CAIRO – Egyptian authorities are demolishing a historic 19th-century neighborhood in Cairo to make way for high quality residential and commercial developments just a stone’s throw from the Nile. Disgruntled residents feel that they have not been adequately compensated.
The Maspero district is named after the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, who helped found the Egyptian Museum. Developers have long watched the central district, where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the state television and radio building are already located.
The neighborhood is part of the modern city built by Khedive Ismail in the 19th century and planned when Paris on the Nile was planned with wide boulevards, traffic circles and stately European-style architecture.
In the past few decades the neighborhood, like much of the Egyptian capital, has fallen into disrepair. While some of the old architecture was retained, including the apartments inhabited by middle-class families, parts of Maspero resembled a shanty town.
Heavy machinery is used to demolish buildings. Heavy machinery is used to demolish buildings in the Maspero neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt on July 31, 2018. The Egyptian authorities are demolishing the neighborhood to make way for development and angering residents who say they weren’t properly compensated.
For years, authorities persuaded residents and shopkeepers to leave the area for compensation or temporary housing elsewhere, with promises to return to the neighborhood after modern housing was built.
Of the 4,500 families displaced by the demolition, around 900 will return to apartments in Maspero that will stand next to dazzling apartment towers and office skyscrapers.
The redevelopment is part of a larger effort to transform Cairo, home to 20 million people, even though a new administrative capital is under construction in the desert 45 kilometers east.
Authorities say the projects are necessary to reduce the overcrowding, traffic and pollution that has long plagued the city. However, critics say poor and bourgeois Egyptians are being driven out by well-connected business people.
The government is targeting two Nile islands, home to poor neighborhoods and farming communities, in hopes of converting them into luxury homes and business districts. The police who issue eviction notices have repeatedly bumped into the residents.
Last week, the Governor of Cairo said Maspero had been fully evacuated, paving the way for the final phase of the demolition. “Build houses for them  Families will be the first phase of the project, ”said Governor Atef Abdel-Hameed.
The entire process is estimated to cost an estimated $ 225 million, according to the Housing Department.
Among the victims of the new development is the watch shop Hinhayat, which was founded in 1907 by a Bulgarian craftsman.
A worker walks past the Hinhayat watch shop a worker walks past the Hinhayat watch shop, which was founded in 1907 by a Bulgarian craftsman and is being located in the Maspero neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt on August 11, 2018.
Essam Ahmed, the owner, says his grandfather worked in the shop and then bought it in 1956 when Egypt’s foreign communities fled in the face of growing nationalism and property expropriation by the socialist government. He boasts that his grandfather once repaired clocks used by King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, as well as politicians and celebrities.
“Here is the legacy of this business,” he said as he put the last of his watches away earlier this month. “I wanted to save this legacy for the country … but it seems they are [the government] are not interested. There are some things that are more important than money. ”
Ahmed has sued the government, stating that the store should have been spared demolition because of its historical value. He said authorities told him he would only be compensated if he dropped his cases.
He and other nearby shopkeepers say the compensation offered by the government for their stores – pounds 7,000 (US $ 391) per square meter – is well below market value in the area.
“Your compensation, which we have not yet received, is worthless,” said Ahmed. “Our livelihood is gone.”
The government insists that the compensation offered is fair and denies that anyone is being forcibly relocated.
Ahmed el-Sayed, a 63-year-old pensioner, moved from Maspero months ago. He says the now demolished home where he has lived most of his life was a unique architectural landmark registered with the Ministry of Culture.
“It shouldn’t have been demolished. It should have been renovated,” he said.