Lobbying for culture and heritage

Ahram Online , Tuesday 24 May 2022

Al Ahram Weekly spoke with architect and conservatist Tamer Sahab about preserving the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis and Egyptian-American artist Adham Hafez about the role of art in highlighting the cultural identity of Arab-Americans



Saving Heliopolis

Heliopolis Anniversary Week (HAW) is a seven-day programme of activities launched by the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative last Friday to mark the 117th anniversary of the signing of a contract between the Egyptian authorities and Belgian Baron Edouard Empain to build the new suburb of Heliopolis to the east of the capital.

“We are coming back after a slowdown in our activities due to Covid-19 restrictions, and we want to catch up with events to bring attention back to our call for the preservation of our neighbourhood,” said Tamer Sahab, an architect and founding member of the initiative.

An engineer and financier, Empain had a keen interest in Egyptology, which initially brought him to Egypt. On 23 May 1905, he agreed with the Egyptian authorities to build a new “oasis” suburb on the outskirts of the capital.

Over a century down the road, Empain’s dream of a new residential city that would bring together Egyptians and foreigners faces major challenges. “There are many challenges that have been facing Heliopolis for quite some time, and they have been having an impact not just on the architectural heritage of the neighbourhood but also on its urban profile,” Sahab said.

For over 10 years, the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative has been working to save the architectural heritage and urban profile of the neighbourhood. In line with its original mission, this volunteer-based NGO has been working on the preservation and expansion of green zones and public parks, cultural heritage protection, and the finding of solutions to traffic and transport problems and waste management.

Sahab agrees that there have been battles won and battles lost. One of the main battles that has been lost was the preservation of the Heliopolis tram system and the introduction of multi-lane roads across this residential neighbourhood, he said.