Point-blank: Egypt’s Berlin Wall

Mohamed Salmawy
Tuesday 3 Jan 2023


Surely it is time to remove those ugly cement barrier blocks that obstruct some of the most beautiful streets in the neighbourhood of Garden City. We are in a new phase of our history. The pillars of the modern state are taking root. Renovation and beautification projects are brightening the streets of our capital. Yet, we have not fully eliminated some of the most outmoded features of the old state, one of which is a security approach that attempts to ensure the safety of a particular space or quarter by closing it off to pedestrians. This is no longer a practice in modern countries where security does not obstruct normal daily activities. In fact, the most effective means of security are those we do not feel. 

The particular area I am referring to here is that part of Garden City where the US and British embassies are located. Those establishments, like other foreign embassies, had become terrorist targets in the 1980s. But instead of the types of modern security measures used in the countries these embassies represent, at the time the security authorities here opted for the easiest course: shutting down the entire neighbourhood. All normal vehicle and pedestrian traffic was kept out by those enormous cement blocks, despite the great inconvenience to the residents who are forced to run the security gauntlet, show their IDs and proof of their address whenever they return home. It must feel like some kind of prison. Needless to say, most shop owners there had to shut their doors. 

Apparently, the situation became a source of humour for the staff of the embassies for which those fortifications were constructed. The former British ambassador dubbed them the Egyptian Berlin Wall. The wall in Berlin came down in 1989, but ours is still standing despite the fact that the reasons for its existence no longer exist. Security and stability have been restored in the country. The police have also acquired the ability to secure the area around the British and US embassies without having to disfigure Garden City which had once been an emblem of urban residential elegance and sophistication.

A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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