It took two and a half months to demolish most of the buildings within the Maspero Triangle. Only 13 properties, most of which overlook 26th of July Street, are still standing.
Before they began in February, the negotiations preceding the demolitions spent a year in their final stages, since Ahmed Darwish, who was the deputy minister of housing responsible for the development of informal areas at the time, met with residents to outline alternatives offered to them as part of the project to develop the area.
The approximately 4,300 families that used to reside in the triangle have been compensated by various means through the Informal Settlements Development Fund since March of this year.
According to statements by the fund’s officials, 3,005 families received monetary compensation and 450 families were relocated to state housing project Asmarat in the Cairo suburb of Moqattam, where the state plans to relocate residents of several of the capital’s informal settlements. Meanwhile, 840 families signed contracts for alternative housing units in the Maspero area. They are set to receive the units in three years, once the development in the area is complete.
The debate around what to do with the remaining properties marks the final phase of the demolition, after which the area will be completely vacant except for the Foreign Ministry, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union Building, the Royal Chariots Museum (marked on the map below as the Museum of Vehicles), the Italian Consulate and Sultan Abul Ela Mosque, which will not be demolished.
Residents of these last few structures, which line 26th of July Street, were taken by surprise in early July, when district officials informed them that they had to evacuate their homes as they would be demolished as part of the government’s economic redevelopment plans for the Maspero Triangle, as per a 2015 decision issued by the prime minister.
Seven of the buildings remaining are registered with the Culture Ministry’s National Organization for Urban Harmony (NOUH) as architecturally unique structures and, as such, recommended for conservation — a point that residents of these properties are pressing in order to prevent their demolition. Most of them were built during the first half of the 20th century with European-style architectural designs, and residents say they were initially inhabited by foreign nationals.
The other six properties are not registered as architecturally unique structures. According to residents, however, they are in good condition and as such there is no need for demolition. One is an 11-story high building adjacent to the Foreign Ministry and overlooking the Nile.
Click through the interactive map below for information on the remaining 13 buildings.
The debate over which of the buildings will be demolished and which will be kept prompted MP Mohamed al-Massoud to call for a meeting between residents and officials. The meeting, held in the Shubra neighborhood on July 15, was attended by residents and the deputy governor of Cairo for the northern and western districts, Major General Mohamed Ayman Abdel Tawab, and the chief executive of the Bulaq district General Ibrahim Abdel Hadi.
The buildings registered as architecturally unique will not be demolished, Abdel Tawab asserted during the 45-minute-long meeting, as long as they are found to be in good enough condition. However, if they are in ill repair, they will be demolished and the residents will be offered the same compensation as the rest of the triangle’s residents.
He added that the demolition of a property that is registered as an architecturally unique structure first requires a ministerial decision, ordering its removal it from the list of buildings recommended for preservation. The decision must be published in the Official Gazette before the demolition takes place.
Abdel Tawab did not clarify whether the six unregistered buildings would be subject to the same treatment or not, but he indicated that the deciding factor in whether or not to demolish them is their condition.
During the meeting, which was characterized by an atmosphere of tension, residents asked about the mechanism through which properties would be evaluated, and which would be selected for demolition. Abdel Tawab responded by saying that a specialized technical committee composed of engineering and archeology professors and experts from the General Authority for Physical Planning will tasked with examining the remaining buildings.
The fate of the 13 structures rests on the report of the committee. However, Abdel Tawab excluded property number 54 on 26th of July Street. A demolition order was already issued for the building, which he described as worn out and unfit for restoration, as the metro passes under it, rendering it unsafe.
Residents leveled a volley of complaints at the officials, asserting that employees of the district are trying to evacuate residents from the buildings. Abdel Hadi responded by saying that “Bulaq Abu al-Ela district is only an administrative authority, but [the prime minister’s] decision ordered the eviction of the entire Maspero Triangle, beginning from the 26 July Street until the Nile Corniche, with the exception of Royal Chariots Museum, the Italian Consulate, as well the building of the Foreign Ministry and the Maspero television building.”
The historical buildings will not be demolished, Abdel Tawab asserted, but they may be evacuated if they are found to be in need of conservation. He assured meeting attendees that “residents will be allowed to return after this process ends.” They will, however, be required to pay a fee in return for the renovation of their homes and the surrounding neighborhood, following the development project’s completion. Officials have yet to disclose the precise value of this fee to residents.
MP Massoud called on the governorate to issue a clear report to residents, once the committee tasked with examining the buildings concludes its work. The goal of this report is to inform them of details about which buildings will be demolished, conserved or kept in their present condition. He also demanded that Cairo governorate officials should state how long residents are expected to spend elsewhere before they will be able to return to their homes.
Mahmoud al-Sayeh, a lawyer and one of Maspero’s remaining residents, demanded that governorate employees refrain from asking residents of the remaining buildings to evacuate their houses until after the committee has concluded its investigation.
Sayeh says that he has filed an appeal against an administrative court’s decision to develop the Maespero area. He argues that the court ordered the formation of a committee to assess the condition of the historical buildings in the area, a procedure that was also suggested by Abdel Tawab. Sayeh therefore demanded that all demolition and evacuation procedures be halted until the committee completes its work.
Although residents are still waiting for the committee’s report, several express their lack of optimism about the future to Mada Masr during the tour of the area that followed the meeting. Hesham Abul Ela, who lives in one of the 13 properties, says he has begun to pack up his belongings in anticipation of being evicted from his home at any time.
From the balcony of Abul Ela’s apartment, you can see that number 14 Ibn al-Qotobiya Street has been completely vacated after water and electricity were cut, according to Abul Ela. The former property is located on an inner street in the Maspero Triangle, just off of 26th of July Street, and is surrounded by the rubble of other demolished buildings. The building reflects a state of uncertainty for heritage buildings, which may be more protected than hundreds of other properties that have been demolished without receiving the same amount of public attention.
The survey of the area shows a clear class divide separating the inner buildings of the Maspero Triangle, which were demolished in their entirety, and those which are located on 26th of July Street, and whose inhabitants are protected because these are registered as heritage sites, and do not resemble properties that are commonly described as “slum” buildings.
As Mada Masr’s tour of the area with Abul Ela continues, the fears of those residents left in limbo become more and more palpable, as they ask him: “Is there any news?”
“Nothing,” he replies. “We’re still waiting.”