Have you heard of the Egyptian engineer Irene Estemalek? She is currently overseeing the construction of the world’s largest sewerage plant at Gabal Al-Asfar. The plant will purify and recycle wastewater, turning the waste into an energy resource. I doubt you have heard of her or the project. Even though it is one of the mega-projects currently in progress in Egypt, for some unknown reason little has been said of it. It is as though people are not supposed to know that Egypt is in the process of laying solid foundations for a strong, advanced, prosperous future. I admit that I, too, had never heard of Estemalek before. It was a friend of mine, Ambassador Raouf Saad, who recently drew my attention to her.
Some might argue that we need not know the names of the people working on our national mega-projects. But I believe that we, as Egyptians, should know Estemalek, who constructed water purification plants in Turkey, Vietnam, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Iraq and China, as well as we know the many names on the list of Egyptian scientists, such as Magdi Yacoub, Farouk Al-Baz, Ahmed Zewail and Hani Azar, who gained worldwide recognition even before we, ourselves, recognised their value.
Irene Estemalek went to Germany to continue her studies after obtaining her BA in engineering from the University of Ain Shams. As the Germans did not recognise her degree, she was unable to work there during her studies. However, it so happened that the Germans wanted to convert a facility that had been used to wash tanks during World War II to a water treatment plant. German engineers said that the old plant should be torn down to make way for the water treatment plant because the purpose was so different. Estemalek submitted a proposal detailing architectural modifications that could repurpose the old plant, averting the need to rebuild from scratch and reducing costs considerably. The Germans, who had not recognised her Egyptian engineering certification, approved her proposal and the project was completed according to her designs and specifications within six months.
Estemalek was now well on her way to becoming an Egyptian legend in the tradition of the long line of descendants of the great Imhotep, the first engineer in history. But where is our media? Why isn’t the Egyptian press covering these success stories and telling the public more about the mega-projects they know so little about?
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly