Posted in Construction, on July 5, 2020, Further cuts to MENA construction sector expected for 2020 as the region appearing to be hit with a triple whammy, per GlobalData, would sound in our opinion as a realistic assessment at this conjecture of the construction industry in the MENA.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) construction sector is expected to be bit by the triple whammy of lower oil production, low oil prices and contracting non-oil sectors. Leading data and analytics company GlobalData has further cut its construction output growth forecast for the region for 2020 to -2.4%, down from the previous forecast of 1.4%, in light of continued spread of COVID-19.
Yasmine Ghozzi, Economist at GlobalData, comments: “Construction activity for the remainder of 2020 is set to see poor performance. While there is usually weak construction activity in the holy month of Ramadan and during the hot summer months of June, July and August, this is usually compensated by strong performance at the beginning and end of the year. However, this will not be the case this year due to the strict lockdown policies that extended until the end of May.
“The sector is expected to face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of this will be uneven across countries in the region. Fiscal deficits and public debt levels will be substantially higher in 2021. Fiscal consolidation will hinder non-oil growth across the region, where governments still play a considerable role in spurring domestic demand.
“In addition, public investment is likely to be moderate, which will translate into fewer prospects for private sector businesses to grow – especially within sectors such as infrastructure. Expected increase in taxes, selected subsidy cuts and the introduction of several public sector service charges will influence households’ purchasing power, having a knock-on effect on future commercial investments.”
Amid the worsening situation with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak and the decline in oil prices, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for construction output growth in Saudi Arabia to -1.8% from its previous forecast of 2.9% in 2020 and expects a recovery in the sector of 3.3% in 2021. The government’s decision to host limited annual ten-day Hajj entails a possible loss of estimated revenue at more than US$10bn, adding more pressure on the Kingdom’s economy.
Ghozzi adds: “GlobalData has estimated a contraction of 2.1% in construction output growth in the UAE but expects a rebound in 2021 of 3.1%. In one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) raised US$10bn by leasing a 49% stake in its gas pipelines for 20 years. This landmark deal is important especially during the prevailing industry downturn in order to keep profitability.
“GlobalData has also cut further the growth rates for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman in 2020 to -3.4%, -7.8% and -8.1%, respectively. Qatar’s economy this year will be affected by decline in tourist arrivals, low consumer spending and low oil prices. Nevertheless, strong fiscal stimulus and spending on infrastructure projects should provide support.
“The negative outlook for Kuwait is weighed down by lower oil prices and the prospect of a higher fiscal deficit, possibly compromising the government’s capital spending on construction and infrastructure. Business unfriendliness constitutes a barrier to reforms in the Kuwaiti economy; the extensions in tenders’ deadlines compounded by an inflexible bureaucratic procurement setup that slows decision-making will delay progress for several Kuwaiti megaprojects.”
Egypt’s construction sector is set to continue performing well despite poor performance of the non-oil sector in April. GlobalData expects construction to grow at 7.7% in 2020, slowing from 9.5% in 2019, given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic and 8.9% in 2021, and to continue maintaining a positive trend throughout the forecast period. In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData has further cut forecasts for construction growth in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria to -3%, -2.1%, and -2.5%, respectively, in 2020 and 0.7%, 1.2% and 1.9%, respectively, in 2021.
GlobalData has a bleak view of Iran’s construction sector throughout the forecast period. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a possible wave of further US sanctions (in the event Trump wins a second term) will continue to wreak havoc on its economy, and drastically affecting construction activities.
Architecture is first and foremost, the combination of three interrelated elements: art, technology, and culture. An architect’s mission is to create and visualize an organized space, via a 2D-3D drawing, corresponding to the premises needs of a given activity, while respecting all the binding or favourable factors.
After the preliminary stage of the documentary research and the usual surveys, the architect will then analyze the physical, regulatory and financial data to draw the basic directions of the construction programme and this before the start of the design work. On the other hand, the ideological orientation of the designer remains decisive as to the optional choices of the project if the client master of the works does not relay them explicitly.
The type of education provided in our architecture schools was supposed to meet the quality and quantity exigences of the national market. This is far from the case at the EPAU (Ecole Polytechnique d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme) of the 1970s. The art of building largely European inspired the type of training offered, thus unsuited to the reality and needs of the country. Foreign teachers with foreign pedagogical support without the slightest anchor to the existence of the public building have made us, inevitably, international architects in our own country and in other words, formed by Europe, for Europe. As proof of this reality, during our various internships in German architectural agencies, we were well-integrated, and our level of competence was relatively satisfactory, (Neufert and Mittag oblige). In addition to national market-oriented training, the contemporary model should not be overlooked and will be integrated into the curriculum. This will give the architect a level of competence that is acceptable on a global scale and will allow him to master the various stages of the design process for an international-style project.
The legal vacuum in the construction sector has severely reduced the curricula of their regulatory content. To this end, a complementary module should have been provided at the end of the course of study in the form of courses documented and presented by specialists from the relevant ministries.
It was not until the Planning Act 90-29 of 1 December 1990 that this void was finally filled. This law was promulgated, for the first time, under the leadership of the very far-sighted political leader, Mouloud Hamrouche.
In the world of work, this inadequate training forced new graduates to endure the vagaries of the profession under the orders of authoritarian directors, “party activists”, state-backed architectural consultants of the time. This situation of weakness was mainly due to the fault in the architect designing technical and regulatory elements specific to the field of the public building for which the latter, freshly graduated, was not or unprepared.
With the passage of time and experience in the field of planning: permits, demolitions and plots, the weak point of the planning files relates to two elements of great importance: integration into the site and planning regulations.
The first element requires respect for the built environment at the architectural level (style, and material) (alignment and height, etc.).
The second element is to master the existing building and urban planning regulations to comply with them without diminishing the architectural quality of the project. For example, the work presented by a colleague shows, at first sight, a small building built on sloping ground. This highly coloured and glazed building shines with its lack of integration within the site, and as a result, it follows a very straight and visually disturbing urban image.
Chirac, then mayor of Paris, had to refuse to grant a building permit to the posterity project presented by Mitterrand because of its unsuited style and appearance for the built environment. Similarly, in Blida, a billionaire had a castle built in a former residential area of the 1950s. The result is shocking because of the incompatibility of styles, an unnatural marriage. He copied a villa in the upscale suburbs of Stockholm and glued it to his property. It’s like building a Moorish house in the middle of Manhattan !!!
