A controversial decision by the Supreme Council of Antiquities to remove Cairo’s Grotto Garden Aquarium from the list of Egyptian antiquities has sparked an uproar in Egypt. Conservationists and many citizens fear that this decision will pave the way for the destruction of the public park by the developers.
The park, also known as the Fish Garden, is one of a handful of declining green spaces in a city teeming with concrete buildings and haphazardly constructed red brick structures.
Defending the decision, Mustafa El Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told Al Sharq Al Awsat: “There is no ‘archaeological park’; only buildings, monuments and heritage sites can be registered as antiques. “
However, in an interview with TV talk show host Lamis El Hadidi on private channel ON TV, El Waziri contradicted himself, however, denying that the park would be delisted from the antiques list.
“The park, affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, was registered as an antique in 2010,” noted El Waziri. He confirmed plans for a multi-story garage and restaurant on land inside the Fish Garden. He insisted that no trees would be uprooted and that the landscaping of the garden would not harm the recorded antiques.
The lush green area of around 10 acres on Zamalek Island is coveted by residents of the well-to-do district of central Cairo, many of whom perceive the park as “the green lung” that offers them and other city dwellers, clean air and a respite from the congestion of the crowds. metropolis.
Dating back to 1867, the Fish Garden was created by the Ottoman Khedive Ismail and takes its name from the picturesque caves or caves that housed aquariums featuring an impressive collection of fish, turtles and even sharks as well as aquatic plants. Today, the garden’s fountains have dried up and its caves have been reduced to empty, gloomy spaces, offering visitors a respite from the scorching summer heat or couples a temporary hiding place.
The leaked plan to remove the garden from the list of antiques and register only its three historic gazebos and main cave as relics worth preserving has sparked public outcry from skeptics, suspicious of the motives. government for this decision. The list documents the heritage sites and monuments that the State considers worthy of preservation and protection.
In a rare reprimand from the government, Samira Al-Gazzar, a member of parliament, lodged an urgent appeal in parliament on October 3. “I address my questions to Dr Khaled Al Anani, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, demanding that he clearly explain what is happening to our heritage, our history and our archaeological parks following the public outrage at recent press releases regarding a review of the status of the Fish Garden. ”
Some social media users have been more forthright in their criticism of the plan. “Is a ceramic coating of the Pyramids next in line?” was a sarcastic question posted by journalist Hania Moheeb on her Facebook page.
Seeking to allay growing anger over the allegations, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities issued a statement that the proposal is “to remove (from the list of antiques) only a small portion of the garden (not exceeding 0 , 5 acre) and which does not contain buildings registered as antiques.
The statement further stated that the proposal was presented to the technical committee and not to the board of directors of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the latter being the sole body responsible for decisions regarding the registration of antiquities. “The Council will not authorize any action that harms the antiques in the garden or elsewhere in the country.”
Agriculture Minister El Sayed El Quseir paid a surprise visit to the garden on October 4 and was quoted by state news site Akhbar El Yom as saying, “Our goal is to restore the garden to its past glory. “. He insisted that “no development work will take place without the prior approval of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.”
But his comments failed to appease preservation advocates. “Egypt ratified the 1972 UNESCO Convention which implies that we protect our heritage with its historic landscape,” recalled Monica Hanna, an Egyptologist who fought tirelessly to denounce the looting of Egyptian archaeological sites, ancient Coptic and Islamic.
“The ministry’s plan contradicts this (the convention) and we should be thinking about green solutions for transport rather than creating more parking spaces,” Hanna told Al-Monitor.
She continued: “Historic centers such as Florence, for example, have restricted traffic zones with special permits needed to access (by car) protected heritage sites. This encourages visitors to use public transport and bicycles. rather than cars for the purpose of preserving artifacts. “
Many Egyptians are also skeptical of the government’s plan to “develop the garden”, having witnessed the razing of several historic monuments and the uprooting of hundreds of trees in recent years to make way for the highways connecting Cairo to a new administrative capital. , currently under construction. in the desert 35 km east of the city.
In July 2020, the walls of the graves and mausoleums of famous politicians and writers in a 20th-century cemetery in historic Cairo of the Dead were razed to make way for a new highway, forcing families to relocate the bodies of their loved ones in graves elsewhere.
According to Heliopolis Heritage Initiative, a preservation group, some 400,000 square meters of green space (the size of over 50 football fields) was razed in Heliopolis over a four-month period in the summer of 2020 to make up to the highways that cross the chic district. Some of the trees felled were rare species dating back several centuries.
In what many have called a “tree slaughter,” dozens of trees in Merryland Park in Heliopolis were uprooted in March 2015 for underground parking. Much of the public park, owned by the state-owned Heliopolis Housing and Development Company, has been turned into a barren wasteland. Then Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy insisted the ministry had not approved the cutting of the trees. While the park has since undergone a facelift with the opening of the new Merryland Garden look in March 2018, many Heliopolis residents have protested against plans to build an underground car park and theme park during the second phase of the project, to no avail.
Earlier this year, however, plans to build another highway in Heliopolis were blocked after outcry from neighborhood residents. The flyover was reportedly built over the historic Basilica Church in violation of a law prohibiting construction near or around heritage sites. The government was forced to back down, bowing under immense pressure from a disgruntled public.
Conservationists like Hanna hope the government will again hear public appeals and refrain from construction in public parks. Usama Ghazali, environmental researcher and former director of Gebel Elba National Park, expressed doubt that the government will pay attention to citizens’ protests.
“It won’t surprise me if I see trees in the Fish Garden being destroyed to make room for a garage or other service,” Ghazali told Al-Monitor. “At a time when the rest of the world seeks to protect and preserve the national heritage at all costs, we in Egypt are replacing trees with concrete and in doing so we are not only destroying the environment but also erasing parts of our history.
The post Egyptians alarmed by withdrawal from government-protected park appeared first on The Bharat Express News.
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