Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Rendez-Vous at the tower

“A Rendez-Vous at the tower” was a romantic Egyptian film starring Soad Hosni and Salah Zoulfaker in 1962 ,it was based the American film “Affair to remember”.
The film plot was just like the original American except that the lovers will meet at the newly built then Cairo Tower instead of the Empire state building. It was the fashion at this time to feature national projects and achievements in films .

Lotus Shape
Cairo tower 
Cairo Tower then was the newest achievement made by the Egyptians or to be correct  by the Nasserite era. The Cairo tower was inaugurated on the 11th of April 1961 after 4 years of construction starting officially in 1959. It was designed by famous mid-century architects Noam Chabib and Halmy Sweilem.
I believe it was the jewel of their work because it was from the highest towers in the world then. It was designed against the earthquakes.

Cairo tower is higher than the great Pyramid “It is 187m".
It gives you a scene  you can never forget so easily ,the scene of great Cairo from the pyramids to the Citadel.
It was designed as a beautiful lotus flower. Its foundation was made of granite brought from Aswan, the same granite used to build the Pyramid.

It was built on one acre and the diameter of the tower is 17 m.

For years it was neglected but since last year there were huge restoration works in the tower that surprised us all, we began to notice it with its bright lights at night.
The restoration works were finished this month and it was re-inaugurated on the 11th of April on the same day of its first inauguration by prime minister Ahmed Nazif and General Omar Soliman in a rare appearance for him in a public event like this.

Just like any historical landmark of Cairo ,this tower has its own story or rather stories . First of all the money used to build this tower came from the United States.
That sum of money was USD 3 Million .
Second, it was a strange decision to build that costly fancy building when Egypt needed every penny to build its infrastructure which Nasser promised to build not to mention we began to build high Dam. It did not make sense then but some how the regime used its propaganda machine to justify officially its decision in front of the people and in front of history using the ultimate weapon of the Egyptian dignity that would never bow in front of anyone even in time of need !!!
And as usual, the propaganda story or stories in our case became historical facts !!

Story # 1 : President Eisenhower gave this large sum of money to Nasser in order to bribe Egypt to stop its support to the Algerian revolution and also not to join the Eastern camp.

Nasser in the inauguration of the tower
Nasser in the inauguration of the tower 
President Nasser felt that he was insulted ,especially when the enigmatic and eccentric Hassan Al-Tohamay returned back from the United States of America with that suitcase full of money.
Nasser decided to build that fancy building with that money to send a messenger to the Americans : You Can’t buy us.
This story is supported by Miles Copland’s book “Game of nations”. The tower since then became the longest and biggest No in the world according to our information ministry press releases !!!!!!
This is the most popular story for Cairo Tower construction  reason, it is supported by many historians including Gamal Hamad

Story # 2 : In 1954 the American administration gave President Mohamed Naguib  USD 3 million in order not to join the Eastern camp , Nasser did not like that.
In the same year, he got rid of Naguib. After 1956 Suez crisis ,Egypt’s support to the Algerian revolution and our close relations with the Soviet Union it seems that the Americans did not like that and had to remind Nasser with the 3 million dollars  and because he cared for Egypt’s dignity, he decided to use those millions to send a message to the Americans that They could not buy us. He would build a fancy building that suits a rich country not a developing country like Egypt.
This story is too obvious to be unrealistic and was made to hit two birds : To defame Naguib and to justify the use of those millions in building such tower , of course with the glorification of Nasser. Not so many historians repeat this story but it is there and I have heard it.

Story # 3 : Late King Saud of Saudi Arabia gave a million dollar to a Syrian air fighter to kill Nasser but the patriotic pilot told Nasser about the conspiracy giving him that huge sum of money !!!!!
This is even much  worse than the previous Story defaming Naguib because clearly whoever invented did not know that Saud was our ally !!! Hello, free prince !!

 When the tower was inaugurated its first high-profile international guest was not Eisenhower nor King Saud “ he visited it later “ but rather Tito !!
Nasser and Tito
Nasser and Tito at Cairo tower 
The tower was visited by high profile visitors including Hollywood legend Katherine Hepburn
Well I am afraid none of those three stories are  actually true but to be accurate there are points that were true in the official story #1 :
1- The United States government gave those 3 Million dollars to the Nasser.
2- Hassan Al-Tohamay actually brought that sum of money with him after a visit to the United States in 1954.

Dear reader this tower was not built for Egypt’s dignity but rather for Egypt’s national security , yes for the national security. Already if you know well the history of the revolution and its men especially eccentric enigmatic Al-Tohamay , you may form some idea about why that building was built in that particular time.

Al-Tohamay is one of the early officers of the Egyptian Intelligence and just like Zakaria Mohi El-Din he was too close to the Americans . He went in 1954 to the States to meet with officials in CIA to get help in founding the GIE. There were training courses and programs in the States and in Egypt for those officers chosen for that new important national security agency.

The revolution leadership Council HQ
The once 1952 Revolution Council HQ 
In the same year he returned with $ 3 million from America and after few weeks Nasser and his revolution council decided to build a state of art communication station in Cairo for the Egyptian intelligence with the expertise of the CIA.