In conclusion, I believe that the designer architect, through his project, will impact on the lifestyle of future users; thus, his gesture becomes a social act. Design work must begin with all elements of site integration and current regulation in mind. Respect for general alignments, the heights of the buildings do not exceed the width of the access roads with the H≤L formula due to the sunshine requirements of the facades. Avoid overly greedy ground rights.
The city of tomorrow must be somewhat airy and sunny (sanitary distancing) with large planted or not green spaces. These bouquets of greenery will be the lungs of the city and its places of relaxation and socialization. The dormitory cities are to be banned and replaced by living neighbourhood units, integrating daytime activity, and joining the periphery of urban centres, thus promoting constructive and soothing social relations. Provide quality accompanying equipment related to unit density. The latter should be limited to 150 dwellings max per hectare to allow structural integration (roads, networks and equipment) to the existing urban neighbourhood. Make the most of locally available materials, taking climate change into account. Prefer non-fossil fuels for urban transport. Great importance is to give to non-polluting traffic with a network of bike paths and numerous pedestrian walkways. The narrow alleyways of the former centres will be transformed into a pedestrian zone and decorated with decorative elements planted and removable in case of emergency. Leisure and tourism businesses will be privileged. This view is very sketchy and does not include all the problems related to architecture and urban planning. Besides, the establishment of collective social housing developments will have to be distributed over several external sites following the rules of density and height. Never schedule too much housing construction on the same location. Always split these locations to less than 500 dwellings maximum per site. This beneficial condition will allow the future neighbourhood unit to integrate quickly and easily within the existing urban fabric and will not overwhelm the capacity of the surrounding facilities. Finally, it should be noted that northern Algeria is located on a seismic zone of type 2, medium intensity, therefore subject of periodic and unpredictable seismic movement. This natural characteristic requires respect for a building height not to exceed ranging from R-5 to R-7 to the maximum. Moreover, recent studies on high-rise buildings have shown that the quality of life in a high-rise dwelling is inversely proportional to its distance to the ground. People living on the 15th floor tend to have more chronic diseases than those of the 7th and lower levels.
The typical habit of local authorities to happily substitute for town planning specialists has done a great deal of damage to the development of cities. Decisions involving the future of the city for at least a century should have been discussed with all the specialists in the field: architects, urban planners, and sociologists in order to find the best proposals and thus avoid the disastrous and irreversible effects of unplanned developments. A city council should be created, headed by local officials, and assisted by technicians with proven competence. This council should discuss, request changes, and possibly approve all development plans for the city under a program set out by the PDAU (Plan Directeur d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme) containing the basic guidelines and itself in line with the regional development plan.
As militant attacks get closer, Katarina Höije tells the story of a Malian town defiantly continuing its annual tradition of replastering a mosque. Here is :
An Ancient Mud Mosque Annually Restored
Rickety plastic chairs and tables line the winding streets around Djenné’s main square, where the mosque looms over the town’s low mud-brick houses. There are plates of riz au grastasty rice with meat and vegetables—and chilled soft drinks. Ivorian Coupé-Décalé music reverberates on soft mud walls. Djenné, a town of about 35,000 in the central region of Mali, is famous for its traditional mud-brick architecture and its UNESCO-protected mosque. Fifty-two feet (16 meters) high and built on a 300-foot-long (90-meter) platform to protect it from flooding, the mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick building.
Young men and boys run down the front steps of the mosque after dropping off baskets of mud. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)
Touching up its walls each year—crépissage, the French word for ‘plastering’—is a proud and exuberant ritual that involves the whole town. “The crépissage is the most important event of the year, even bigger than Eid al-Fitr, Tabaski (the Malian equivalent of Christmas), and marking the end of Ramadan,” says Yaro, a 30-year-old lawyer and host of the celebration known as ‘la nuit de veille.’ Sitting under a tarpaulin strung between two neem trees, Yaro watches as the crowds sway through the street.
The partygoers won’t sleep until after the event. The revelry will strengthen them ahead of tomorrow’s big task, Yaro claims, sipping a soft drink. “Tonight we party, and tomorrow we will celebrate our mosque and Djenné’s cultural heritage.” The residents of Djenné come together to put a new layer of clay on their mosque every April, just before the rainy season. The crépissage is both a necessary maintenance task to prevent the mosque’s walls from crumbling and an elaborate festival that celebrates Djenné’s heritage, faith, and community. It’s also an act of defiance.
The increasing instability in Mali’s central region—fueled by inter-tribal conflicts and growing numbers of militant and jihadist groups exploiting the absence of state security forces—now threatens Djenné and its sacred annual ritual. Local militants—some linked to the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), formed by the 2017 merger of several extremist groups operating in Mali—have invaded towns, destroyed markets, and spread their influence in central Mali.
A group of women carrying water needed for the mud mixture. Men and boys are responsible for bringing the mud to the mosque, while and women and girls are tasked with bringing water from the river. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)
So far, Djenné and its mosque have been spared, but the security situation in the region continues to deteriorate, and more frequent attacks are being carried out in Djenné’s orbit. “We knew that the militants were getting closer to Djenné,” says town chief Sidi Yéya Maiga at his home the day before the crépissage. This year the town council even took the extraordinary step of debating whether or not to cancel their cherished tradition.
In an act of collective resistance, they decided the show must go on. On the day before the crépissage, Nouhoum Touré, the master among Djenné’s 250 masons, heads down to the riverbank to check on the mud that has been left to soak for 20 days.
The crépissage is the most important event in Mali. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)
It’s the height of the dry season, and the river has shrunk to shallow puddles and inlets. The round pools that store clay until it’s time for the crépissage look like pockmarks on the riverbed. The mud comes from further down the river and is transported here by trucks and donkey carts. Younger masons then break the blocks into smaller chunks and mix them with water. In the final stages, rice husks are added to the mud, turning it into a soft and sticky paste. The rice works like a glue, holding the mud together and keeping it from cracking as it dries. The young masons then carry the mixture, in wicker baskets, to pits in front of the mosque in preparation for the event.
Early in the morning on the long-awaited day of the crépissage, Djenné’s residents gather by the mosque and wait for Touré to smear the first blob of mud on the wall. This is the starting gun.
