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The reclaiming of “Belle Époque” Architecture in Egypt (1989-2010): On the Power of Rhetorics in Heritage-Making

Mercedes Volait

Résumés

L’inscription au patrimoine national d’architecture « Belle Époque », catégorie vague comprenant des bâtiments construits entre les années 1850 et les années 1950, représente un chapitre curieux dans la relation complexe qu’entretient l’Égypte avec son passé, et plus particulièrement avec les couches superposées de son histoire ancienne, médiévale, moderne et contemporaine. Alors que la théorie postcoloniale juge ce patrimoine dissonant en raison de ses liens avec l’époque coloniale, l’héritage « Belle Époque » est considéré, depuis 1989, comme un joyau précieux à protéger. Le propos de cet article est de comprendre comment des objets historiques arrivent à s’imposer comme patrimoine culturel alors que rien ne les prédispose à prendre une telle valeur. Une des conclusions de l’article désigne le langage et la narration ou même l’établissement de marques comme facteurs déterminants du processus de validation patrimoniale. Une autre conclusion identifie le rôle crucial possible des processus de légitimation sociale. À l’appui d’un large éventail de sources (du cadre légal jusqu’au domaine de la presse), cet article retrace les mécanismes complexes ayant concourus à la consécration de l’architecture « Belle Époque » en Égypte tout en reconnaissant, à travers des exemples concrets, le rôle joué par des circonstances fortuites ou non liées aux questions de conservation, dans la fabrication du patrimoine.

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  • 1 Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambr (...)
  • 2 This notion is borrowed from John E. Tunbridge and Gregory J. Ashworth, Dissonant Heritage: the Man (...)

1The recognition of “Belle Époque” architecture in Egypt as national heritage represents an intriguing chapter in the country’s complex relationship with the past, and moreover with the successive layers of its ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary history. The label alludes to the Khedivial and monarchic period of the 1850s to the 1950s, and is the incarnation of a bygone society long derided by the intelligentsia. However “Belle Époque” architecture has never been more present in Egypt than over the first decade of 21st century, as attested by an array of evidence and initiatives. In its own way, it is a case of “invented tradition”1 and as such, offers an outstanding terrain—in the anthropological sense—to observe the integration of new elements into the spectrum of Egyptian cultural heritage. It is all the more so because it touches upon objects allegedly “dissonant”2 at first glance because of their spontaneous association—in the mind of a postcolonial observer apprised of the historical context—with the issue of colonial architecture and the legacy of colonization.

  • 3 Saphinaz-Amal Naguib, “Heritage in Movement: Rethinking Cultural Borrowings in the Mediterranean”, (...)
  • 4 Among the literature proliferating on the topic, see Caroline Williams, “Transforming the Old: Cair (...)

2Seen through Egyptian lenses, the question must be phrased in rather different terms. Indeed, postcolonial theory itself has had difficulty grappling the subject. In considering the changing fortunes of the Khedivial Gazîra palace, built in Cairo in 1863-1868 and owned by numerous proprietors before being reborn, in the 1980s, as a Marriott luxury hotel, postcolonial theory has been criticized for its inability to account for the “dynamics of exchange, circularity and choice” that were key to the survival of this landmark of nineteenth-century cosmopolitan eclecticism in Egypt.3 The invention of “Belle Époque” architecture represents nevertheless the emergence of something new and quite different from the image that heritage specialists typically have of the Egyptian capital. They commonly only consider the portion known as the “Islamic,” “Fatimid” or “historic” city, which has been on the World Heritage List since 1979 and has long been the object of much attention, to the point of undergoing a process of transfiguration (or disfiguration, according to some) since the beginning of the 2000s, with the launch of a gigantic conservation campaign that has radically altered important fragments and raised the hackles of purists in doing so, whether because of the sometimes hasty methods used on the restoration sites or because of the deliberate museumification it has imposed.4

3The phenomenon highlighted here is of a different nature, and entails a quite distinct discussion than the one on the negative effects of preservation. The concern of this essay is to understand how historical objects manage to impose themselves as a cultural heritage worth preserving, when nothing predisposed them to acquire such value. One conclusion is that language and story-telling, or even branding, play a crucial part in the processes of heritage consecration. An appealing narrative at the right time is a powerful tool. On another hand, the new narratives that “Belle Époque” architecture enables ultimately matter more than its intrinsic qualities. Collaterally, the paper raises the question of the role of marginalities or “outsiderness” in the making of heritage, for the invention of the “Belle Époque” heritage calls upon amateur historians (academic marginality), situations of inner or outer exile (social marginality) and figures straddling multiple cultures (cultural marginality); it inscribes the commitment to heritage in a dialect between “distance” and “proximity,” in “processes of social legitimization” that harness the vector of cultural heritage.

  • 5 Amy Mills, Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance and National Identity in Istanbul, Athens, GA: T (...)
  • 6 www.casamemoire.org. Accessed December 2, 2013.
  • 7 Diana Wylie, “The Importance of Being At-Home: A Defense of Historic Preservation in Algeria”, Chan (...)
  • 8 Taline Ter Minassian (ed.), Patrimoine et architecture dans les États post-soviétiques, Rennes: Pre (...)
  • 9 Diana Wylie, op. cit. (note 7), p. 173.

