EGY.COM - MAADI
"Maadi" is the Arabic word for ferry-boats. This is because the town of Maadi which is located on the Nile a few kilometers south of Cairo was once upon a time an important crossing point for caravan routes coming from Arabia en route to the Nile's west bank at Giza where several important towns were located and from where the long trek to Upper Egypt began.
Modern day Maadi gained its reputation for being Egypt's enviable green suburb. But not for long. Sadat's infitah--economic Open Door policy would irrevocably change Maadi when an uncontrolled elimination of those very characteristics which had made this town so attractive, were unleashed.
Maadi's history is best told in Samir Raafat's 280-page book Maadi 1904-1962; Society & History in a Cairo Suburb published by Palm Press, Cairo, 1994. The book includes 70 pictures plus a map of old Maadi. There is also a revealing family tree evidencing how, at its outset, the British incorporated Delta Land Company Ltd. was controlled by a successful Jewish consortium.
Here are excerpts from some book reviews:
- The history of one district can tell you much about the history of a whole country -- such is the case with the Cairo suburb of Maadi. Maadi 1904-1962 is a fascinating account of a planned suburban paradise where the events of world importance were mirrored in the everyday lives of residents during this turbulent period of Egyptian history.
- Much of the book's material relies on oral history which was a primary effort at cataloguing souvenirs and information that is disappearing as Maadi's second and third generation of inhabitants move on into another world.
- Raafat has painstakingly assembled facts, opinions and rumors about Maadi and it residents, from the suburb's inception as an English-style garden town (or Tooting-on-the Nile' as one of its long-standing residents insisted on calling it before the days when Tooting became what it is) to the invasion of high-rise apartments in the '60s.
- The book provides a detailed history of Maadi's developments, looking at how it was conceived, planned and, with remarkable efficiency, run by the formidable Delta Land Company. From the solar energy boiler, installed in the first Maadi waterworks in 1913, to the US$ 3 million slush fund payment, made in the 1950s by the US government to certain Free Officers via Maadi resident and CIA operative Miles Copeland who recounts the incident in his book A Game of Nations.
- In 1929, as the world witnessed the catastrophic collapse of stock exchanges across the globe, Lady Percy Lorraine, wife of the British High Commissioner in Egypt was regally opening Maadi's finest bazaar in the Diamanti Cafe gardens. It was a great and memorable occasion, the climax of months of preparation by the Maadi Ladies Guild.
- In many ways Maadi's enduring insularity is a testament to its success. The outside world was never meant to impinge, and Maadi the only planned green suburb of Cairo, sits smugly apart from the boisterous sprawling metropolis of the city proper.
- The successful British and Jewish businessmen constituting the Delta Land and Investment Company which created Maadi in 1907 had meticulous ideas about their planned paradise. Built on British colonial lines, it is a far cry from the stately grandeur of New Delhi. It was a place to be lived in rather than looked at. Its growth was carefully monitored -- no haphazard urban sprawl was possible with building regulations reminiscent of the inventory of an overbearing landlord.
- But Maadi was never entirely severed from the outside world. World War I opened the gates to Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian troops and hundreds of orange tents. Maadites, not known for their tolerance of outsiders abhorred the way in which public tennis courts were turned into drill grounds and the outlying deserts ransacked by excited soldiers hunting furiously for antiquities. Ex-pats aside, even the villagers, usually so pleasant and ingratiating, protested angrily against their fruit stolen, their property plundered and their folk molested.
- War passed and life of residents resumed its sedentary ease once again. In 1921, shortly after nationalist leader returned from exile in the Seychelles, the British-run Maadi Sporting Club opened with ginger biscuits, Indian tea and an 18-hole golf course. Members could sit in the main garden enjoying a tall glass of iced coffee overlooking a beautiful pond designed by Maadi resident Llewelyn Hugh-Jones and inspired by Claude Monet's "The Nympheas".
- Before the cricket pitch was inaugurated, the only problem being its upkeep. Hundreds of sheep were enlisted to graze the fieldfIPfrvals for tw¤° three days at a at time, which seemed a suitable holistic approach in the absence of technology. The triangle within the Maadi British Community operated was son completed with the construction of the Anglican Church at St. John the Baptist in 1930 followed by the English School two years later.
- Within a decade, the effects of the war began to impinge again on the small insular Maadi community, polarizing it into different ethnic groupings, nationalities and religion. Prominent German personalities were welcoming Dr. Joseph Goebbels and making scant effort to obscure their Nazi sympathies much to the concern and chagrin of Maadi's large Jewish population. Gas masks were distributed to British subjects by the British run Delta Land Company. The place was once again overrun, this time with 76,000 New Zealanders constituting the largest foreign community ever to have resided in and near Maadi.
- The end of World War II closed another chapter in Maadi's history. The British were on their way out of Egypt. Maadi's Egyptian residents could not help their mixed feelings. On one hand they were sad that those who made this town so unique were going. On the other hand, it was time for them to leave. The Brits had overstayed their welcome.
- From among Maadi's young Egyptians came the officers and the gentlemen. Eventually the officers gained preeminence as they unsettled the established order following the 1952 coup which toppled Farouk. Egypt's future prime minister renown for being the architect of its new socialism came from Maadi. Hardly a conducive environment for propagating such unrealistic -- and now -- defunct values. What was it that had pushed him in that direction?
- After the British it was the turn of the French, the Greeks and the Jews. One by one they left. With excess luggage limits being rigidly enforced, all they could take with them were their memories of paradise. The dirty tricks campaign was about to start.
Today, Maadi remains a favorite with American and European expats perhaps because the American and French schools are located there. Both are run by their respective countries free from any local educational controls and restrictions. Also, because Maadi offers many facilities such as shopping malls, fast food, including Pizza Hut and McDonalds, a sporting club (frequented today mostly by Egyptians) and two access routes into Cairo - the corniche and the autostrada (highway). The town is also served by the Metro with direct access to downtown Cairo.
The disappearance of many of Maadi's villas and gardens notwithstanding, a few survived as though testimonials of its past. Those pulled down were replaced, in most cases, by smart apartment buildings.
If Maadi had always been exterior-looking taking advantage of each season, today its inhabitants prefer to remain in sealed blocs with the hum of air-conditions replacing the sounds and fragrance of its once abbundant flora and fauna. And yet, despite changes evoked and lamented in Samir Raafat's book on Maadi, it remains Cairo's greenest suburb.