Downtown Cairo is angling for a new lease on life
Downtown Cairo is angling for a new lease on life. We have, for nearly two decades now, been fascinated by the notion of redeveloping Downtown using a model not dissimilar to that used by Solidere in Beirut. It’s an idea to which we were first introduced by Alaa Saba, who went on with Karim Shafei, and subsequently Ammar AlKhudairy, Hazem Barakat and Samih Sawiris to put his money where his mouth was and create Al Ismaelia Real Estate as what we would call ‘proof of concept writ large.’ Our passion for what happens to this amazing, infuriating, historic city of ours was behind our series Saving Cairo from Itself last summer, wherein SODIC presented its vision for how Cairo as a whole might be given a new lease on life.
With all the talk of the New Administrative Capital, it has become common — including here at Enterprise — to assume the moving of state offices out of the downtown core would result in the gutting of the nation’s historic center. Enter the recently formed Cairo Heritage Development Committee, which (unwieldy name or not) has set out to prove us wrong.
We were recently briefed in on the CHDC and its mandate, and we’re feeling uncharacteristically optimistic. The committee draws its power from Presidential Decree number 604, passed at the end of 2016, a copy of which we have reviewed and that — critically — gives it the power to compel cooperation from other government entities in both coming up with a long-term plan for Downtown and in taking practical steps today to remediate problems. The committee’s ultimate line of reporting? Direct to the president.
The committee has power — Cairo Governor Atef Abdelhamid, the head of the National Urban Planning Organization, the CEO of the New Administrative Capital, the head of the General Organization for Urban Harmony are all members. And critically, it is led by Ibrahim Mehleb (the former prime minister and President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s top advisor for national projects). Two private-sector figures are deeply involved: Mahmoud Abdallah is the only member of the committee appointed by name (as opposed to position). Abdallah is a global veteran of the insurance and private equity industries — one of the top leaders of American Re, he was later one of the architects of its KKR-backed management buyout and subsequent merger with Munich Re. Enterprise readers will remember him as the architect of the pre-2011 restructuring of Egyptian state-owned insurance corporations. Joining Mehleb, Abdelhamid and Abdallah is Hisham Ezz Al Arab, the CIB chairman, in his capacity as head of the Federation of Egyptian Banks. Ezz Al Arab heads the subcommittee that’s tasked with figuring out how to finance whatever vision for downtown the CHDC comes up with.
The CHDC issued its first press release earlier this week — have a look at it here (pdf) — outlining its vision and emphasis on both short-term remediation and long-term solutions. We think it’s off to a good start. We’ll be following its activities closely in the months ahead and invite our readers to do the same. The future of Downtown is critical to this megalopolis we all call home — CHDC’s work is too important to allow it to unfold in the dark.