There is a roar from the crowd as dozens of young men—some masons, some apprentices—run to the mosque. Smaller groups of boys raise wooden ladders against the mosque wall. Carrying wicker baskets full of dripping-wet clay from the pits next to the mosque, the young men begin scrambling up the façade, using ladders to reach the wooden poles protruding from the walls. Perching perilously on the wooden scaffolding, they pick up large blobs of clay and smear them on the walls.
The Djenné mosque the day before the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)
Nientao, the mosque’s guardian, weaves through the crowd, his pockets filled with sweets for the workers. Thousands of muddy feet trample the paths around the mosque. As the sun begins to rise over Djenné, turning shapeless shadows into dark silhouettes, a group of boys and masons tackle the minarets from the roof of the mosque.
Four hours later, the morning sun shines on the newly plastered mosque. Dark, wet clay patches on the dried mud give it a sickly look. Touré is covered in mud all the way from his plastic sandals, which have miraculously stayed on his feet, to the top of his turban. “I think we did very well,” he says, sitting in the shade of the mosque. “Normally, we re-mud the mosque over two days. This time we managed to get it done in only one day.”
Residents carrying mud, from pits to the mosque ahead of the crépissage. (Photo: Annie Risemberg, The New Traditional)
A little later, there is a crack as the loudspeakers come on, then the sound of Djenné’s mayor, Balfine Yaro, clearing his throat. Everyone looks on in silence as he makes his way to the front of the crowd. He declares Djenneka Raws the winning team. Djelika Kantao and Yoboucaïna have prevailed. For the winners, there is pride, honor, and a cash prize of 50,000 West African francs, or about $90 (€80). “With the money,” says Kantao, beaming with pride, “I will buy new solar panels for the neighborhood, so we no longer have to live in darkness.”
Delve into a world of traditions being kept alive unique individuals through The New Traditional. This story and images are featured in the book.
Architecture can be a tool for social change, and the belief in this statement is what motivates the work of many architectural NGOs who strive to address the lack of adequate shelter, generate social and economic change, and build resilience in communities. These NGOs operate in two major areas, disaster relief, and community development, with many organisations pursuing both types of actions. This article rounds-up several architecture-related foundations that act in emergencies, covering their expertise, past involvement in humanitarian crises, as well as the means to join them in their efforts.
Natural disasters affect more than 250 million people each year, and according to UNHCR statistics, 70.8 million people have been displaced worldwide due to conflict and violence. One billion people live in slums, and the number is expected to grow to two billion by 2030. Add the lack of clean water and sanitation, and you have a comprehensive picture of a silent humanitarian crisis, with the need for adequate shelter at its core. Nonetheless, NGOs aside, the profession has recently started to reclaim its social responsibility, as more and more architects engage with humanitarian architecture. For those looking for ways to use their professional skills for the betterment of society, these NGOs are an excellent place to start.
Habitat for Humanity
The well-established non-profit housing organisation works to help vulnerable communities overcome the lack of adequate shelter. Created in 1976, the foundation works in over 70 countries and since its inception has helped more than 29 million people attain a suitable home. The organisation pursues its vision of affordable, decent housing for everyone in several different ways. In a participatory process, volunteers and future dwellers work together, creating suitable housing solutions, in the form of new construction or repairs and improvements to existing homes. Habitat for Humanity also participates in disaster response, through its dedicated program and addresses the need for sanitation and clean water by creating the necessary infrastructure. From local, long-term or as part of an event, there are several types of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, which are covered in detail here.
Architectes de l’Urgence
Founded in 2001, the NGO Architectes de l’Urgence (AU) focuses on re-establishing essential infrastructure (hospitals, schools, water supply, roads) in post-disaster situations. With branches in France, Canada and Switzerland, the organisation benefits from 19 years of experience with more than 30 reconstruction programs in 33 countries. Since its inception, over 1600 architects, engineers and additional support staff have participated in AU’s diverse aid initiatives. Most of their projects are not limited to immediate post-disaster response but incorporate rebuilding strategies stretching over several years. To catch a glimpse of their sustained endeavour, over the course of eight years, AU has rebuilt 12 healthcare facilities, 12 schools, one orphanage and over 1500 houses in Haiti, following the devastating tsunami. The organisation also helped in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, or Afghanistan. The foundation recruits architects and civil engineers on a regular basis for international solidarity missions. The type of involvement varies, from student internships, long-term volunteer work, short missions for experienced professionals. All information regarding requirements, recruitment process and forms of participation is available here.
Open Architecture Collaborative
Open Architecture Collaborative is, to some extent, a successor to Architecture for Humanity. The latter filed for bankruptcy in 2015, stirring some controversy, but several of its international chapters picked up the pieces of the organisation, drew knowledge from the 16 years of experience with humanitarian architecture and created a new organism. The NGO’s philosophy is rooted in participatory design and its mission is achieving community engagement for marginalised people through architectural means. The new organisation is still in its infancy, but it derives its know-how from AfH’s successful past initiatives, like the Haiti rebuilding program. The NGO now focuses on local, small-scale projects like the Kids Skating Series in Nigeria. For information on how to get involved with the organisation, whether as a design firm or an individual volunteer visit their dedicated page.
Emergency Architecture & Human Rights
The NGO focusses on aiding socially vulnerable communities around the globe who are dealing with crises or face inequality of any kind. Regarding architecture as the embodiment of a universal human right, their mission centres around resilience, be it social, economic, or environmental. Founded in 2015 in Denmark and with sister organisations in Santiago de Chile and Rome, Emergency Architecture & Human Rights has completed various humanitarian projects in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Within the NGO’s initiatives, the EAHR team, volunteers and the local communities work side by side to design and construct projects such as the school in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The organisation focuses on working with the communities, using locally sourced materials, while advancing local construction methods. In addition, the foundation held workshops on architecture for humanitarian emergencies at several universities around the world. For upcoming internships and volunteer opportunities, get in touch with the organisation using the information provided on their website.
Architecture Sans Frontières International
This collaborative network of NGOs brings together more than 20 independent organisations in an effort to consolidate their individual endeavours. The history of the network began in 1979, with the creation of Architectes Sans Frontières in France, followed 13 years later by the namesake organisation in Spain. Now spread across 30 countries on all five continents, ASF International creates a framework for cooperation among the different entities and assists in the formation of new local organisations. With the stated mission of improving the built environment for people in need, all member foundations work for community development and engage in post-disaster and relief interventions. Each organisation has its own recruitment process and provides various types of volunteering and involvement for individuals who are interested in helping disadvantaged communities. See the complete list of member organisations and get in touch with any of them here.
