Downtown Cairo is set to see a sizeable increase in the doughnut effect in 2009 as three notable institutions are allegedly closing their doors for renovation or deserting the Central Business District for the city’s outskirts.
The doughnut effect ripped the heart out of many of the smaller American cities in the 1970s when government services and business fled the urban center for the outer-suburbs to cater to the burgeoning upper-middle classes, leaving a ‘hole’ in the city’s center.
The other doughnut effect or the love handle explosion was to follow as the suburbs also filled with fast food outlets while God’s chosen people settled into a sedentary lifestyle.
By this time next year, thousands of students and staff members from the American University in Cairo (AUC) will have pulled out. The building everyone loves to hate, the Mogamma, may also be closing and rumors continue to circulate about the future of the Nile Hilton.
Remember the giant statue of Ramses II next to Ramses Station? It was snuck out in the middle of the night. That should have been warning enough.
Across the river from Downtown, in Zamalek, the British International School in Cairo (BISC) is relocating to Sixth of October city too.
Don’t forget, last one out, turn off the lights.
The grass may not always be greener, because there isn’t any grass in the desert, but you can grow it on the city’s outskirts with water and fertilizers, which unlike Downtown, where air pollution is killing off life as we know it, you can’t.
Occasionally I sit in Downtown traffic for 15 or 20 minutes on the way to an appointment. By the time I arrive, my eyes are usually stinging and beginning to water.
The flight to the new cities makes sense. You can’t expand in Downtown any longer. The noise and congestion is horrendous, and a new site offers greater opportunities for your business to incorporate modern technologies.
Many of the ministries have also talked about moving. One story doing the rounds when the Ministry of Finance relocated was how a lonely clerk, tucked away in the building’s basement, was discovered still paying a tax to the Ottoman Empire.
The AUC will leave the biggest hole, and the knock-on effect will reverberate throughout Downtown. The nearby McDonalds, KFC and cafes will all lose their core business. Not to mention the Horreyya Bar.
Regular readers of A Khawaga’s Tale will know that I am always banging on about the Horreyya, but that is because you can always count on meeting AUC students or staff and end up solving all the troubles in the world there.
How many government staff beaver away inside the Mogamma? Hundreds or thousands? Well, if the rumour is true, then they are all to be dispersed and replaced by pastel clad coach parties of tourists.
No doubt these civil servants fill the cafeterias and ahwas Downtown, splurge on gifts in the glitzy boutiques, flip through the books at the Ataba market and frequent the second-hand mobile phone souq.
The Khan Al-Khalili market: are its days numbered as well? Full of Chinese imports, you can’t park and you get a lot of hassle from touts; is it worth the bother? I can see it also relocating into an outer of town shopping center.
The Nile Hilton, the city’s first five-star hotel and society hub is in negotiations with Ritz-Carlton and it will very likely close for renovations or be demolished.
Gone will be the Christmas bazaar, tennis competitions, pool side cabanas and the theater dinners. I guess it is one way to make sure the Abba revival show doesn’t return.
The Egyptian Museum is also earmarked to go. Not by next year, but it would seem there is some activity on the new site adjacent to the Giza Pyramids and its time will come.
This could mean that the Alsatians, who scamper through the galleries after closing to check that no one has fallen asleep inside a sarcophagus, will be looking for a new job.
The trams disappeared long ago from Downtown and it would seem the slow decline is to be hastened, especially by the departure of AUC. Bulaq was once a commercial hub and port of Cairo, but today it is a run-down cloth market.
Though the statue at Midan Talaat Harb was restored recently, Downtown Cairo mostly only offers faded grandeur and a very good dentist. I’ll have to ask Dr Barsoum if he intends to move his practice as well.