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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
Egyptian Mail, Saturday, March 15, 1997

Hanzadeh Osmanoglou (Princess Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim)
HIH Princess Zehra-Hanzadeh wife of Prince Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim

WHAT does a Jordanian ex-queen have in common with a former deputy prime minister of Egypt? Not much except that they lived in adjoining villas confiscated from the dapper Ibrahim Rifaat brothers.

Prince Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim and Prince Amr Ibrahim were wealthy descendants of Viceroy Mohammed Ali Pasha, founder of the dynasty that ruled Egypt from 1805 until 1952. Both princes married granddaughters of Padishah Abdelhamid, the last of a long line of Ottoman Sultans.

The Ibrahim brothers selected Maadi as their place of residence thus ensuring gracious living in charming surroundings.

It was while stranded in Switzerland during WW2 that Prince Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim designed on paper a Moresque mansion. Immediately upon returning to Egypt after the war, he realized his dream house on Maadi’s Road 78, surrounded by a two-acre garden,

Prince Amr meanwhile opted for a Kavalla-style villa on Road 14 occupying approximately a one-acre spread.

Both villas were confiscated by the state in 1954 by which time the Ibrahims and their Turkish sultanas had relocated to Europe. Soon enough their respective villas were disposed of by the state. Don't bother to ask what happened to the villas' marvelous azulejos (glazed tiles), frescoes, tapestries and other priceless furnishings and trimmings. They simply disappeared.


bathroom; photo courtesy Susan Stevenson Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim's Moresque palace changed hands several times before becoming a dump heap surrounded by rotting vegetation and cats and dogs. Its first, and with hindsight, best tenant was the Cairo American School. But when CAC outgrew the premises and moved to Digla, the state-owned property reverted to the mercies of the military establishment. This was tantamount to a death sentence. For the next 20 years the house was systematically mauled, scarred, hurt, tortured and finally abandoned to bats, rodents, stray cats and rabid dogs.

As if to punctuate its fate, the garden's two rows of royal palms, which once dominated the lush vegetation laced with oriental fountains and mossy walls, died a slow agonizing death, more out of chagrin than lack of water.

All of that happened while the nearby Queen of Jordan, like the legendary Lady of Shallot, watched in horror as the nearby architectural wonder turned into lifeless stone. But what could al-Sherifa Dina do? She was herself a fallen princess separated early on from her prince charming. After walking out on her King Hussein of Jordan re-married three more times: an Englishwoman, a Palestinian and an American.

But can one be as charitable of the former deputy prime minister who lives opposite the other villa - the one that belonged to Prince Amr Ibrahim on Road 14? Can one absolve him from being a passive witness to the slow and horrible demise of another one of Maadi’s architectural jewels? Can one ever forgive this former Free Officer who served as Egypt's ambassador to Rome and Paris before taking on the job of minister of culture?

To this day Sarwat Okasha is a member of the Supreme Specialized Council, that powerful committee which is supposedly the guardian of our national institutions and treasures! Can one forgive him for looking the other way as one of Maadi most beautiful homes and gardens gradually became a cesspool of sorts! When will Mr. Okasha react to the on-going massacre of Maadi? Probably never!

And if the former Minister of 'Taste and Elegance' behaves this way, can we blame Mr. Ordinary Citizen for his endemic lack of concern and total indifference?

Ahmed Sirri Baba Free Officer Sarwat Okasha
Bektashi elder Ahmed Sirri Baba; Officer Sarwat Okasha

How can one not yearn for the days when the inhabitants of Road 14 were still respected civilians who came from all walks of life.

Without doubt each and every resident enriched Maadi with their culture, savoir and know-how whether he was a prince, a doctor, an architect, a university professor or an Albanian dervish. Which brings to mind the mid 1950s when Sirri Baba arrived in Maadi accompanied by a small retinue, a tiny goat herd and some rare houseplants!

For security reasons the Albanian sage was evicted from his elaborately decorated cavernous dwellings in the Mokattam Hills behind the Citadel. Nowhere to go he relocated in what had been Prince Amr Ibrahim’s three-car-port garage on Road 14 (between roads 85 and 86) opposite the Prince’s Ottoman villa.

Sirry Baba and his ilk had originally fled persecution in Albania eventually settling in Egypt when it was still ruled by Mohammed Ali’s descendants many of whom were admirers and friends of the dervish sage. It was only after Egypt became a republic that little by little things worsened for the pro-monarchy Bektashis of Egypt.

Advanced in age and crippled by diabetes Sirri Baba died in the early 1960s a broken man. A few months before his death the ailing dervish visited his Maadi neighbor Dr. Wahid Raafat, bringing with him a bottle of home-made syrup. What he related was paramount to the proverbial push that followed the shove. Apparently Nasser's military-run government wanted to evict the world's primo Bektashi sage from his makeshift quarters -- his presence greatly annoyed Free Officer Sarwat Okasha who had just moved to Maadi in his spanking new villa next door to the destitute Sufi Baba.

To the present owner of Prince Amr's villa who probably never heard of Sirri Baba and the Bektashis, one has only this to say. Shame on you for what you have done to this noble house and beautiful surroundings. Shame! It was a dark dismal day when the Arab League took over the villa and turned it into offices for a plethora of employees whose only duty it seems is to appear on payday and then disappear for the next 30 days.

Yes, shame on the Arab League for having built such an ugly and devastating bunker-type building on the once beautiful garden, the likes of we shall never see again.

