Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Heliopolis’ great trees massacre : Be ready for bridges

“ There are many things to laugh about in Egypt but it is laughter that is close to crying” famous Iraqi medieval poet Al-Mutanabbi once said in one of his poems about Egypt describing in a perfect sense this unique black comedy situation we have had from a long time.

I remember this verse when I read the news about how the current minister of environment Yasmine Fouad decided to designate the month of January in Egypt as the month of afforestation.
The environment ministry launched a nationwide campaign for afforestation called “Be ready for the green” or “Live Green” or as in Arabic “اتحضر للاخضر”

It is never too late to launch such campaign but at the same time, it comes when Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis has witnessed a sad trees genocide.
A before and after photo for a street in Heliopolis
A before and after photo for a street in Heliopolis
"Ghadeer El-Rafeey"  

In the past three months, the government and Cairo governorate decided to build not less than 9 bridges in what so-called the “Masr El-Gadida or Heliopolis development plan”.
The project is implemented by the army’s Engineering Authority which is racing to finish those bridges as soon as possible as it seems.

The plan included widening the streets in the district turning some of those streets into highways in the heart of residential areas.

To make this happen in 100 days in order to have a rapid achievement, the government and the governorate wiped out almost all the green spaces and garden islands in Heliopolis.

According to the citizens of Heliopolis, not less than 90 Feddans of green spaces were wiped out completely in that plan.

The citizens documented all those green space gone in the wind by number and location and it is more than shocking. They documented all those green spaces on Google earth.

We are speaking about nearly 375,000 square meters of green spaces. I know that Feddan as a unit of area is not used worldwide.

According to the citizens of Heliopolis’ estimations and Heliopolis Heritage Initiative, 2561 trees were cut in the district since August 2019.
A tree removed in the worst way ever in Heliopolis
by Michel Hanna
Some of those trees are 90 years old !!
The woods of those trees are sold to the factories mainly producing Shisha or Hookah’s Charcoal. It is a very big market.
Removing trees in Heliopolis
Removing the green islands in the middle of the street
in Heliopolis 

I know how it feels because I have been witnessing the same thing happening to the trees in Giza’s Dokki and Agouza district where I live sadly.

The official justification for the destruction of those green spaces in Heliopolis and building those so many bridges is to solve the traffic problem in the area as well to shorten the time to reach the New Administrative Capital and New Cairo.

Needless to say, the New Cairo residents who live in gated communities and compounds are cheering for such a development project without realizing the price.

According to Cairo governorate’s official statements, the cost of that plan is LE 7.5 billion !!

I really feel sorry for the minister of environment because it is out of her hand all this and she knows deep down how wrong this is.

On the other hand and in an attempt to stop the growing criticism of Heliopolis citizens, the government and the engineering authority published videos of how they re-planted some new trees in Heliopolis.

But it is not enough at all to compensate for the loss of nearly 375,000 square meters of green spaces !!

The government also is adopting a green wall system  "cultivating" plants and flowers on the body of a bridge from those bridges in Heliopolis for the first time in Egypt.
Forget about trees because they are overrated.

Needless to say in the past month, I have read that not less than 15 people lost their lives while crossing the streets that turned into highways in a day and night aside from injuries.

Now the government and the ministry of interior’s traffic directorate are trying to solve this asking the help of the private sector to sponsor pedestrian bridges after the increasing number of deaths !!

Originally a social-political problem

Whether you like or not but the problem of Heliopolis or Agouza or any other area concerning the removal of trees and green spaces is a social-political problem originally.

For nearly a century, Heliopolis kept its upscale status because many members of Egypt's ruling class and upper class lived there. In the late 1990s, it saw a revival during the Mubarak era as Suzanne Mubarak, the former first lady originally lived in Heliopolis

But just as Abdeen district lost its glory because the 1952 coup overthrew monarchy where the King resided the Abdeen palace, Heliopolis is losing its glory because the president will leave it to move his new upcoming palace in the New Administrative Capital.

Not only the president but also Egypt's ruling class has left Heliopolis where Mubarak ruled Egypt for 30 years and moved to the gated communities and compounds in New Cairo and Sheikh Zayed.

At the end of the day, all those trees and mini-gardens would not have been removed if there is a real representative democracy in Egypt that allows the taxpayers to elect their representatives in the local councils, municipalities and parliament.
Heliopolis in the early 1960s 
This would not have happened if we had had true local councils and true community dialogue with the locals in area x or area y.

This would not have happened if the officials knew that they would be held accountable and they would lose their position in the upcoming local elections of governors’ elections.

Citizens are like the last factor to be considered in projects concerning their residence.

Ironically if the government and Cairo governorate had had a serious social dialogue with Helipolis citizens, they may find solutions to solve the traffic problem like for instance expanding the metro network and underground tunnels.

Needless to say, the government has spent LE 7 billion already, why not spending those billions in underground tunnels like in Boston Big dig

We are paying the price for all this and I am afraid nobody wants to speak about that elephant in the room.

The decision-makers in this country lost faith in Cairo and other old big cities and want that big glossy Dubai city style.

Ironically Heliopolis was that new big city when all the Gulf was all sand with my all due respect to the Gulf from North to South and its people who actually are in love with our old Egyptian cities and heritage.

Also, I am afraid they came first to the people of places like Al-Warraq island and nobody cared. Now they came to Heliopolis and the people there know how it feels first hand.

By the way, it is never too late to fix all that.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Zeinobia, thanks for a very sad and interesting post! I wish to write about this, are there any ways I can contact you? Best regards, Eva Plesner, Middle-East correspondent for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. eva.plesner@jp.dk


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