ZAWYA‘s INVESTMENT on 13 May, 2020 reports that Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert amid virus outbreak. Officials see mega-projects as key source of jobs .
By Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad, Reuters News
CAIRO- While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say.
The level of activity at the desert site – where trucks rumble down newly built roads and cranes swing over unfinished apartment blocks – reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic.
Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of mega-projects championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs.
Soon after coronavirus began to spread, Sisi postponed moving the first civil servants to the new city and moved back the opening of a national museum adjoining the pyramids to next year.
Productivity dipped as companies adapted to health guidelines and some labourers stayed home.
But officials have sought to keep the mega-projects going to protect jobs, and after 10 days of slowdown construction had fully resumed at the new capital with a shift system, said Amr Khattab, spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which along with the military owns the company building the city.
“The proportion of the labour force that is present on site doesn’t exceed 70%, so that the workers don’t get too close,” he said as he showed off the R5 neighbourhood, which includes about 24,000 housing units. “We work less intensively, but we do two shifts.”
Sisi, who publicly quizzes officials responsible for infrastructure projects about timetables and costs, launched the new capital in 2015.
Designed as a high-tech smart city that will house 6.5 million people and relieve congestion in Cairo, it includes government and business districts, a giant park, and a diplomatic quarter as yet unbuilt.
One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion. While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant and built to benefit a cocooned elite.
‘RUNNING ON TIME’
“We have clear instructions from his excellency the president that the postponement of the opening is not a delay to the project,” said Khattab. “The project is running on time.”
Disinfection and other protective measures were visible at the construction site 45km (30 miles) east of the Nile, though some workers were only ordered to don masks when journalists started filming and others drove by crammed into a minibus. Egypt has confirmed more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, but none at the new capital.
Delays in payments to contractors and to imported supplies were additional risks, said Shams Eldin Youssef, a member of Egypt’s union for construction contractors. Khattab said the government had contractors’ payments in hand.
The Housing Ministry expects to deliver two residential districts by late 2021, while the business district should be finished by early 2022, said Ahmed al-Araby, deputy head of the new capital’s development authority. Private developers and the army are building six other neighbourhoods.
In the government district, which Khattab said was 90% complete, ministry buildings fronted with vertical strips of white stone and darkened glass lead to an open area being planted with palm trees and mini obelisks in front of a domed parliament building.
To one side a large, low-rise presidential palace is under construction.
Sisi has urged people seeking work to head to new cities being built around the country, including the new capital, which Khattab said employs some 250,000 workers.
Critics have questioned the diversion of resources away from existing cities, including Cairo, parts of which are in slow decay.
“The question about how rational this is – whether it makes sense economically, whether it is doable, whether it’s the best course of action – this question is not even asked,” Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian writer and senior lecturer at Dartmouth College in the United States, said by phone.
On the other side of Cairo at the new museum next to the Giza pyramids, work has also been continuing at a slower pace.
In mid-April staffing levels sank to about 40%, with plans to recover gradually to 100%, said General Atef Muftah, who oversees the project.
The Saudi government’s drive to increase home ownership for nationals continued to gather momentum in the first quarter of this year, according to JLL, a specialist in real estate and investment management. This is what is reported by TradeArabia as Riyadh, Jeddah record delivery of over 9,000 homes in Q1. One cannot help but wonder if it is Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 that wants to break its “addiction” to oil . . . or something else?
With the kingdom’s leadership working on its ambitious plan to boost home ownership to 60 per cent by the year-end, the delivery of residential units for Saudi nationals in Riyadh and Jeddah remained active during the opening quarter.
The Sakani program is being delivered under Vision 2030 and was launched to provide more than 500,000 residential units across the kingdom, costing an estimated SR500 billion.
The aim is to achieve 70 percent home ownership for Saudi nationals by the end of the decade, said the JLL in its Q1 2020 KSA Real Estate Market Performance report.
In Riyadh, a total of 7,500 units had been delivered in the first three months, while in Jeddah, the number had reached 1,800, it added.
“In the short-to-mid term, demand remains supported by the Sakani program and the various mortgage products launched over the past couple of years,” remarked Dana Salbak, the head of research for MENA region at JLL.
“However, in light of the current conditions and with no specific stimulus package in support of the residential market, we can expect somewhat of a slowdown in demand over the coming period,” noted Sablak.
Meanwhile, in the office sector, the drop in oil prices combined with shifts in the work environment towards remote working practices has resulted in a slowdown in demand for office space.
According to JLL, this has reflected on the performance of office spaces in Riyadh and Jeddah, resulting in declines of between four – six percent across both Grade A and Grade B spaces.
The retail sector in the kingdom has enjoyed an improved performance over the past year, however, it is expected to see a prolonged period of lower consumer appetite due to the current global pandemic.
By contrast, demand for retail-driven warehousing will be active as restrictions on movement and trade have led to a shift in consumer behaviour, with online shopping (e-commerce) becoming more popular, it stated.
“This aligns with some of the strategic goals of Vision 2030, which aims to increase the proportion of online payments from a target of 28 per cent this year, to 70 per cent by 2030,” said Salbak.
As with other markets around the world, the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia kicked off the year strongly, with occupancy rates in Riyadh and Jeddah, registering improvements in the year-to-February 2020 when compared to the same period last year, recording 74% and 58% respectively.
However the period which followed, saw hotel performance levels decline as travel restrictions took effect, pointed out Sablak.
With the suspension of the Umrah season and uncertainty around the Hajj pilgrimage, which begins in late July, the performance of the tourism and hospitality market in the kingdom is likely to remain sluggish for the remainder of this year, particularly in Jeddah, which is considered a transit city for pilgrimages to Makkah and Madinah. he added.-TradeArabia News Service
From its origin in Wuhan, China, COVID-19 has spread to become a predominantly urban-focused pandemic. Although much data on the pandemic is still unavailable, it is clear that urban areas have been at the epicentre.
