Problems on hold
Because we live in an age when complaint and scepticism constitute an ever-growing social trend, especially among the privileged classes, I am closely following the arguments over the execution of the third phase of Line 3 of Cairo’s underground metro. The Cairo metro was the first in Africa and has been in operation since 1987; with its three lines it serves Greater Cairo’s over 22 million inhabitants. The total length of Line 3 will be 30.6km of which 28.1km run underground, and will eventually extend from the northwest of Greater Cairo at Imbaba to the northeast at Cairo International Airport. Its execution is carried out in four phases; the third phase is currently under construction.
Since Line 3 will extend from Cairo east to west, it must run under the Nile River. According to studies, the most feasible path for the line to follow passes beneath the Nile island of Gezira which lies almost midway between the west Nile bank on which Imbaba is located and the east bank on which Downtown Cairo is located.
The larger part of Gezira Island constitutes the upscale district of Zamalek. A main metro station is planned in Zamalek, as well as a number of vent stations. This implies cordoning off several Zamalek roads and changing traffic patterns during construction. No matter how meticulously such moves are planned to cause the least inconvenience to local residents, construction works are bound to make life less savoury for them.
Residents of and visitors to Zamalek have found the changes trying. Yet we must remember that what is taking place in Zamalek is not a first, nor was it planned to intentionally shatter the comfort of its residents. It was done before in several Cairo neighbourhoods during various phases of the metro’s underground construction; locals have had to bear their share of the brunt of establishing this vital facility. The Cairo underground metro has been an invaluable benefit for millions of Cairenes over the last three decades, and has become an indispensable means of mass transport in a city which is mushrooming by the day and consistently suffering from above-ground over-crowdedness.
The underground metro network is a national project in which the State has and is investing billions of Pounds. It is the fruit of thorough, specialised, objective studies by Egyptian and foreign experts and planners who take decisions based on scientific criteria, weighing all viable alternatives. We cannot simply overrule their decisions for the sake of some transitory inconvenience—which I definitely do not play down—caused to residents of a neighbourhood in which construction takes place. Yet anger and objection, even rejection of the entire project, has flared in Zamalek on account of the metro related construction works, coupled with irresponsible and sceptical criticism.
I must own that not all Zamalek residents are angry and impatient with the inconvenience the metro construction is bringing. Yet the angry voices are the louder ones and the most picked by the media, even though they arrogantly criticise the national project not just the transitory inconvenience on its account. This group of Zamalek residents feel the State is subjecting them to great injustice by insisting that the underground metro should pass through their quiet upscale island that needs it not. Please mind the expression ‘their island’; they use it as though to indicate that the sovereignty of an independent State is being violated against the will of its citizens! They argue that the State could have moved the metro away from Zamalek which does not need it, and would have thus spared its residents the threat to their privacy and tranquillity, and to the alleged safety of the foundations of their homes.
I would like to ensure the honourable people of Zamalek that they are not being targeted for discomfort or injustice. Transport experts have stressed the imperativeness of linking Zamalek to Cairo’s national mass transport network which serves the entire Cairene community including those who visit, work or study in Zamalek. And even if the neighbourhood residents think they do not need an underground metro, they will eventually appreciate its existence and become active commuters, just as residents of other upscale Cairo neighbourhoods, Maadi and Heliopolis, did before them.
Experts have also replied to the fears expressed by Zamalek residents regarding the threat to the foundation of their buildings on account of construction of the metro line, its tunnels and stations. They stressed that the line will go underneath the Nile and travel underground in Zamalek at a depth far deeper than the foundations of any buildings, posing absolutely no threat to their safety. They also stressed that strict safety and security measures have been imposed in the design and execution of the tunnels and stations. The entire matter is just another phase of the national network of underground metro. The suffering of the people of Zamalek and the temporary disarray in their streets will soon be over, and they will be able to enjoy the modern leap the metro will bring to their neighbourhood and their lives.
13 August 2017