Problems on hold
The residents of the east Cairo district of Almaza woke up one day three weeks ago to the sound and sight of a flurry of construction work taking place in full force on the streets, replete with state-of-the-art equipment. Everyone thought the purpose was to remove the rails of the now-defunct Heliopolis metro which had been a landmark Heliopolis feature since the suburb was built at the outset of the 20th century. During the last few decades, however, Heliopolis population mushroomed and the relevant transport authorities in Cairo decided to remove the old metro which had become inadequate, and replace it with wider roads and a modern underground metro. The old metro rails were, bit by bit, pulled out to make way for the wider roads.
Almaza residents were thus not surprised at the recent construction work on the streets. They simply assumed it concerned the removal of the old metro rails and related structures. Especially that the work stretched across Nozha Street to Midan al-Sabae Emarat, and further to the end of the metro line in what is commonly known as Makhazin Metro Masr al-Gadida, the metro end-of-line garage. But no, the work did not stop at that; it extended to cover four additional traffic axes, which appeared to indicate that what looked like a sizable construction project of roads and bridges was underway. Readers will observe that I write: “appeared to indicate” and “what looked like” instead of confirming what goes on. That is because no one knows for sure; the public was never notified of any construction project in the area, so it was natural to resort to a seemingly endless guessing game. But it frustrated and provoked Almaza residents and frequenters of the area to be taken unawares with never an official word of explanation. Their lives were turned topsy-turvy by the traffic turmoil created by the construction work; it didn’t make matters any easier that no clear traffic routes were denoted as alternative for the ones closed by construction. Drivers were left to their own wit and devices to override the crisis of inaccessible roads. Unfortunately, this attitude of failing to inform the public of disruptions to their normal way of life on account of significant, ambitious, beneficial projects has become customary with our government. I know officials will not like what I write, and can almost hear them remarking: “We work so hard for public benefit, yet no one is ever satisfied”, or “Is no one ever grateful or appreciative of our efforts?”; “Is criticism all we ever get?” The truth in the Almaza case, however, is that officials have adopted an attitude of arrogant ‘couldn’t care less’ in obscuring what project is being implemented, and are guilty of gross negligence for failing to plan and prepare alternative routes to the ones blocked by the construction work, also to install signs and guideposts to direct drivers to them throughout the duration of the said project. Predictably, chaos has ruled supreme, with drivers going in circles to find some way out of the blocked labyrinth, and succeeding only at great loss of time and effort, to say nothing of the considerable nervous stress. The resultant chaos has turned five major traffic axes in Heliopolis into a living hell of traffic pileup around the clock.
How could such mediocre planning and disregard of citizens’ rights be exercised on the claim that a big, important project is being implemented? How could the government think of ignoring its responsibility of informing the public of a project that would run through their neighbourhood and change the axes of their movement? How could the government neglect to plan for routes, U-turns, and intersections to act as alternatives to the ones blocked by the construction involved in the new project, or to place clear instruction signs to guide drivers? And how could the government not place large signboards that carry the name of the project, its broad specifications, the duration of its execution, as well as the name of its designer, executor, and the supervisor of the work? Does not the government demand that of every public or private project in the works? And do not the local government authorities check that such signboards are placed, and fine those projects that refrain from doing so? Do not they also fine any project that blocks roads in any way or obstructs traffic? All this in much smaller projects in limited spaces; how much more then when a huge project is being implemented by the government itself, wreaking havoc with a widespread area?
I invite Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli to visit Almaza and see for himself how that big project we know nothing of so far is crippling a large part of Heliopolis. Maybe then he would issue orders to rectify the error committed by his government, and respect the right of Heliopolis residents.