We can seize this opportunity to improve how we build, organise and use cities. To do this, though, we need to look more closely at the urban spread of coronavirus to understand its impact on existing inequalities. We can also learn lessons from the past impact of epidemics on the most vulnerable urban populations.
It is already becoming clear that certain groups are being affected unequally. The poor and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable. Patterns of illness and death reflect urban social and economic geographies. Attention has focused on shielding the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, defined as being most at risk, but the reality is more complex.
Inequalities caused by ethnicity, religion and income often overlap, so that the proportions of elderly and vulnerable people vary by community and neighbourhood. A potential genetic factor in immunity is being investigated. However, the combination of social, economic and demographic factors together with the urban environment probably accounts for many of the observed infection patterns.
Minority groups are often over-represented among the urban poor. This means they are more likely to have poor diets, get inadequate exercise and to be overweight. This exposes them disproportionately to diabetes and other chronic cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, putting them at high risk.
Poor people also inhabit the lowest quality housing and areas of a city. They live at the highest densities and in the most cramped accommodation. These areas have higher air pollution levels, and poor quality or inaccessible utilities and services. They often have the smallest areas of open public spaces.
Green spaces such as parks have been recognised as vital for human health. But the people who need such spaces most – those without private gardens – have the least access. Parks serving these people have also come under greatest pressure during the lockdowns. Closing them rather than ensuring that people using them follow social distancing guidelines exacerbates the problem.
Risks of overcrowding
COVID-19 and similar viruses are passed on through contaminated moisture droplets from sneezing, coughing or heavy breathing. This means that people living in the same household as someone with the virus have a high likelihood of contracting it.
Almost everywhere, including the UK, large families living in the same household, including members of different generations such as grandparents, are more common among the urban poor and certain minorities. Shielding, self-isolation and social distancing are almost impossible to do in these circumstances. This highlights both the elevated vulnerability of those most at risk and the futility of preventative guidance that ignores these realities.
Institutions housing large numbers of residents are also potential transmission hotspots. Retirement and care homes present particular challenges – and the news is filled with the grim toll there.
Many cities in low- and middle-income countries will face even greater risks should the virus gain a foothold in urban shantytowns and high density areas. Strict preemptive lockdowns have been implemented in India, Kenya, South Africa and elsewhere, before the virus could gain a foothold. If this were to happen in the likes of Dharavi (Mumbai), Kibera (Nairobi) or Khayelitsha (Cape Town), the consequences would be horrific.
Hasty, reactive measures, such as closing all wet markets before the actual source of the virus is known, may prove misguided. It is urgent to think critically and to engage with the underlying issues identified here rather than superficial symptoms. Experience from previous epidemics and pandemics, such as bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera or influenza, can also provide important lessons.
One classic example is the place of 19th-century European cholera epidemics in stimulating the construction of piped water and sewerage systems. This followed the discovery in London that one contaminated drinking water point was the source of the 1854 outbreak. By contrast, in Hamburg, inaction after the 1873 cholera outbreak due to inertia, short-term self-interest from the rich and divided medical opinion led the city to suffer an even worse epidemic in 1892.
Health-driven urban renovation and infrastructural improvement can, however, also be implemented for political or sectarian motives. For instance, an outbreak of bubonic plague in Cape Town at the turn of the 20th century was blamed on the poor African victims by the colonial government and settler community. The outbreak was used to impose forced segregation. In the name of sanitation, the first urban “native location” was constructed outside the main city, where its population was easy to control.
Similar concerns are already being heard about wider potential political surveillance and control. Some governments have quickly implemented the use of mobile phone apps for COVID-19 contact tracing.
We have a unique opportunity to work towards fairer, more sustainable cities in the wake of coronavirus. Emergency government economic support packages must be used proactively. Global plans such as the New Urban Agenda, endorsed by the United Nations in 2016, can steer a shift to green, circular economies. And we can build robust resilience against diverse disasters and climate change – the long-term crisis we already know is looming.
Once considered a farfetched possibility by skeptics, global warming and climate change are now surfacing as palpable realities of the day. From wildfires in Australia to melting glaciers in Iceland, the year 2020 bid farewell to the hottest ever decade recorded on the planet. Fortunately, though, measures are being taken across all industries to curb our modern world’s carbon footprint, and the case of building and construction sector is no different.
According to a recent UNEP-supported report titled 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, construction sector in 2019 continued its notorious position as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in 39% of the energy and process-related carbon emissions recorded during the year. The report further states that whilst as many as 136 countries have expressed intentions to work towards sustainable buildings, only a few have elaborated on tangible actions strategized to achieve such plans.
The global building stock is forecasted to grow twofold by 2050 as a direct consequence of increasing urbanization. If left unchecked, GHG emissions resulting from the building industry can rise to 50% of the global carbon emissions in the next three decades. While technological innovations have given way to reduced energy consumption, increasing cooling demand emerging from hot regions have overshadowed a significant positive trajectory. That said, countries across the world are increasingly targeting the urban built environment as a part of their national strategy towards a low-carbon future.
Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Qatar houses one of the highest collections of sustainable buildings. Concluding 2019, the country saw completion of more than 50 projects certified under the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) – MENA’s first performance-based assessment system for green buildings. Based on their overall sustainability credentials, projects registered under GSAS can achieve up to 5 Stars, representing the highest levels of sustainable features in terms of design and build. The award of final rating and certificates follows a comprehensive process whereby auditors from the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) analyze several aspects of projects at multiple stages throughout the construction phase.
For the year 2019, here are some green projects successfully completed under GSAS.
During 2019, many recipients of outstanding sustainability ratings were linked with Qatar Rail’s Doha Metro project. With Mesheireb Station achieving the highest rating of 5 Stars, another 17 metro stations and 2 stabling yards at different locations within Doha received 4 Stars for their environmentally friendly design and build aspects. Doha Metro is by far the world’s first metro project with accredited sustainable certification specific to rating railway stations. This has been achieved through GSAS’ unique Railways Scheme that is used for rating the sustainability and ecological impacts of new main station buildings, including spaces that serve various functions of a metro station. According to Consolidated Contractors Company, sustainability of the project has been achieved through responsible site development, water saving, energy efficiency, materials selection, cultural and economic value support and innovation in design. Stations awarded GSAS accreditation during 2019 included those located in Msheireb Downtown, Ras Bu Abboud, Al Sadd, Al Sudan, Bin Mahmoud, Qatar University, Hamad International Airport Terminal 1, Al Doha Al Jadeda, Umm Ghuwailina, Ras Bu Fontas, Economic Zone, Al Wakrah, Al Bidda, Corniche, Hamad Hospital, Al Riffa, The White Palace and Education City.
