Ministries battle over future of Cairo's famous NDP building

Nevine El-Aref , Saturday 12 Apr 2014

Some officials argue that the ruined building in Tahrir Square has historical value and should not be demolished

NDP building (Photo: Reuters)

Battle lines are being drawn as two government ministries prepare to go to war over the future of a well-known part of the Cairo landscape – the former National Democratic Party building in Tahrir Square, which was gutted by fire during the 2011 revolution.

Ahmed Sharaf, head of the Museum Sections at the antiquities ministry, told Ahram Online that the land that houses the NDP building was a part of the adjacent Egyptian Museum when it opened in 1902, and was used as a dock for boats bringing visitors from the Nile.

But the land was taken from the museum after the 1952 revolution to house several elements of the regime, including under Mubarak, the ruling National Democratic Party.

Last week the cabinet gave the land on which the NDP building is located to the antiquities ministry, which decided to demolish the ruined building. The culture ministry has rejected the decision and sent an official objection to the cabinet, on the grounds that the building should not be demolished.

Mohamed Abu Saeeda, head of the National Organisation for Urban Harmony, told Ahram Online that according to Law 144, the NDP building is a historical building and demolition is therefore prohibited.

“NOUH has written a detailed report explaining the reasons behind its objections, and (created) a plan to restore the building,” he told Ahram Online.

Abu Saeeda also explained that in 2009, the NDP building was registered on the organisation’s Buildings of Distinguished Value list because it represents a very important era of Egypt’s history. The building was the premises of the Cairo Governorate, and then the Arab Socialist Union, the Supreme Council of Journalism, the National Council for Women, and the NDP.

It is also has very important architectural value because it was designed by Egyptian architect Mohamed Riad, who also designed the nearby Arab League building.

“It is not logical to demolish the building simply because it was the premises of the NDP,” argued Abu Saeeda.

Antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim has assigned a committee consisting of legal and archaeological experts to take all legal procedures to remove the NDP building from the National Organisation for Urban Harmony list.

According to the ministry’s development plan, a part of the NDP building would be kept in situ and not demolished, to bear witness to the 2011 revolution, while the other space would be transformed into an ancient Egyptian botanical garden like the one in Karnak Temple in Luxor, or an open air museum for ancient Egyptian arts.

For Ibrahim, the building has no architectural merits and its current condition, after being set on fire during the revolution, is very risky for the nearby museum. “It is like a bomb that could explode anytime,” he said.

But not all archaeologists agree with the ministry.

"Since it is not a ramshackle structure, it should not be knocked down but rather reused or rehabilitated," Abdel-Halim Nour El-Din, Egyptology professor and head of the Egyptian Archaeologists Union, told Ahram Online.

The renowned archaeologist, also a former head of the Arab Organisation of Museums, argues that the Egyptian Museum has an abundance of landscaping and doesn’t need any more gardens.

The building, according to Nour El-Din, could be a cultural beacon that supplements the museum by housing a dozen archaeological institutions -- an archaeological studies centre, a library, a restoration and upkeep centre, a headquarters for archaeological NGOs, a training facility, a documentation office – that the museum currently lacks.

But Nour El-Din, like many other pundits across the country's political and social spectrum, complains that such motions fall on deaf ears in the corridors of power.

"Unfortunately, decision makers in Egypt pay little attention to archaeology," he said.

Additional reporting Ayat El-Tawy

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