Problems on hold
Anyone roaming Cairo’s Downtown area cannot fail to notice the incessant work taking place on the streets. Sidewalks are dug out, old electric cables pulled out and replaced with new ones, and the sidewalks are then rebuilt with new concrete curbstones and tiles.
Apart from the trouble these works cause to pedestrians who are forced to forsake the sidewalk and swarm into the street amid the vehicles, a bitter question begs an answer. Are we so flush with funds as to splurge on a full overhaul of Downtown Cairo sidewalks? Couldn’t we have restricted the works to the paths of the electrical cables and left out the curbstones and remaining tiles in order to save money and time? Aren’t there any underprivileged neighbourhoods in Cairo that need funds to rescue them from misery and poverty? Instead of doing so, we are wasting our already scarce means on beautifying a neighbourhood that already enjoys a reasonable level of orderliness and services?
We envy Downtown Cairo, but it is not a lone case. Upscale neighbourhoods and main roads in other places in Egypt constantly undergo unnecessary renovation while other more needy neighbourhoods are left to rot in chaos, their roads unpaved and their services and utility networks falling apart. No funds are allocated to improve the lives of the slum dwellers nor is any effort directed at lifting their suffering.
Many are the Cairo slums where roads know nothing of architectural, structural, or aesthetic requirements. Pedestrians trudge over dirt roads which never saw any structural foundation, and vie for space with livestock and vehicles; sidewalks are an imaginary, unheard of luxury.
I know of countless examples of such neighbourhoods in Cairo alone, one being Madinet al-Salam on the eastern outskirts of Cairo where the utilities date back to almost 40 years ago. I happened to mention it while broaching the topic with a friend but he retorted: “Why look far? Did you ever see what lies behind the beautiful ultra-modern buildings that line the northern part of the Nile Corniche in Cairo? At the back of these buildings lie the populous areas of Wekalet al-Balah and Rod al-Farag. Some two centuries separate the buildings overlooking the Nile and those behind them.”
Some may argue that the refurbishment works in Downtown Cairo or in any other neighbourhood, even if not urgently needed, are a positive move that benefit the entire economy. They create jobs whether directly or indirectly and consume products of a number of factories, thus getting the wheels of the economy rolling. But this does not answer the question of why these resources and manpower are not channelled into improving the lot of the underprivileged who are in dire need of crossing from backwardness to modern times.
If the resources and means available to develop our country are limited, we don’t have to be limited in our wisdom and vision on how to best exploit them.
12 July 2015