Zamalek residents hold heated debate against Metro stop in their district
Metro chief Ismail Al-Nagdi - YOUM7 (Archive)

CAIRO: Altercations between supporters and opponents of establishing a Metro stop in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district resulted in the withdrawal of Metro chief Ismail Al-Nagdi from a Friday community meeting, Youm7 reported.

Nagdi, who is also a retired general, said he was withdrawing because of the poor organization of the meeting, which “is supposed to be an educated discussion, not a fight.”

“Mr. General is withdrawing to not respond to the squandering of 24 billion EGP ($3.35 billion). There is a Japanese alternative that costs 350 million EGP. Withdraw!” Amr Raouf, an engineering consultant and a panel member shouted in the microphone.

The leafy Zamalek district—built in the 19th century—occupies the north half of Gezira Island, which lies on the Nile River between the Cairo and Giza governorates. The southern half is home to El-Gezira district, also one of Cairo’s old and affluent neighborhoods.

Zamalek residents say they proposed different routes for the new Metro line so it does not pass through Ismail Mohamed Street, whose old buildings “might collapse” as a result of the planned digging.

The alternatives suggest a Metro line that passes through the very northern or southern tips of the island, outside of the island, or parallel to 6 October Bridge, which spans over Gezira.

“If the residents of every upper class district refuse the Metro passing through their area, the government would not be able to dig for any project,” Nagdi told Al-Ahram Gate after the meeting, which took place at El-Sawy Cultural Wheel (Sakia) in Zamalek.

Nagdi added that the project is for students and employees who cross Zamalek more than its residents, who are only 25,000.

“I represent the State and I talk about public interests. The public interest may affect one class and not another, but we still consider public benefits,” Nagdi said during the discussion.

“It is clear that some people here have a psychological issue with Zamalek residents. Withdraw! The Metro won’t be built,” a Zamalek resident yelled at Nagdi towards the end of the meeting.

Nagdi responded, “I advise Zamalek residents to build a couple of gates and make an entry visa to Zamalek with a passport.”

The project of the third line of the Metro includes four phases; the first two have already been inaugurated. The Third Line is planned to connect Imbaba and Mohandiseen west of the Nile, and pass under the Nile River to Zamalek and continue to Ataba, Abbasiya, Cairo Stadium, Heliopolis and Cairo Airport.

The third phase, which is causing the controversy, connects working class districts Ataba, Bulaq and Imbaba, and Cairo University in Giza. The phase will also penetrate well-off neighborhoods Zamalek, Mohandiseen and Agouza. The 18-kilometer phase includes 15 stops, one of them underground in Zamalek, and is scheduled for inauguration in seven years from the launch of the project.

The altercations at Sakia, one of Cairo’s most renowned cultural venues, began when a student in favor of the project wanted to weigh in with her opinion, but some Zamalek residents refused to let her speak because she was not a Zamalek resident, according to Youm7.

A woman at the meeting said the student “was sent by the university,” and that it was up to Nagdi to listen to her.

“We will be worse than Bulaq and Imbaba when a Metro passes through Zamalek,” Youm7 quoted a woman saying at the meeting.

Zamalek residents argue their neighborhood is a national heritage whose old buildings, some of which are considered antiquities for surviving over 100 years, should be preserved.

Nagdi, however, told Al-Ahram Gate that the station would be completely safe because the digging would be at a depth of 38 meters, whereas the bases of buildings are only two meters deep.

Some Zamalek residents at the meeting were actually for the Metro, saying that workers with jobs in Zamalek, like private drivers, need the Metro, Youm7 reported.

Previously, the European Investment Bank halted funding for the project because of resident complaints, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported in May 2013. The bank had agreed to a first 200 million euro ($259 million) installment of a 600 million euro loan in November 2012.

Nagdi, however, told Al-Ahram Gate that the Bank dispatched a commission to study the environmental and cultural risks of the Metro, and concluded that it poses no threat.

The project was put out to a contractor tender in March 2014, according to the National Authority for Tunnels (NAT).

The Third Line with its four phases would save 2 million daily commutes above the ground, reducing Cairo’s traffic congestion, shortening the duration of commutes, and saving 250 million EGP in the cost of public transportation buses. The project would save up to 2.72 billion EGP a year overall, according to the NAT website.

Entrances of Metro stations in Cairo usually host street vendors, who keep returning with their goods after occasional removal by the police. Metro stations also attract taxi drivers who park outside them, waiting for potential customers.

Gezira has withstood social and political changes in the capital, with many upper class residents of other neighborhoods moving to gated communities in the outskirts of Cairo, such as New Cairo, 6 October City and Obour City.

The island hosts several embassies, bars, Cairo’s oldest and most luxurious social clubs, Cairo Tower, and the Opera House.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Faheim and Walel Rabei.

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