Egypt‘s government announced plans to demolish historic tombs and cultural centers in Cairo as part of their modernization plan. This is a shock to Cairo residents, who witnessed the disappearance of cultural sites to make way for new developments and roadways. This move towards urbanization is nothing new, as we continue to see instances of destruction of monuments and cities in the continent. Let us examine how this move may change the trajectory of Egypt’s cultural heritage.
The demolition includes cultural sites, old pottery shops, ancient tombs, and cemeteries, as the city’s landscape changes drastically. Among the sites facing potential destruction is Darb 1718, a cultural center founded by Egyptian artist Moataz Nasreldin in 2007. District officials reportedly informed Nasreldin that a road-widening project would require the destruction of his space to build an elevated highway. Nearby pottery workshops and housing units are also at risk, as fast-food restaurants, cafés, and gas stations owned by the military now dot the banks of the Nile. Removing trees and public gardens is also evident, with little regard for environmental consequences.
Local accounts reveal that Cairo residents are concerned about the impact of new highways and high-rise buildings on the city’s history and the displacement of long-time inhabitants. The worry is that these changes will erase Cairo’s cultural heritage and displace those who have called the city home for generations. Moreover, the lack of preservation orders and proper paperwork exacerbates residents’ and cultural institutions’ uncertainty. Mohamed Abdin, a pottery workshop owner with a family history dating back to the 1920s, expressed residents’ daily uncertainty due to the demolition plans.
While modernization plan aims to include landmarks like the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and a new capital, the destruction of historical sites and cultural spaces raises concerns. Mamdouh Sakr, an architect and urbanist, voiced dismay at the disregard for heritage, stating that the destruction is happening without reason, explanation, or necessity. As Cairo’s landscape transforms, questions arise about the long-term cost to culture and the city’s unique identity. With a rich history and cultural significance, many wonder if modernization should come at heritage’s expense.