Lusail City Projects:
A number of projects receiving green certifications during 2019 represented Lusail City – Qatar’s first smart city covering 38 square kilometers, that has mandated GSAS to ensure sustainability of all of its buildings. A flagship project of Qatari Diar, Lusail City has been dubbed as the “largest single sustainable development” ever undertaken in the State of Qatar. Use of native flora and water efficient landscaping mechanisms are some ways the city conserves water. Its integrated transport system reduces GHG emissions resulting from private vehicles. The city’s urban connectivity has been achieved through light rail, ample pedestrian walkways, bicycle tracks and park-and-ride facilities at the public transport stations. With a capacity to reduce up to 65 million tons of CO2 per annum, Lusail’s district cooling plant boasts of being one of the largest in the world. Other green credentials benefiting the entire city include a pneumatic waste collection system, sewage treatment plant and an interconnected natural gas network designed to cut down energy consumption.
Within Lusail, Marina Yacht Club Al Khaliji Tower received the highest sustainability rating of 4 Stars during 2019 followed by another 8 commercial, residential and mixed-use developments receiving 4, 3 and 2 stars. Once complete, the city will have the capacity to accommodate 200,000 residents, 170,000 employees and 80,000 visitors without significant impact on the environment.
Sustainable development is one of the four key pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030, a fact that has provided a natural impetus for public projects to be designed and constructed sustainably. Now, all government projects within Qatar are now mandated to pursue and achieve sustainability under GSAS certification system. To this end, health centers in Al Waab, Al Wajbah, Muaither and Qatar University were successfully completed with 3 Stars sustainability rating during 2019 under the supervision of Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’. Interestingly, all projects undertaken by Ashghal have been designed and built following sustainability principles – a fact that has been reiterated by Ashghal’s President, Dr. Eng. Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi, who recently emphasized that “Ashghal is implementing GSAS standards in all its public buildings in Qatar, specifically in educational and health buildings.” In the light of these comments, one can safely assume that the upcoming stock of health centers in Qatar will continue to have sustainability at the core of their design and construction.
Hamad Port Project Facilities:
Increasing Doha’s total port capacity, Hamad Port Project started operations in 2016. However, construction has been underway to develop new facilities aimed at enhancing the port’s functional efficiency. The year 2019 witnessed completion of multiple facilities inside the new port with sustainability certification. From accommodation and mosques to civil defense and business center buildings, 19 projects under the umbrella of Hamad Port received sustainability rating between 3 and 2 Stars. Development of the new port has followed comprehensive mechanisms aimed at preserving the environment. For instance, 39,117 mangroves, 14,252 sqm of sea grass and 11,595 hard corals were relocated prior to the construction phase. The relocated flora and fauna are being continuously monitored and have so far proven to be surviving.
Taking green sports infrastructure to another level, Al Janoub Stadium received GSAS 4 Stars during 2019, and rightly so. Soon to be a venue for FIFA 2022 World Cup games, the stadium consumes 30 percent less water in terms of international plumbing codes. More than 15% of its permanent building materials are made from recycled content and more than 85% of the waste generated during construction was processed to be reused or recycled, making it one of the most sustainable stadiums worldwide. Apart from Al Janoub, Qatar University’s Sports and Events Complex was another distinguishing project that received 4 Stars under GSAS Design & Build scheme.
Middle Eastern buyers surge to third place in the UK’s country house £5 million+ buyer rankings, just behind UK and European buyers who maintain their positions in first and second place, according to Knight Frank.
Analysis of purchaser data confirms that 2019 saw a tripling in the market share taken by Middle Eastern buyers in the £5 million+ country market compared to their share in 2018
This makes them the third largest source of international demand
Brexit went official last month, which could cause a shift in spending habits
Middle Eastern buyers surge to third place in the UK’s country house £5 million+ buyer rankings, just behind UK and European buyers who maintain their positions in first and second place, according to Knight Frank.
Analysis of purchaser data confirms that 2019 saw a tripling in the market share taken by Middle Eastern buyers in the £5 million+ country market compared to their share in 2018, making them the third largest source of international demand. This was followed closely by near doubling in the share of purchases taken by European buyers, who upheld their second place position in the country house buyer rankings.
Although dropping slightly in 2019, UK buyers maintained their position with the largest share of the prime country market responsible for nearly six in ten purchases.
Henry Faun, Head of London International Project Sales at Knight Frank Middle East, said:“The attraction of private education options is particularly significant to Middle Easterners seeking to place their children in the UK education system. Areas in close proximity to London, such as North Surrey, have been extremely popular with Middle Eastern buyers. The many respectable international schools, combined with easy access into London, makes the Surrey area particularly attractive to buyers from the Middle East looking to settle in the UK.”
Rupert Sweeting, Head of National Country Sales at Knight Frank, said:“Although the dip in UK buyers can be explained by the concerns over the general election and Brexit that clouded 2019, international purchasers still consider the UK as politically stable and are confident in the country’s long term growth prospects – despite stamp duty taxes.”
Stretched across Bahrain’s north-eastern coastline, Diyar Al Muharraq is among Bahrain’s most anticipated projects, which will be an archipelago of seven man-made islands.
Located off the shores of Muharraq, the kingdom’s historic former capital, construction is well underway on the 12.2km2 masterplan development, which is part of a joint venture with Abu-Dhabi based real estate developer Eagle Hills.
Speaking to Construction Week, Diyar Al Muharraq CEO Ahmed Alammadi said they have been working on the development since 2007 and described the project as a “huge masterplan” for any region, especially “for a small island such as Bahrain”.
“For the whole development, we plan to have four to five phases. In Arabic, Diyar means ‘a small town’ and the reclaimed land is around 10km, which will feature 8 public beaches,” Alammadi tells CW.
“We have started phase 1 on the south island, which is 5.3km. As part of the 5.3km, 1km of this is part of our joint venture with Abu Dhabi’s Eagle Hills to establish Eagle Hills Diyar, which is a local based developer in Bahrain.”