Unlike the gated communities of today's corrupt apparatchiks, Prince Amr Ibrahim had no qualms in sharing his house and garden with the citizenry. Ordinary mortals could walk, ride or drive by his garden filling their lungs with the scent of jasmine and fruit blossom or admire the camellias, rhododendron, fuscia, orchids and the profusion of wildflowers.

Alternately, visitors to Maadi could appreciate the attractive symmetry of Prince Amr's Ottoman villa; symmetry later marred by ugly new constructions built haphazardly all over the ruined grounds and inhabited by so-called guards and security personnel.

Today, you have a choice of fetid odors coming from these illegal settlements most of which could easily mistake for outhouses.

When was the last time the Arab League's Secretary-General arrived unannounced to see for himself what is going on?

One always thought of Dr. Esmat Abdel Meguid an educated sensitive man would be sympathetic to the plight of our architectural heritage. Then why doesn't the incumbent Secretary-General do something worthwhile starting with the removal of those ugly settlements? Why doesn't he make sure the League's outlying offices look decent, clean and respectable so that visitors and passers-by, Egyptian or Western, won't comment "tsk tsk... just look at what the Arab League looks like!"

So much for Maadi's ''cultural and architectural landscape!!

Now that the private sector is pulling itself up from the doldrums of Egypt's post revolutionary period, it too should turn its attention to preserving Cairo's princely architectural sites, primarily as a means of saving our cityscape from annihilation as well as attracting tourist dollars.

Like it has been said again and again on this page, tourists don't just come for the Sphinx and the Pyramids. They come to discover and hopefully enjoy the character and romance of Cairo, from its Mamluk alleys to its belle époque vestiges.

We look upon the private sector to rebuild the city's architectural edifices and some of its more artistic relics. This sector must assume an active role in restoring the landscape that geomancers laid out nearly one century ago in downtown Cairo as well as Garden City, Heliopolis and Maadi (dare I say, Mounira, Abassia and Helmiya). And how about repairing those collapsing state-owned architectural monuments scattered around the city and its outskirts!

The prospects for successful preservation improved last January when first lady Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak accepted to head a campaign to list our late 19th and early 20th century landmarks among the historic monuments worthy of protection.

Let's rise to the occasion and show her she hasn't wasted her time and ours by lending us her support.

Amr Ibrahim Villa in Zamalek Princes Amr and Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim are the great-grandsons of Prince Rifaat Ibrahim who drowned while crossing the Nile on 15 May 1858. As for the princes' father, he died in a car accident in Paris while still in his twenties.

Prince Amr together with his first wife (a daughter of Maadiite Seifullah Yussri Pasha) and three daughters Nimetullah, Emina and Indji lived in an Arabesque palace allegedly designed for them in Zamalek by Armenian architect Balian.

Many years after the death of his wife, Prince Amr remarried Najla-Hebutallah Sultan, a granddaughter of both the last Caliph and Sultan of Turkey. They had one son, Prince Osman Ibrahim Rifaat who lived in Lausane, Switzerland before moving to Spain.

When the prince's assets were confiscated by the state following the military coup that toppled King Farouk, his Zamalek palace was turned into an arts and crafts museum. Shortly after Anwar al-Sadat requisitioned the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in 1973-4 in order to enlarge the executive wing next to his Giza residence, part of the Khalil collection, mainly French impressionist works, was moved to Zamalek in Prince Amr's palace. There it remained for almost two decades before returning back to its original habitat.

Today, the zamalek villa has been designated a ceramics museum. An appropriate choice since the interior of the Ibrahim palace is choc full of encrusted and laid-in ceramic works and alcoves.

1957: at Abou Bakr Rateb Bey’s Yenikoy Yali in Istanbul, we find L-R: Regent Abdullah of Irak, Princess Hanzadeh, Prince Ahmed (son of Hanzadeh and Prince Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim), his sister Princess Fazile with her fiancee King Feisal of Irak and father of the bride-to-be ex-Maadi resident Prince Mohammed-Ali Ibrahim. Forefront: Prince Raad Ibn Zeid (photo courtesy Zeynep Inankur)

L-R: aborad yacht flying flag of Irak we find Prince Ahmed M-Ali Ibrahim, King Feisal of Irak, Princess Fazile, Princess Hanzadeh, Mrs. Aboubakr Rateb bey and Mrs. Sherif Mardin (photo taken in Bosphorous, Istanbul courtesy Zeynep Inankur)

tombs of Princesses Hanzadeh and Nejla-Hebatullah next to their mother HIH Princess Sabiha daughter of Sultan Mohammed VI Vahideddine at the ASIYAN CEMETERY in Bebek, Istanbul; all were Maadi residents in the late 1940s and early 50s (photo SWR)

In 1965 Princess Fazile Ibrahim married Hayri Urguplu, the son of a former Turkish prime minister with whom she had two sons: Ali and Selim. She lived in Yenikoy, Istanbul for fourteen years before returning to Paris.

Reader Comments
Re: Villa Rateb
Date: Saturday, December 1, 2012 1:07 AM
From: "Hussein Omar"

My understanding is that said Yali was owned by Sherif-Mardins before passing to the ratibs...

REPLY: The Yenikoy yali was owned by Abou Bakr Rateb Bey of Maadi who willed it to his second wife Djeda Ahmet Gawdat. When she died it was inherited by her nephew Sherif Arif Mardin (the son of Djeda's sister Madame Arif Mardin born Reya Gawdat). At the time Sherif Mardin was married to Suna Aksoy with whom he had a son, Omer Mardin.

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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