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Several of my articles on Garden City were plagiarized word for word by novelist MEKKAWI SAID (winner of the Egyptian State price for literature!!!!) and re-published under his own name in a three-part series in El-Masry El-Youm daily in September 2015.

Cheers to our "talented" literature prize awardee. Your pain his gain !!!



by Samir Raafat,
Cairo Times, November 26, 1998

Remove "baraka" from the equation and you're left with an infectious time bomb just waiting to explode in Um El Dunya's nerve center. Welcome to the octogenarian Bab al-Louk market, home to fetid odors, radiation-immune roaches, killer rats, venereal cat houses, preteen sweat shops, rent-a-wreck garages and--brace yourself, very possibly your next dinner's vegetable soup.

Strategically situated midway between Tahrir Square and Abdine Palace, the gubernatorial motorcade whizzes past each morning on its way to City Hall so you'd think by now Cairo's esteemed governor has come to terms with the hazards of upholding such a misplaced enterprise. Alternately His Excellency may have realized by now the potential worth of this unique building's re-adaptive use. But in case he prefers to look the other way, let's furnish him with tidbits surrounding the souk's history and the visionary capitalists who conceived it. Without a doubt they must be turning in their graves.

Before WW1 Cairo already boasted an opera house, a central railway station, a khedivial library, a national museum, an observatory and the world's fourth largest zoo. Teh time had also come for the city to introduce modern wholesale markets thus displacing traditional all-purpose wekalas--bazaars and their snarled open air versions.

If until now Cairo's souks had served their purpose they were also breeding grounds for epidemics and plagues. With recent ravages of cholera still on the public's mind, improved hygiene had become a civic goal in February 1911. With a declared capital of LE 30,000 and backed by two French banks represented by Messrs. David Adda and Rosenberg, Messrs. Finzi, Mondolfo and Cattaui (Adolphe and Joseph) announced the creation of Societe des Halles Centrales d'Egypte (covered market company) modeled on that of Paris fame.

Quick to capitalize on the growing need for cold storage, one-stop purchasing and sanitary conveniences, the company drew plans for a huge complex where retailer and wholesaler alike could purchase the freshest germ-free produce right here in the center of Cairo. Since the populated areas surrounding Midan al-Attaba and Cairo Station Square (today, Ramses) were already spoken for each with its own covered market--courtesy of the Municipality and a private company respectively-- Les Halles Centrales' owners were obliged to settle for the newer district of Bab al-Louk.

Fortunately the proposed site couldn't have wanted for a better location. For starters it was adjacent to the Cairo terminus of the Cattaui-owned Bab al-Louk - Helwan suburban transit system which served Sayeda Zeinab, Old Cairo, Torah and the budding suburb of Maadi. Interestingly, Halles Centrale's directors were one and the same as those of the Egyptian Delta Land & Investment Company which created Maadi in 1904. Similarly, they were the proprietors of Helwan's Casino, palace hotels and thermal facilities.

Another significant bonus for the Bab al-Louk market was the tramway junction fronting its proposed northern entrance. In other words consumers would be a tram ride from Zamalek, Garden City, downtown Cairo and Giza. (both tramway and train terminal were removed in the 1980s).

Acquiring the property was no problem. Part of the land already belonged to the Delta Land & Investment Company and the remainder was purchased directly from Khairy Pasha (original owner of AUC's main building) who received a company directorship as an added premium.

Still lacking was an architect capable of putting all the modern conveniences of wholesale shopping under one giant roof. Researcher Pascal Garret whose recent post-graduate thesis centers on the Bab al-Louk Market believes the choice fell on the firm of Edward Matasek & Maurice Cattaui authors of several Cairo landmarks. Or, could the design have been the feat of company chairman Joseph Cattaui himself? A graduate of the Paris school of engineering the pasha-to-be participated in several architectural competitions including the design of Alexandria's main railway station. In any case, whoever conceived Bab El Louk's covered market knew what he was doing.

Even before its official inauguration in May 1912, the press was already comparing the new souk with the famous Paris Halles. Agog with praise for the new market, Cairo's French-language daily recited the building's general aspects detailing each corner, nook and cranny within its 6,000 square meter two-story U-shaped perimeter.

"Everything can be found at the new Bab al-Louk market" exclaims Le Journal du Caire. "Besides ample office space on the first floor, the ground floor abounds with grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, beerstubes, pharmacies, pastries and bakeries. Even a telephone office and a bank". The journal also mentions the availability of excellent docking and loading facilities, something quite novel at the time.

Meanwhile al-Ahram enthusiastically described how, 24 meters below a suspended metal roof, the large fish, meat, poultry and vegetable stands benefit from ample light and ventilation. Even more amazing, al-Ahram goes on, is the gigantic basement and its refrigeration facilities where dairy products, carcasses, fruits and much more, can be stockpiled for months on end. If consumers can now enjoy mangoes in January and strawberries in July, they can also find beer and fine wines carefully stored at Bab al-Louk for all-year consumption. "But more importantly" exclaims another anonymous reporter, "are the new market's sanitary and hygienic facilities... comparable to the best Europe has to offer."

Everyone was served at Bab al-Louk, remembers an old timer, and that included members of all faiths. You would go to the fowl stores and there you would encounter both the hakham and the muslim cheikh slaughtering the birds according to the kosher or the hallal rules of tradition.

The rest is history.

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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