The development will feature facilities including villas worth $1.3m (AED 5m) which comprise a mix of modern and traditional Arabic designs, two reputable hotels that also integrate residences, as well as one of Bahrain’s largest shopping malls.
“Within this joint venture with Eagle Hills, we are developing a 2,000m2 shopping mall, the Vida and Address hotels, as well as two residential towers,” Alammadi added.
“The 2,000m2 shopping mall will be one of the largest shopping malls in Bahrain. Vida hotel and Vida residences, Address hotel and Address residences, as well as the two residential towers, which will be named Marassi Residence, will all be linked to the mall.”
Marassi, which is Arabic for ‘multi-port’, is a mix of residential, commercial properties and extensive retail, entertainment and dining options. It will feature 2km of sandy beaches, as well as a dedicated harbour for cruise liners.
In terms of construction, Alammadi outlined that building works have started on all of the projects.
“The development of all these towers, along with the mall, which are all under construction, except the Marassi residence, have been handed over and should be ready by 2021.”
Another part of Diyar Al Muharraq’s built-up areas is Al Bareh, located on the west side of the masterplan development, comprising seafront villas that have been completely sold out, according to Alammadi.
As well as Al Bareh residential plots, there are two villa types, Al Bahar 1 and Al Bahar 2, which feature the latest smart-home technology and measure between 805m2 and 972m2 respectively.
With views over Diyar Al Muharraq’s main canal, the residences are built around a number of key spaces, including traditional courtyards and swimming pools.
Another milestone for the development was the handover of its Deerat Al Oyoun under the Mazaya scheme.
The Mazaya scheme is part of Bahrain’s Ministry of Housing initiative in collaboration with the private sector for the provision of social housing for citizens who are listed on the Ministry of Housing waiting lists.
Deerat Al Oyoun will comprise more than 3,000 villa units and is located close to the Dragon City retail precinct, as well as schools, healthcare facilities, and entertainment facilities.
Foundations have also been laid for the development’s Souq Al Baraha market amongst the residential communities.
Alammadi said all the preparations to begin work on Souq Al Baraha had been completed, and Almoayyed Contracting Group were appointed to complete the entire project and launch the project by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
“Souq Al Baraha will reflect the unique architectural culture of the Kingdom of Bahrain, in line with our eagerness to establish a Bahraini identity throughout various residential and commercial projects in the city,” Alammadi said.
Diyar Al Muharraq is certainly filling the gaps in Bahrain’s real estate market as part of the country’s economic vision 2030 agenda to build a better life for Bahraini people.
Report reviews human rights in 19 MENA states during 2019
Wave of protests across Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon demonstrates reinvigorated faith in people power
500+ killed in Iraq and over 300 in Iran in brutal crackdowns on protests
Relentless clampdown on peaceful critics and human rights defenders
At least 136 prisoners of conscience detained in 12 countries for online speech
Governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) displayed a chilling determination to crush protests with ruthless force and trample over the rights of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to call for social justice and political reform during 2019, said Amnesty International today, publishing its annual report on the human rights situation in the region.
Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Review of 2019 describes how instead of listening to protesters’ grievances, governments have once again resorted to relentless repression to silence peaceful critics both on the streets and online. In Iraq and Iran alone, the authorities’ use of lethal force led to hundreds of deaths in protests; in Lebanon police used unlawful and excessive force to disperse protests; and in Algeria the authorities used mass arrests and prosecutions to crack down on protesters. Across the region, governments have arrested and prosecuted activists for comments posted online, as activists turned to social media channels to express their dissent.2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived Heba Morayef
“In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Director for MENA.
“2019 was a year of defiance in MENA. It also was a year that showed that hope was still alive – and that despite the bloody aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Libya and the catastrophic human rights decline in Egypt – people’s faith in the collective power to mobilize for change was revived.”
The protests across MENA mirrored demonstrators taking to the streets to demand their rights from Hong Kong to Chile. In Sudan, mass protests were met with brutal crackdowns by security forces and eventually ended with a negotiated political agreement with associations who had led the protests.
Crackdown on protests on the streets
Across the MENA region authorities employed a range of tactics to repress the wave of protests – arbitrarily arresting thousands of protesters across the region and in some cases resorting to excessive or even lethal force. In Iraq and Iran alone hundreds were killed as security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators and thousands more were injured.In an inspiring display of defiance and determination, crowds from Algeria, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon poured into the streets – in many cases risking their lives – to demand their human rights, dignity and social justice and an end to corruption. These protesters have proven that they will not be intimidated into silence by their governments Heba Morayef
In Iraq where at least 500 died in demonstrations in 2019, protesters showed tremendous resilience, defying live ammunition, deadly sniper attacks and military tear gas grenades deployed at short range causing gruesome injuries.
In Iran, credible reports indicated that security forces killed over 300 people and injured thousands within just four days between 15 and 18 November to quell protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Thousands were also arrested and many subjected to enforced disappearance and torture.
In September, Palestinian women in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories took to the streets to protest against gender-based violence and Israel’s military occupation. Israeli forces also killed dozens of Palestinians during demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank.
“The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for MENA. “Meanwhile, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel’s policy of using excessive, including lethal, force against demonstrators there continued unabated.” The shocking death tolls among protesters in Iraq and Iran illustrate the extreme lengths to which these governments were prepared to go in order to silence all forms of dissent Philip Luther
In Algeria, where mass protests led to the fall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power, authorities sought to quash protests through mass arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of peaceful demonstrators.
While the mass protests in Lebanon since October, which led to the resignation of the government, began largely peacefully, on a number of occasions protests were met with unlawful and excessive force and security forces failed to intervene effectively to protect peaceful demonstrators from attacks by supporters of rival political groups.
In Egypt, a rare outbreak of protests in September which took the authorities by surprise was met with mass arbitrary arrests with more than 4,000 detained.
“Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully,” said Heba Morayef.
“Instead of launching deadly crackdowns and resorting to measures such as excessive use of force, torture, or arbitrary mass arrests and prosecutions, authorities should listen to and address demands for social and economic justice as well as political rights.”
