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Samir Raafat
Egyptian Mail, Saturday, May 10, 1997

Q. I am a concerned citizen who wants to save the architecturally interesting building down the road currently being stalked by developers who intend to replace it with a sterile, generic high-rise. What do I do?

A. What you can do depends on what system you are living under. But whichever it is, don't get discouraged! It is no surprise that people get discouraged in terms of architectural preservation. With many other priorities, the state's gargantuan machine can only move so much. But don't give up yet. With persistence and perseverance, things do work out in the end.

Granted it's easier to get things moving in a democracy where MPs, municipal councilpersons, and local officials rely on votes for sustenance. A conservation issue comes up and the citizenry bombards them with all sorts of missives, spelling out why they think this building or that monument should be preserved. Failing to receive adequate response, action groups are mobilized with various plans of actions, some more rapacious then others.

Once elected officials realize their political well-being is in jeopardy, the issue is expeditiously addressed. This is all part of the accountability process -- accountability to an electorate and to the citizenry at large. While this system is not always foolproof, it more often than not brings satisfactory results.

At the other extreme there is the paternalistic welfare state bereft of inspiration and where votes don't count. The state pretends to pay and the armies of appointed officials pretend to work. They rarely read letters from their constituents let alone respond to them. When they do, it is in unintelligible platitudes. These endless platoons of public officials see themselves as an immutable class comfortable in the knowledge that polls don't affect decisions. They are so firmly entrenched in monolithic and obstructive bureaucracies, to remove them you need the largest crane ever designed. long?

And what happens when you're caught between these two systems?

For starters, postpone any notion of turning to community affairs lobbies. Except for one or two coteries dealing in privatization (where the real money is), citizens action associations are still in the never-never. Hence you are left with the Buddy System alternative. To this day, the buddy system remains the most effective means of getting things done in a highly centralized environment such as ours. It works on the assumption someone out there knows somebody who knows Somebody who knows SOMEBODY.

Another effective form of attention-getting is to go to the printed and visual media.You never know which self-interested pairs of eyes are scanning the pages or watching the box. It could be someone who has access to the most overworked ears in town. He or she may invariably use your message to get even with a rival government department. Thank God therefore for the plethora of newspapers and magazines that mushroomed in the last decade. With the arrival of regional satellite television, the forums for getting your message across are multiplying.

In the meantime and until watchdog and action groups are formed (and they will be!), be vigilant. Cultivate your own buddy system. And when and if you see an architecturally worthwhile building or historic monument menaced by either public or private sector construction workers, fax a letter to the attention of Mr. Ali Hassan, the incumbent director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Hotfax: 340-7239 or 293-1117 Hotline: 341-5645 or 340-8761. So that your complaint is registered, include your name, telephone number and return address. Spell out in detail the correct location of the subject at risk and include a brief description of the building/monument mentioning its historic, cultural or architectural value.

Here is a sample letter. Please note that for the sake of illustration some of the facts, conjectures and events are fictitious. Any similarities therefore are purely coincidental.

Mr. Ali Hassan - Director Supreme Council of Antiquities
Fax: 340-7239 or 293-1117
Tel: 341-5645 or 340-8761

Dear Sir,

It has come to my attention that the new owners of the gothic-style riverfront villa built circa 1908 for banker Jean I. Hug and his wife Marcelle (J. Hug b.1862, Heinfelden, Switzerland) of Hug & Co. are contemplating its demolishment. Located at No. 3 Aziz Abaza Street, Zamalek, amid the Arts Center Palace and the Indian Embassy, this unique villa built with special masonry and decorated by the French atelier of Lehman forms an integral part of the streetscape.

It is the only design in Cairo by architect Mr. X who built the municipal theater in the City of Y in Europe. Villa Hug is one of the most prominent works by Italian contractor Garozzo & Figli who was also responsible for major construction projects in both Cairo and Heliopolis.

At one time an Institute of Education for Girls "Amira Fawkia al-Gedida," Villa Hug was leased for most of the last twenty five years by its last owner (the Moussa-Faizi family; MP Mohmamed Sameh Moussa was Secretary of the pre-1952 Saadist Party) to a Latin American embassy which used it as a residence for its ambassadors. One of these ambassadors had as his personal house guest Venezuela's actual President, Se–or Rafael Calderas. Another house guest, Se–or Nava Carrillo, was nominated his country's Minister for Foreign Affairs shortly after returning to Caracas.

As a concerned resident of Cairo, I urge you to investigate the matter and to take the necessary steps to have this villa, still in its original state, classified as a national historic monument and that an appropriate identifying plaque be appended to its facade listing some of its milestones.


(a friend of the Cairo Architectural Heritage Trust)
Address and Phone Number

Although most late 19th and early 20th century buildings do not come under the jurisdiction of the Antiquities Council, itself an antiquated (no pun intended) monolithic bureaucracy, its crafty officials whenever warranted know how to throw a spanner in the works upsetting things where it counts most. So don't hesitate to get in touch with them!

Until such time when the de novo Cairo Architectural Heritage Trust (CAHT) acquires teeth, you are urged to copy your fax (tel/fax: 348-8901) or letter to Ambassador Abdel Raouf al-Reedy, Director of the Mubarak Public Library, 4 Tahawia Street, Giza. The library is the elected temporary quarters of CAHT. And as its name suggests, this particular athenaeum has the attention of consequential ears.

There's only one Cairo. Don't knock it!

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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