Residents of the Maspero Triangle could not imagine the impact the attack on the Italian Consulate on Galaa Street on July 11 would have on their lives.
Aside from the cracked walls, the explosion disrupted the tranquility the neighborhood has enjoyed since the January 25 revolution in 2011. The fate of the estimated 4,000 families that reside in the triangle is now unknown.
Since the explosion, locals have been complaining of damage to their houses. They argue that government officials focused all their attention on restoring the building that houses the consulate, while neglecting their own properties.
The day after the explosion, officials from the Bulaq Municipal Authority and the Cairo governorate paid visits to the neighborhood. The government initially announced that 14 houses had been damaged by the explosion, eight of which would have to be demolished, with six needing renovation. Cairo Governor Galal Saeed told private satellite channel CBC Extra that the governorate was working on providing alternative housing units or financial compensation to the residents.
A number of locals are concerned by the potential implications of government involvement in the triangle, given the Supreme Council for Urban Planning’s decision on January 24 to start re-planning the area. Their fear is that they will be unable to return to the neighborhood after the development plans are finished.
Ahmed Zaazaa, one of the architects working on the Maspero Triangle development project, says that following official visits to the neighborhood, Minister of Urban Planning Laila Iskandar asked one of the consulting architects to inspect the damage to the buildings. The architect confirmed that the houses only need basic renovation, with one house requiring demolition.
The ministry and the governorate’s conflicting assessments led Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb to seek the technical advice of the Arab Contractors company, which initially claimed that the houses did not require demolition. The company began renovations instead, focusing on Zahr al-Gammal Street, adjacent to the Consulate building.
Shortly afterward, Cairo governorate officials told privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper that 55 residences would need to be renovated, rather than the 14 initially estimated, and that the Arab Contractors would carry out the process.
Zaazaa and the residents were surprised to find that another company, Al Fahim Co. for Contracting, had already begun demolishing 10 buildings in the area, at the behest of the municipal authority.
Zaazaa questions the reasons behind the governorate’s insistence on demolishing the 10 houses that the Arab Contractors were already working on, especially since the neighborhood is scheduled to undergo development work in the coming few months.
He adds that, alongside an Arab Contractors’ architect, he accompanied a consulting architect from the Urban Development Ministry to visit a number of the houses due to be demolished. They concluded that certain buildings are in good condition and only need renovation.
Mada Masr’s visit to the Maspero Triangle revealed the uncertainty plaguing the residents of the neighbourhood. As soon as we entered Zahr al-Gammal street, we noticed the scaffolding on the houses being renovated, as well as the movement of Arab Contractors workers between the residences. At the coffee shop on the corner of the street, a number of Bulaq Municipal Authority employees were sat down.
Mada Masr spoke to Tamer Mahmoud, a member of the Maspero Association to Defend the Land and the Right for Housing. Mahmoud began leading us through the area, pointing out the work being carried out by the Arab Contractors. He states that the work is restricted to painting the exteriors and fixing some of the glass windows, without reinforcing the foundations of the houses, the rooms or the interiors.
Mada entered one of the houses undergoing renovation, and it was obvious that all the work has been restricted to the exteriors of the houses. Aida, who lives in the residence with her family, confirms this observation, adding that she asked the architect in fix the damaged walls inside the house as well. The architect said that he receives his orders from the municipal authority, and that she needs to request them to assign him the task first.
Aida, like other local residents, is concerned by the cracks in the walls of her home. She fears that the renovation will not be sufficient.
Many doubt the motivation of the municipal officials and the Arab Contractors employees, not least because renovations have thus far been restricted to houses in Zahr al-Gammal street.
A number of residents from the side streets of the neighbourhood, whose houses were also damaged in the blast, claim that authorities have paid no attention to their homes.
On the narrow Afifi side street, off of Armanti Street, 50-year-old Sayed Atteya stopped us, demanding that we take a look at his house as well. The walls in some of the rooms had been severely damaged by the explosion. Atteya says that he spoke to the municipal authority employees at the scene who had visited his house, and that they had promised to pay him another visit to determine what can be done to fix it. However, none of them showed up again, he says.
Atteya’s house, which has not been included in the preliminary renovation plan, is one of many houses in the hidden parts of the neighborhood suffering from the same problem.
Later during Mada’s tour, secretary of the Bulaq Municipal Authority, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, appeared with a number of his employees to inspect the state of the houses not included in the initial survey. When asked about the number of buildings requiring renovation, Abdel Wahab said that they are still assessing the state of the residences to determine which need to be demolished and which can survive with minor renovation work.
Regarding compensation for residents of demolished buildings, he said that there was no official plan in place, and that they are still studying the matter.
Abdel Wahab’s statement contradicts with locals’ claims. Demolition notices have already been delivered to some residents demanding that they evacuate their homes, without being given any guarantees that they will be able to return after reconstruction, nor providing alternative housing units or financial compensation.
Amal Mohamed Ahmed says that she refused to sign the demolition notice for her building on Armanti Street, for fear of not being able to return. Since the condition of the house is unclear, the three families living in the building have moved to their relatives’ houses in the same neighborhood.
The land where Amal’s building was built has been leased since 1963, when her family moved in to their house. Some of those within the Maspero Triangle have lived in the neighbourhood for four generations.
Opposite Amal’s residence, another building is scheduled for demolition. The owner of the shop on the ground floor, Mohamed Atef, was the one who received the demolition notice. His attempts to obtain a copy of the notice he signed, and inquiries on alternatives or possible compensation, have all been in vain.
One of Atef’s neighbours on Armanti Street also had to leave after renovation began. Abdel Halim Mostafa, a driver, says they had been living in the same building for 80 years. Following the explosion, cracks in the walls had grown bigger. After inspection, the municipal authority decided that the house needed renovating, but during the scaffolding process, the building suffered further damage. An order to demolish the house was quickly issued.
The residents Mada spoke to question the intentions of the Cairo governorate, fearing that they are being evicted from their homes under the guise of renovation or demolition, and that they will never be able to return.
The residents refuse to leave the neighborhood, and insist on continuing with the development plan that they helped set with a number of independent architects. The Ministry of Urban Development has already approved the aforementioned plan and promised not to evict the residents of the neighbourhood.
However, given the municipal authority’s well-known ambition to transform the entire area into a new administrative and shopping district, residents continue to live in fear of a covert displacement from their homes.