Repression of dissent online
As well as lashing out against peaceful protesters on the streets, throughout 2019 governments across the region continued to crack down on people exercising their rights to freedom of expression online. Journalists, bloggers and activists who posted statements or videos deemed critical of the authorities on social media faced arrest, interrogation and prosecutions. Governments in MENA have displayed a total disregard for the rights of people to protest and express themselves peacefully Heba Morayef
According to Amnesty International’s figures, individuals were detained as prisoners of conscience in 12 countries in the region and 136 people were arrested solely for their peaceful expression online. Authorities also abused their powers to stop people accessing or sharing information online. During protests in Iran, the authorities implemented a near-total internet shutdown to stop people sharing videos and photos of security forces unlawfully killing and injuring protesters. In Egypt, authorities disrupted online messaging applications in an attempt to thwart further protests. Egyptian and Palestinian authorities also resorted to censoring websites including news websites. In Iran social media apps including Facebook, Telegram, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked.
Some governments also use more sophisticated techniques of online surveillance to target human rights defenders. Amnesty’s research highlighted how two Moroccan human rights defenders were targeted using spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group. The same company’s spyware had previously been used to target activists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as an Amnesty International staff member.
More broadly, Amnesty International recorded 367 human rights defenders subjected to detention (240 arbitrarily detained in Iran alone) and 118 prosecuted in 2019 – the true numbers are likely to be higher.
“The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders,” said Philip Luther.
Signs of hope
Despite ongoing and widespread impunity across MENA, some small but historic steps were taken towards accountability for longstanding human rights violations. The announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that war crimes had been committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and that an investigation should be opened as soon as the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction has been confirmed offered a crucial opportunity to end decades of impunity. The ICC indicated that the investigation could cover Israel’s killing of protesters in Gaza. The fact that governments across MENA have a zero-tolerance approach to peaceful online expression shows how they fear the power of ideas that challenge official narratives. Authorities must release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally and stop harassing peaceful critics and human rights defenders Philip Luther
Similarly, in Tunisia the Truth and Dignity Commission published its final report and 78 trials started before criminal courts offering a rare chance for security forces to be held accountable for past abuses.
The limited advances in women’s rights, won after years of campaigning by local women’s rights movements, were outweighed by the continuing repression of women’s rights defenders, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a broader failure to eliminate widespread discrimination against women. Saudi Arabia introduced long-overdue reforms to its male guardianship system, but these were overshadowed by the fact that five women human rights defenders remained unjustly detained for their activism throughout 2019. Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights Heba Morayef
A number of Gulf states also announced reforms to improve protection for migrant workers including promises from Qatar to abolish its kafala (sponsorship system) and improve migrants’ access to justice. Jordan and the United Arab Emirates also signalled plans to reform the kafala system. However, migrant workers continue to face widespread exploitation and abuse across the region.
“Governments across the region must learn that their repression of protests and imprisonment of peaceful critics and human rights defenders will not silence people’s demands for fundamental economic, social and political rights. Instead of ordering serious violations and crimes to stay in power, governments should ensure the political rights needed to allow people to express their socio-economic demands and to hold their governments to account,” said Heba Morayef.
In the traffic-choked megacity of Cairo, the historic Heliopolis district has long stood out for its leafy boulevards, but now construction crews are cutting new highways through it and uprooting its century-old trees.
As Egypt with its burgeoning population nears the milestone of 100 million people, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is building a colossal new capital in the desert east of Cairo.
And at least six new highways leading there cut right through Heliopolis, an upmarket district with tree-lined streets laid out in the early 1900s in the style of a mini-European metropolis.
At least 390,000 square meters (96 acres) of green space – or more than 50 football fields – have been razed in the past four months, said activist group the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative (HHI).
One local writer decried what she graphically described as “the raping of a suburb … with its guts spilling out” in a column shared widely online.
Since last August, the military’s engineering arm has been building highways worth about 7.5 billion pounds ($450 million) to link Cairo with the pharaonic new capital under construction about 45 kilometers (30 miles) to the east.
Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is set to boast skyscrapers, a new presidential palace, dozens of ministries and flats for tens of thousands of civil servants, with the aim of easing Cairo’s chronic overcrowding and air pollution.
‘Act of sabotage’
The first victim of the mega-project, however, is Heliopolis, built in 1906 by Baron Edouard Empain, a wealthy Belgian entrepreneur who settled in Cairo while working on modernizing its nascent railways.
He designed the area with wide streets and elegant buildings that meld various design motifs, as embodied in his impressive palace, which is still standing. As one of Egypt’s most expensive suburbs, Heliopolis also houses powerful institutions including the presidential palace, the military academy and several other armed forces facilities.
There are plenty of green spaces, which is rare in the city of over 20 million.
But now Triomphe Square and the lush arterial avenues of al-Nozha and Abou Bakr al-Seddik, marked by palm trees and ficus plants, have become sites for about a dozen routes out of the suburb.
Many residents have been vocal on social media about fatal traffic accidents in recent weeks on new bridges that lack pedestrian crossings or clearly marked speed limits.
Cairo University urban design professor Dalila al-Kerdany slammed the re-zoning of the capital’s green lung as “an act of sabotage”.
That view was shared by Choucri Asmar, a resident and founding member of HHI, who voiced regret that more cars would choke up the road, instead of the old tramline.
“We have been presented with a fait accompli,” he said, sitting in the courtyard of Chantilly, a chic cafe and a venerable institution in the area.
Asmar said no local community consultations were conducted during the planning stages, and that the urban planning decision came “straight from the presidency”.
Kerdany also charged that the re-districting was launched “illegally”, without approval from Egypt’s top heritage body, the National Organization for Urban Harmony.
Comment was sought from Cairo’s Governorate several times – without success.
“Heliopolis was founded for pedestrians, not for cars – they were always meant to come second”, said Alia Kassim, 33, an incensed resident who works in the media.
Kerdany said “the result is frightening… creating a monstrous and unmanageable” mega-city at the expense of green spaces.
Developments are also planned in other historic neighborhoods with millions of residents, such al-Matariya and Nasr City.
With many Heliopolis residents going on with their daily lives and adjusting to the new routes, HHI has remained active online, documenting the district’s vanishing heritage.
Asmar said the initiative will keep up the protest because “if we keep quiet, everyone will be quiet”.
But given Egypt’s fast-growing and youthful population, pressure for urban expansion is unlikely to ease anytime soon.
Kerdany predicted that at the current rate greater Cairo will eventually extend all the way to Suez, about 130 kilometers from Heliopolis.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.