Egyptians alarmed as authorities delists protected park

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A controversial choice by the Supreme Council of Antiquities to take away Cairo’s Aquarium Grotto Garden from Egypt’s listing of antiquities has sparked uproar in Egypt. Preservationists and many voters fear the move could pave the way in which for the destruction of the general public park by the hands of builders.

The park, also called the Fish Garden, is certainly one of a handful of dwindling inexperienced areas in a metropolis full of concrete buildings and disorderly-built red-brick buildings. 

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Defending the choice, Mustafa El Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, advised Al Sharq Al Awsat,”There is no such thing as ‘an archaeological park;’ only buildings, monuments, and heritage sites may be registered as antiquities.”

However, in an interview with TV discuss present host Lamis El Hadidi on the privately-owned ON TV, El Waziri nevertheless contradicted himself, denying that the park could be written off the antiquities listing.

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“The park, affiliated to the Ministry of Agriculture, was registered as an antiquity in 2010,” famous El Waziri. He confirmed plans for a multi-story storage and a restaurant on a plot of land contained in the Fish Garden. He insisted that no bushes could be uprooted and that the event of the backyard would under no circumstances hurt the registered antiquities.          

The approximately 10-acre lush inexperienced space on Zamalek island is coveted by residents of the prosperous central Cairo neighborhood lots of whom understand the park as “the green lung” that gives them and different metropolis dwellers clear air and respite from the congestion of the crowded metropolis.  

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Dating again to 1867, the Fish Garden was established by Ottoman Khedive Ismail and obtained its title from the picturesque grottoes or caves that used to boast aquariums displaying a formidable assortment of fish, turtles and even sharks in addition to aquatic vegetation. Today, the backyard’s fountains have run dry and its caves have been decreased to empty, darkish areas, providing guests respite from the scorching summer time warmth or {couples} a brief hideout.

The leaked plan to take away the backyard from the antiquities listing and as an alternative, register solely its three historic kiosks and essential grotto as relics worthy of preservation, evoked a public outcry from skeptics, cautious of the federal government’s motives for the move. The listing paperwork heritage websites and monuments that the state considers worthy of preservation and safety.

In a uncommon rebuke of the federal government, Samira Al-Gazzar, a member of parliament, filed an pressing attraction to parliament Oct. 3. “I am addressing my questions to Dr. Khaled Al Anani, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, demanding that he explain clearly what is happening to our heritage, history, and archaeological parks following the public outrage over recent press statements concerning a review of the status of the Fish Garden.” 

Some social media customers have been extra forthright of their criticism of the plan. “Is a ceramic-coating of the Pyramids subsequent in line?” was a sarcastic query printed by journalist Hania Moheeb on her Facebook web page.

Seeking to quell the rising anger over the allegations, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities launched a assertion that the proposal is “the removal (from the antiquities list) of only a small part of the garden (not exceeding 0.5 acres) and which does not contain any buildings registered as antiquities.” 

The assertion additional affirmed that the proposal was introduced to the Technical Committee and to not the executive board of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the latter being the only real entity entrusted with selections regarding the registration of antiquities. “The Council will not allow any action that would harm the antiquities in the garden or elsewhere in the country.”

Minister of Agriculture El Sayed El Quseir paid a shock go to to the backyard Oct.4  and was quoted by the state-owned Akhbar El Yom information website as saying, “Our goal is to restore the garden’s past glory.” He insisted that “no development work will take place without prior approval from the Supreme Council of Antiquities.”

But his feedback did not pacify preservationists. “Egypt has ratified the 1972 UNESCO Convention that entails that we protect our heritage with its historical landscape,” reminded Monica Hanna,  an Egyptologist who has fought tirelessly to reveal the looting of Ancient Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic archaeological websites.  

“The Ministry’s plan contradicts this (the convention) and we should think of green solutions for transportation rather than creating more parking spaces,” Hanna advised Al-Monitor. 

She continued, “Historic centers such as Florence, for example, have restricted traffic zones with special permits needed to access (by car) protected heritage sites. This encourages visitors to use public transportation and bicycles rather than cars in a bid to preserve the artifacts.”

Many Egyptians are additionally skeptical in regards to the authorities’s plan to “develop the garden,” having in recent times witnessed the razing of a number of historic monuments and the uprooting of lots of of bushes to make manner for highways linking Cairo to a new administrative capital, presently underneath building within the desert 35 km east of the town.

In July 2020, the partitions of graves and mausoleums of politicians and well-known writers in a 20th-century cemetery in historic Cairo’s City of the Dead have been bulldozed to make room for a brand new expressway, forcing households to relocate the our bodies of family members to tombs elsewhere. 

According to the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative, a preservationist group, some 400,000 sq. meters of inexperienced area (the scale of greater than 50 soccer fields) have been razed in Heliopolis over a four-month interval in the summertime of 2020 to create space for highways chopping by way of the upmarket district. Some of the bushes felled have been of uncommon species relationship again centuries.  

In what many decried as “a tree bloodbath,” scores of bushes within the Merryland Park in Heliopolis have been uprooted in March 2015 for an underground parking storage. A big space within the public park, owned by the general public sector Heliopolis Housing and Development Company, was reworked right into a barren wasteland. Then-Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy insisted that the Ministry had not accepted felling the bushes. While the park has since undergone a facelift with the new-look Merryland Garden opening in March 2018, many Heliopolis residents protested plans to construct an underground parking area and a theme park throughout the challenge’s second section, to no avail.

Earlier this yr, nevertheless, plans to construct yet one more freeway in Heliopolis stalled after an outcry from the district’s residents. The flyover would have been constructed above the landmark Basilica Church in violation of a regulation prohibiting building near or round heritage websites. The authorities was pressured to backtrack, bowing underneath the immense strain from a disgruntled public.

Preservationists like Hanna are hoping that the federal government will as soon as once more heed public calls and chorus from building work in public parks. Usama Ghazali, an environmental researcher and former supervisor at Gebel Elba National Park, expressed doubt that the federal government will take note of residents’ protests.  

“It will not surprise me if I see trees in the Fish Garden being destroyed to make room for a garage or some other service,” Ghazali advised Al-Monitor. “At a time when the rest of the world is seeking to protect and preserve national heritage at any cost, we in Egypt are replacing trees with concrete and in doing so, are not only destroying the environment but also obliterating parts of our history.” 


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