildings

A governmental committee has marked tens of tombs, surrounding the mosques of Al-Sayyida Nafisa and Al-Imam Al-Sahfi’I, with red and black signs in preparation for demolition.

The committee consists of representatives from the Armed Forces, the Egyptian Survey Authority, and the Cemeteries Administration of Cairo Governorate, which marked tombs with red signs or by writing the word “take off.” They have said they would compensate the owners with alternative tombs in 15 May City, according to four morticians and the residents of the area.

Galilah Al-Kady, professor of urban planning, considered the acts of the committee a great loss for Egypt and humanity. He emphasised in his statements that the government is seeking to demolish all tombs except for the antique ones.

Michel Hanna, the writer of architectural heritage, described this step as a decline and emphasised that the demolition of historic cemeteries is an offence on the Egyptian heritage registered on UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Hanna explained that the demolition plan of Al-Sayyida Nafisa graveyard and its surroundings is part of a bigger plan revealed through a video published by the responsible engineer for upgrading Salah Salem St, Al-Sayyida Aisha, Cairo Citadel Aqueduct and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation. This video was removed after that. Hanna wondered about the feasibility of demolishing the historical cemeteries. Hanna added that the road expansion for saving a few minutes of transportation time isn’t enough justification to ruin the heritage. Hanna emphasised that the streets in Al-Sayyidah Nafisa area have no need for expansion and have no traffic jams. Accordingly, there is no real need to despoil the dead or ruin hundreds of years of unique heritage just for more asphalt.

A few months ago, a committee of the army, the Egyptian Survey Authority and Cairo Governorate, determined the tombs surrounding the Mosque and grave of Al-Sayyidah Nafisa, and numbered and marked them with one of two signs – black signs for the tombs that will stay and red signs for the tombs that will be demolished as the corps will be transferred to other cemeteries in 15 May City according to one of the morticians in the area for 40 years. He also added that all morticians in the area tried to find out about the date of implementation from the employees of the district, but they didn’t provide a specific date, as he said: “We told them that we need to know our situation to avoid rumours, but they said keep working as usual until we update you.”

According to another citizen whose family owns a grave near to the tomb of the Prince of Poets Ahmed Shawky in one of the streets leading to the Al-Sayyida Nafisa Mosque, the responsible mortician called him last Friday asking him to transport the corps of his family to another place without providing a specific date. He tried to find out other details, but the mortician just told him that he knew that the tomb will be demolished soon.

A mortician who works in Al-Sayyidah Nafisa graveyard indicated that he found out from one of his colleagues, who works in Al-Khayyalah cemetery in front of The National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation before it was demolished to build the new Salah El-Shazly Bridge, that the army and the Governorate told them to inform the tombs’ owners to remove the corps of their relatives over three months before the demolition date. Also, he added that the governorate employee provided them with a list of the owners of the tombs to inform them to take the remains of their relatives to 15 May City, and if they have a new death to bury them there too. Mohamed considered that the scenario will be repeated with the tombs in Al-Sayyida Nafisa graveyard.

On 20 July last year, Cairo Governorate announced the demolition of 1,177 tombs in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation surrounding area to construct a new bridge and a link to El-Tounsy Bridge and the Autostrad Road. A woman who resides in one of the tombs marked with a red sign in Ibn El-Farid St. spoke about the same scenario of the neighbouring tombs of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation. She also explained that a huge number of tombs near of Al-Imam Al-Sahfi’i area were marked with red signs, and she added that: “They told us each tomb owner will have another one in 15 May City, while the residents will have an apartment in Al-Asmarat District only if they proved that they reside in tombs for long-time.”

Another citizen who works in a booth near Al-Imam El-Shafi’i grave, indicated that there are many tombs marked with red, as he said: “They will demolish the tombs of Mohamed Ali’s Beys and Pashas and there will be nobody to take care of their corps.” The tomb of the poet, Mahmoud Samy Al-Baroudy is located in Ibn El-Farid St. in the Cemetery of Al-Imam Al-Shafi’i, which also is consistent with what the woman said.

The Egyptian writer Michel Hanna called on the Ministry of Culture and the Writers’ Union of Egypt to save the grave of the Prince of Poets Ahmed Shawky in Al-Sayyidah Nafisa cemetery as it will be demolished with 2,000 tombs to construct a new axis road. Hanna wrote on his Facebook page: “Oh poets of Egypt, Ministry of Culture, Writers’ Union of Egypt, Academy of the Arabic Language and all intellectuals, save the grave of Ahmed Shawky, save the cemetery of Al-Sayyidah Nafisa!” Pictures of ancient tombs of historical figures in the cemetery of Al-Sayyidah Nafisa were circulated on social media marked in red “take-off.” They asked authorities to stand down on the demolition of these tombs and the development plan.

Last January, General Ebrahim Awad, the deputy of Cairo governorate, revealed the details of El Sayeda Eisha Square development plan, as he affirmed that a new axis of civilisation will be constructed to connect the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation with the Mounib direction of the Ring Road to the Autostrad road, all in coordination with the Armed Forces. Awad stated that more than 23 shops were moved to Eltounsy Market near Eltounsy Bridge and a garden was constructed on the right side of the Eastern Salah Al-Din Bridge.  Also, he stated that the El-Sayeda Eisha Bridge where they have been many accidents will be removed. Awad added that the Governorate will remove 2,760 tombs, and move them to 15 May City and religious tourism will be developed to transform ancient Cairo into a great tourism site.

The official website of Egypt’s Projects Map published a description of “Balling-up El Sayeda Eisha Square,” and it’s mentioned that the president is the responsible person for the implementation. The project description stated that the square development works are based on three main axes including the square and bridge development, and the evacuation of slums which marked the place for a long time and restored the historical value of the place as a religious shrine and eradicating the perception that it is a transportation station.