That station needed a communication tower and of course it needed a good cover story in order not to cause suspicion ,especially the chosen location was not in the desert but rather in Zamalak ,in the heart of Cairo just blocks away from the revolution leadership council.
Naom Chahib
Noam Chabib 

Story says that Nasser suggested that the tower or rather the station was built as a monumental building  and it seems that everyone agreed on that idea. A  high building like that may have drawn a lot of suspicions and questions if it were a simple tower in this location.

We are still in 1954 and Nasser gave his orders to start immediately in  building that tower. Architects Noam Chabib and Halmy Sweilem  were chosen for the job besides of course foreign experts . The construction began in late 1954 and stopped in 1956 because of the war. Then it started in 1959 and ended in 1961. “ Mr. Noam's photo on the right”

I am not fabricating that story because you have to know Al-Tohamay did not work at the GIE main HQ then but rather at the newly constructed first floor of that tower by the orders of Nasser himself.

Al-Tohamay was not officially working in the GIE yet he was taking his orders from Nasser directly and till year 1956 ,no one knew at the agency what his job was exactly except when Ali Sabri became its head and ordered him to leave the tower.

They found a little unpleasant surprise; it turned out Al-Tohamay was tapping  the telephone calls of the revolution council members and the ministers for Nasser !!!!

Of course he was moved to the GIE where he headed the “anti-communism” department there. I do not assume then that Ali Sabri and after him Salah Nasr in Nasser's Police state  had closed that station.

On the contrary on April 11, 1961 notorious Salah Nasr accompanied Kamal Al-Din Hussein, the envoy of Nasser in the tower inauguration , you can see him in the video below
The inauguration of Cairo tower

It is not a coincidence that after 48 years on the same day General Omar Soliman also accompanied the prime minister in re-inauguration of the tower  !!! It was a noticeable appearance as I have hinted for the above mentioned story .

Since when Soliman attends the inaugurations of cultural and historical landmarks in Egypt !!?? Please do not tell he was there because he was sending a silent message to Hezbollah !! “Nazif warned on that day in the tower Hezbollah”.
Nazif and Soliman
PM Nazif and Soliman 
Have not I told you that this tower has very interesting stories just like any other place in great Cairo ??!!? Now the tower is leased and operated by some private tourism company. The technology revolution makes you in no need for a tower and cover story “expensive impressive one” to have a communication station now.

We leave theses stories in the past and return to the present time, I last week I have at last visited Cairo Tower fulfilling one of my childhood dream ; my own rendez vous at the tower !!

I have never visited it before and thus when the family decided to visit it on Sunday ,the 19th of April just before Sham El-Nassim , I was more than happy, in fact I was so excited.

In brief there are lots of improvement in the place according to my aunt who visited it twice before : right after its inauguration and in 1980s. The foreigners of course will pay a higher price to get in to the tower : L.E 65 where as the Egyptians pay L.E 20 “ is a privilege”.

I was asked in the tower if I were an Egyptian !!!!!!!!!!! I do not know ,why I am not a blonde nor I was speaking in English !!??

The worst thing in the tower visit is the queue you have to stand in order to get to the elevator , there is one elevator only  in the building to get you to the top.
Once you are at the top you will forget everything , you are in front of this magnificent view that you can’t forget easily  : the view of great Cairo. You won’t feel how huge Cairo except when you see it from there.
Already I do not like heights , but I did not feel that I was on the top of the highest buildings in Cairo because of the breathtaking scene, of course I had couple of bad thoughts on the top but they did not spoil the day ,on the contrary it was great “ I wonder what will happen if there is an earthquake !!”

Those coin operated binoculars are not working , they take L.E 1 in coins in vain also they are only for tall people like Ahmed Nazif not for short people like me and Ahmed Ezz.
After spending a considerable time on top , I went down two floors on the stairs to have lunch with the family in 365 round restaurant where it moves around showing the 365 panoramic view of both Cairo and Giza. It is a little bit expensive but I love the food and the service , both were great.
Of course they are not greater than the view of Cairo at night. It was so poetic seeing millions of lights flickering.
I believe if you are in Cairo ,then it is a must to visit this wonderful place. I remember the verses of Salah Jaheen where he speaks about the charming Cairo night .

Cairo Tower is known among Egyptians as Al Jazeera Tower which means the Island Tower as it is located in Al Jazeera area not to mention that it is Al Zamalak Island. In 1961 Young singer Abdel Latif El-Talabany sang a song for Al Jazeera Tower , that was popular till his sudden death “ That forgotten singer has his own Egyptian X-File” .

Here it is the original music video of “Al Jazeera Tower” by Al-Talabany as it was aired in the Egyptian TV in 1961. You can see the huge difference between Cairo then and now. You can see also the uncompleted Masepero building “National TV” .

Abdel Latif Al-Talabany-Al Jazeera Tower
Cairo Tower appeared on lots of stamps issued by Egypt , it is a real landmark that deserves its stamp collections .
Here is the first stamp issued for Cairo Tower in April 1961

BY the way my mom told me that when she had visited the tower in 1961 with my grand parents, they bought from there a beautiful miniature Cairo tower souvenir that was sold there ; I think it will be a great idea if it is sold again , many people including me will like to have a miniature version from this wonderful building.

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