Though for some time now, Downtown Cairo has largely been ignored and left to deteriorate, recently, the iconic area has been in the process of getting a revamp in an effort to return it to its former glory...
If you've been in Downtown Cairo recently you should have noticed something striking. The streets clean and spacious; the topography shining, painted and restored to their former Parisian glory; and the other half of the buildings look like a scene from The Lego Movie as hundreds of construction workers make decades of decay vanish revealing Downtown's Khedivial varnish.
Whilst a lot of the refurbishings are taking place courtesy of new efforts from the Governate as part of the updated grandeur of the "Strategic Development Plan for Greater Cairo Region 2050", there's also the first and only private real estate developer Al Ismaelia who are looking to profit from the rejuvenation of Downtown Cairo. "The project is designed to revitalise the center of the capital city through preserving the architectural grandeur of Downtown while celebrating Cairo’s dynamic urban fabric," Moushira Adel, Al Ismaelia's marketing manager told us, "We believe that in order to achieve this vision, the private sector should work hand in hand with the government, so Beltone Private Equity, the mother company of Al Ismaelia, has initiated the project along with some high profile Saudi and Egyptians shareholders."
It's cultural gentrification too, that the Al Ismaelia group are hoping will boost more interest in their acquired properties. For the last two years they've given a helping hand to D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival), renovating buildings for new platforms to host independent arts. They've also completely revamped the legendary Cinema Radio which will host the 'Abla Fahita' show set to air this week and are currently working on unique pedestrian spots such as the Kodak Passageway and will soon launch a one-of-a-kind mega market place, buzzing with food stalls, music and art.
"The biggest challenge is the absence of a clear-cut vision from the government and the mediocrity of the state institutions that are supposed to be presiding over this area," says Adel, "However, we see that the spirit is changing and we hope that the coming weeks and months will mark a new approach to developing downtown as well as other historic areas." With an invested capital of EGP 385 million, Al Ismaelia currently owns around 20 buildings in Downtown Cairo hoping to attract a range of residential and commercial tenants which will appeal to all segments of Egyptian society.
For everyone who has ever stood on Talaat Harb, tilted their head and said "what a shame..." and "if only...", these projects truly capture the imagination.
Photography by Mohammed Dia