An unusually large and sturdy steel tower is currently under construction in the middle of the Gezira Sporting Club in Zamalek – just north of 6th of October Bridge. This relatively ugly tower has been causing outrage among residents, club members and various organizations since construction started about a month ago. The builders have disregarded cultural heritage preservation laws as well as locals' complaints.
Most bewildered observers initially thought it was an electrical or mobile tower, until some researched the topic and found that what is being constructed is a pole for an over-sized Egyptian flag to float over Cairo and be seen from every viewpoint. The flag will potentially compete for the world’s largest flag competition and enter the Guiness Book of Records.
The concept was apparently conceived by Commercial International Bank (CIB) staff two years ago, and recently received approval by Egypt’s National Defense Council.
“Our staff came up with the idea to create a huge flag that could be seen by anyone from all over Cairo,” said Hesham Ezz al-Arab, chairman of CIB. “And just recently, we got the approval.”
Despite its nationalistic intentions, various groups criticize the project as a publicity stunt.
“It’s completely ridiculous and ugly,” states Yasmine al-Dorghamy, editor of the Rawi Egypt Heritage Review and co-founder of "Down With The Tower" campaign. “It’s destroying some of the best land left in Zamalek, as well as the beautiful skyline, and it’s being destroyed for publicity.”
Despite the bank’s claim that the flag is being built on what was a dumpsite inside the club, activist groups say it is located within the Gezira Club’s Youth Center.
“It’s just sticking out in the middle of Youth Centre like a disease,” said Omneya Hassan, a Zamalek resident who lives near the club and can see the tower clearly from her window. “It has nothing to do with patriotism and love for Egypt. We’ve lived on this island for over 50 years – have we no say in this?”
It is rumored that the project is costing LE20 million, but the bank said it does “not intend to talk about issues of money.”
Aside from questions of taste, officials also say the tower breaks cultural preservation laws.
“Its construction is breaking Law 119/2008 which places Zamalek under special regulations to be conserved as cultural heritage,” said Soheir Zaki Hawas, the deputy chief of the National Organization for Urban Harmony (NOUH), an affiliate of the Ministry of Culture. “It is Category A – highly protected like Maadi and downtown – land that should require strict approval before any construction occurs. But nobody can tell me who approved this, how, when or why? There are no straightforward answers.”
According to CIB, the tower was initially intended for Tahrir Square, but due to difficulties getting building permission, the Gezira Club was chosen.
“We know many residents are complaining,” said Ezz al-Arab. “But unfortunately in life, you can’t always please everybody.”
Despite such responses from the bank, the Cairo Architecture Heritage Group, a lobby group composed of urban planners and cultural preservationists, is demanding that the governorate of Cairo implement the regulations in place to protect its urban and natural heritage.
“No construction of this size can be made to ‘surprise’ the public,” stated the group in their latest press release. “The area is prohibited for construction, and we need to understand how the permits were obtained.”