President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated several mega projects in Alexandria last Saturday, including the long-awaited Mahmoudiya Canal Axis.
The axis extends more than 21km and promises to reduce Alexandria’s traffic congestion and create new development tropes. Alexandrians living by the Mahmoudiya Canal and in the nearby neighbourhoods of Smouha, Moharem Bek and Awayed have been looking forward to the completion of the project since it began two years ago.
Al-Mahmoudiya axis, which has been called the Artery of Hope, will create a third major corridor alongside the Corniche and Abu Qir streets, Alexandria Governor Mohamed Al-Sherif told the press.
“The project has already completely transformed neighbourhoods which overlooked the canal and is set to provide an additional 45,000 job opportunities for Alexandrians.”
The Mahmoudiya Canal, a waterway stemming from the Rosetta branch of the Nile, is believed to have been built by the Ptolemies. It fell into disuse and was re-established by Mohamed Ali Basha in 1817 to supply fresh water to Alexandrians and to serve cargo ships in the Upper Delta.
In recent decades the canal once again fell into disrepair. “Basically it was used for garbage disposal. It had become a massive site of pollution,” says Abdel-Rahman Ali, an engineer who lives five minutes away from the canal.
“It was a disgrace for the city. One of my children developed respiratory disease due to the pollution. Everyday we could smell garbage burning, and sometimes the stink of dead animals that were dumped in the canal.”
Some local residents questioned the value of the axis initially, but have now come round to the project.
“Alexandrians are afraid of change. The canal is more than 200 years old and it is part of our heritage, and some were afraid of covering it to build a road,” commented a 50-year-old sheikh who was leaving one of the new mosques built by the axis.
“I used to watch the canal as a child with bewilderment and awe. It used to be clean but after the water level dropped it became stagnant. It became a dumping ground, a source of disease and a symbol of the government’s neglect of our city.”
The axis, he says, has bequeathed a new lease of life on the area. “The project is not just a road, or a highway that connects two destinations. It is a mega project with new bridges, mosques, tunnels, services and a development hub for residents.”
One problem that still persists is traffic congestion, caused mainly by the prevalence of tok-toks. Amal Abdel-Khalek takes the axis every day to her way to work, and is adamant that the tok-toks must be banned.
Other areas were plagued by street vendors who would set up stalls alongside the canal which had become a magnet for illegal construction.
Now things are different. “I am surprised by the many services that accompanied the project. The government constructed youth centres that offer many sports activities to serve locals,” says a 15-year-old student.
“We never had a club or sports activities in this area before. Now we have a few playgrounds, swimming pools, and a gym.”
Abdel-Moneim Riad Mosque, which has been built on the axis, is one of the largest mosques in Alexandria. It occupies a 10-feddan site and can accommodate more than 1,800 worshippers. Inside the mosque is a large hall for weddings and funerals.
The axis consists of six to eight lanes in each direction. It has 11 flyovers and 14 pedestrian bridges and three tunnels are currently being constructed. During the inauguration President Al-Sisi said the canal will eventually reach Beheira governorate.
In addition to the axis, projects in the petroleum sector, the Bashayer Al-Khair 2 housing project, and a triple sewage treatment plant in Borg Al-Arab, were inaugurated.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly