Father of cities: Hassaballah Al-Kafrawi (1930-2021)

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 14 Aug 2021

The first instructions Al-Kafrawi received as minister of housing was to build new industrial cities that could accommodate factories, create jobs and attract people from the densely populated Nile Valley


On 5 August the cabinet announced that Hassaballah Al-Kafrawi, who served as housing minister from 1977 to 1993, had died. In 1976, prior to his cabinet appointment, El-Kafrawi seved as governor of Damietta.

“It is with deep sorrow and sadness we announce that today we lost one of Egypt’s civil engineering symbols who had offered great services to the country in all the posts he assumed,” read the cabinet statement.

Al-Kafrawi was born in the village of Kafr Suleiman in Damietta on 22 November 1930. After obtaining his bachelor degree in civil engineering from Alexandria University in 1950, Al-Kafrawi served as the chief engineer for irrigation projects in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.

In 1957 he was selected as one of the engineers responsible for supervising construction works at the High Dam in Aswan.

Al-Kafrawi’s son Abdel-Aziz told Channel One TV on Saturday that “within weeks of the end of the 1956 war my father was named one of the engineers asked to cooperate with their Russian counterparts to take charge of implementing the first construction works of the High Dam in Aswan.”

“Al-Kafrawi stayed in Aswan until the first stage of the High Dam was completed in 1964. During this period, he gained a lot of experience in implementing national mega development projects,” said Abdel-Aziz.

In 1967 Al-Kafrawi was appointed manager of electricity projects in the three canal cities — Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia — that had been devastated during the war. “This was a very difficult period for my father. It came after the 1967 war setback and Israeli bombing of the three cities,” said Abdel-Aziz.  

“After the 1973 War, he was named as the chairman of the Executive Authority for Reconstruction Works at the Suez Canal zone. The experience late minister Al-Kafrawi gained during the period he served in the Suez Canal area between the two wars of 1967 and 1973 was the one which led late president Anwar Al-Sadat to appoint him chairman of the authority responsible for reconstructing the three cities of Port Said, Suez, and Ismailia, said Abdel-Aziz, adding that “it is during this period — between 1973 and 1976 —  that my father got his big experience in reconstructing and building cities.”

After serving as governor of Damietta Sadat named Al-Kafrawi as minister of housing and reconstruction. He replaced Othman Ahmed Othman, the founder of the Arab Contractors Company.  

The first instructions Al-Kafrawi received as minister of housing was to build new industrial cities that could accommodate factories, create jobs and attract people from the densely populated Nile Valley.

“During this period Egypt was facing a severe housing crisis and president Sadat wanted the ministry to build at least two million housing units in new communities,” said Abdel-Aziz.

“Al-Kafrawi changed the name of his ministry in 1978 to the Ministry of Reconstruction and New Communities to reflect this new role. He also established the Reconstruction and Housing Bank which became responsible for funding new housing.”

In 1979 he began construction on 10 Ramadan city on the Cairo Ismailia desert road. “It was set up both as a housing and industrial city, and now — 42 years later — it is called the Citadel of Egyptian Industry,” said his son.

10 Ramadan city comprises 3,000 factories with investments exceeding LE84 billion in value and is home to three million people.

Between 1977 and 1993, when he left the ministry, Al-Kafrawi was the main architect of a new generation of cities.

Al-Ahram political analyst Osama Al-Ghazali Harb said in an article published on Saturday that “Al-Kafrawi should be described as ‘the father of new cities’”.

“He was the architect and builder of at least 17 new cities, among the most prominent of which are 10 Ramadan, 6 October, Sadat, New Damietta, New Salhiya, and Badr,” said Al-Ghazali.

Poet Farouk Geweida, a close friend of Al-Kafrawi, said on Monday that Al-Kafrawi wanted Sadat city to be Egypt’s administrative capital instead of Cairo. When Sadat died in 1981, however, these ambitions were shelved and Sadat city became an industrial town. “It is no secret that Sadat gave Al-Kafrawi many powers to fulfil his housing mandate and when Hosni Mubarak took office in 1981 he asked Al-Kafrawi to continue with his mega development projects,” said Geweida. “In 1982, following the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, Al-Kafrawi began work on Al-Salam canal to reclaim 400,000 feddans and turn Sinai into a productive agricultural community.”

Industrialist Mohamed Guindi, another close friend of Al-Kafrawi, recalled that, in 1982, the then Israeli minister of agriculture, and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon visited Egypt to discuss cooperation in cultivating Sinai. “When Al-Kafrawi knew that Sharon wanted to rent land in Sinai he refused to meet with him,” said Guindi.

Al-Kafrawi’s main achievement in the 1980s was to develop Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. “Until the mid-1980s most of the coast was a desolate area inhabited by Bedouins and shepherds,” said Harb. “Al-Kafrawi proposed to Mubarak that the Ministry of Housing and Reconstruction begin building a number of tourist resorts stretching from Alexandria until Marsa Matrouh.

“He began with the construction of Marakia tourist village. It was a success, and quickly followed with other developments.

“My father was particularly proud that not only he was the father of a new generation of new cities, but of a generation of engineers and architects who are now cabinet ministers and high-ranking officials responsible for implementing mega-development projects across Egypt, including the New Administrative Capital,” said Abdel-Aziz.  

“He used to call them ‘my students’ and they include current Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, and the current Minister of Housing Assem Al-Gazzar.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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