“Cairo Eye, a star shines in Cairo Sky. An unrepeated experience to a place by the Nile Shores. An added value to Cairo’s touristic abilities and a civilised window to its famous sites.” The words come from a promotional video aired during the laying of the foundation stone of Egypt’s newest tourist attraction, a 120-metre high Ferris wheel.
Costing LE500 million, Cairo Eye is to be located in the historical Massalla (Obelisk) Garden at the entrance of the residential neighbourhood of Zamalek. The wheel, the world’s fifth largest, is to open in 2023. Hawai Holding, a real estate developer, is the company implementing the project and will run it according to the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) system for 25 years.
“Cairo Eye will play a strategic role in sustainable tourism development, in line with Egypt’s vision for 2030,” stated Khaled Abdel-Aal, the Cairo governor. Abdel-Aal said the project is within the framework of plans to upgrade the capital, including work on the Ahl Masr walkway.
Ahmed Metwali, chairman of the board of Hawai Holding, said Cairo Eye will attract tourists and thus hard currency to Egypt, noting that the wheel, with its various touristic and commercial facilities, will provide up to 5,000 direct and indirect job opportunities.
He put the expected number of visitors having access to see ancient sites in Cairo that are under development like Khedival Cairo, Ahl Masr Passage and Tahrir Square at 2.5 million annually.
Getting to the new attraction, according to Metwali, will be River Nile buses and hop on hop off buses. There is a plan to build a garage for 500 cars to accommodate visitors.
Reservations will be online to keep traffic moving smoothly in the area and avoid congestion.
Environmental studies were undertaken to protect green areas around Cairo Eye and in fact increase them, as well as safeguard the ancient palms and rare trees in Al-Massalla Garden.
However, the publicity surrounding Cairo Eye has been dampened by reservations raised by many people, especially Zamalek residents.
“If 2.5 million visitors are expected to visit Cairo Eye annually, this means 7,000 a day and 500 an hour. How can these numbers get into and out of the site through a 12m-long, one-way traffic-jammed street?” Ali Kenawi, a physician and a Zamalek resident, wondered.
Kenawi said the Cairo governor issued a decree that was published in the official Gazette on 20 October 2020 to consider Massalla Garden a national heritage site. “Why did he sign in the same year a BOT contract for 25 years to implement a project which will affect the garden’s character,” he asked.
Kenawi believes that there are many other places in Egypt that are more suitable for Cairo Eye, “but the entrance to Zamalek is a very bad choice.”
Sohailah El Sawy, who works with the Egyptian Association for Environment and Community Services, said that several years ago the association stopped the building of a garage in Zamalek. “We took the governor to court and we won mainly because it would have led to congestion in the area.
“It is not about stacking cars neatly on shelves. You must have different lanes for entering and exiting and there is no space for that. What if, God forbid, there’s a fire or any accident. Getting quick help is impossible in such jammed streets.”
Dina Zulfakar, 59, a Zamalek resident and an environmental activist, noted that Zamalek is famous for not being polluted, for its vast gardens and its calmness but that Cairo Eye is going to “kick tourists out of the area”.
“Cairo Tower in Zamalek receives foreign tourists and Egyptians on a daily basis to watch Cairo from above, so there is no need for Cairo Eye,” Zulfakar said. She asked officials in Egypt to “stop this joke”.
“Egypt’s 2030 strategy is about developing resources, not ruining them.”
“Our architectural heritage belongs to us all, and it is not up for sale or for any form of exploitation. Those who represent us, the authorities, are custodians of this heritage. They are responsible for its safekeeping to hand over to future generations,” El Sawy said.
Zamalek residents have signed several petitions objecting to Cairo Eye.
“Not always is a project good on paper successful. It is bound to fail if feasibility studies that are a prerequisite for approving a project do not take into consideration all economic, environmental and social aspects.
“We, Zamalek residents, have sent a petition to the president with all the reasons why we object to the project. We hope our plea reaches him,” Seheir Kansouh, an international expert in development planning, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.