4The hypothesis should be tested elsewhere, in order to assess what inherently belongs to the Egyptian context or can be related to a more global phenomenon. While research is needed to ascertain either hypothesis, all indications are that Egypt is not an isolated case when it comes to the social recognition of previously dissonant or Imperial-era heritage. A significant example is the celebration in present-day Turkey of fin de siècle Istanbul and its multiethnic and pluriconfessional identity through a myriad of initiatives, from the opening in 2005 of the Pera museum to the urban regeneration of the surrounding Galata and Beyoglu areas. The web of factors that is feeding cosmopolitan Ottomanism in contemporary Istanbul and the nostalgia for a past previously seen as tyrannical and oppressive, but currently reconsidered in new terms,5 recalls the Egyptian situation. In Morocco, young activists grouped in the NGO Casamémoire are fighting to preserve colonial Casablanca,6 just like Bel Horizon, an Algerian historic preservation group, is doing in Oran,7 both with a strong sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to cultural pluralism. Beyond the Middle East and North Africa, longings for the architectural legacy of the Soviet era by specific portions of the population can be observed in post-Soviet states.8 In many instances, efforts come from individuals outside the mainstream and what is at stake can “lie as much in the realm of social values as in the world of buildings.”9 Abrupt political changes represent another commonality across the above mentioned examples.

  • 10 For the French case, see Arlette Auduc, Quand les monuments construisaient la nation : Le service d (...)

5The recognition of “dissonant” legacies ultimately calls for a reexamination of the causal links between the “grand national narrative” and the “making of cultural heritage”. Traditionally, Nation-building is at the heart of most analysis of heritage history.10 In the instance considered here, the political and edifying virtues of the “Belle Époque” are insignificant compared to the social realignments that it fostered and facilitated, not to mention the implications for the real-estate market.

6Two main questions structure the present essay: how did the invention of the “Belle Époque” in Egypt occur? And what kind of new light can it shed on processes of heritage making?

The Invention of the “Belle Époque”

  • 11 See Mercedes Volait, “Colonisation, mondialisation et patrimonialisation de l’espace bâti dans le M (...)
  • 12 Cynthia Mintty, Paris Along the Nile: Architecture in Cairo from the Belle Epoque, Cairo: AUC Press (...)
  • 13 Samir W. Raafat, Cairo, the Glory years: Who Built What, When, Why and for Whom, Alexandria: Harpoc (...)
  • 14 Shirley Johnston, Egyptian Palaces and Villas (1808-1960), New York, NY: H.N. Abrams, 2006.
  • 15 Robert Solé, May Telmessani and Mercedes Volait, Mémoires héliopolitaines, Cairo: Al-Ahram, 2005.
  • 16 William Cunningham Bissell, “Engaging colonial nostalgia”, Cultural anthropology, 2005, vol. 20, no (...)

7Without going into a detailed account of its invention,11 it is useful to recall certain characteristics, beginning with the most prevalent cultural constructs of the “Belle Époque,” focused on Khedivial Cairo, with its City of Light-inspired architecture—“Paris along the Nile,” as it has been called,12 with its “Golden Years”13 and grand palaces14—, the cosmopolitan and Mediterranean Alexandria, and the multiconfessional city of Heliopolis.15 The driving impulse provided by the celebration of the ousted monarchy and a contemporary taste for “glamorous” sensationalism should not be underestimated, nor should that of the emerging phenomenon of “colonial nostalgia,” thoughtfully analyzed by anthropologist William Bissell, who used examples drawn from Zanzibar to cast light on the larger setting in which this phenomenon occurs. Bissell demonstrates that this sentiment is first and foremost shaped by contemporary aspirations: in no way, and nowhere—not in Zanzibar, not in Cairo, not is Casablanca—does “colonial nostalgia” call for a return to situations of colonial subjugation! In Zanzibar and elsewhere, it is an indirect means by which to express the aspirations of today—equality, stability, order, civility, quality of life…—in reaction to experiences of “social and economic dislocation.”16

8Worth mentioning indeed are the ambiguities and approximations of the notion of “Belle Époque” itself. It is related to a much larger time span in Egypt than elsewhere. It in fact encompasses all of the country’s recent history, beginning with the French occupation of Egypt (1798-1801); it is a byword for the “Egypt of bygone days,” and it sometimes loose sense of chronological and historical accuracy (dates and historical facts are often confused) to the extent of clearly distinguishing it from the French meaning of the term, which precisely designates the first decade of the twentieth century.

  • 17 Jean-Pierre Babelon, André Chastel, La notion de patrimoine, [1rst published in 1981] Paris: L. Lév (...)

9Amidst this general picture, a particular attention must be paid to the details of interlacing temporalities, according to an approach pioneered by André Chastel and Jean-Pierre Babelon,17 and to the embedded mechanisms and processes by which the value of cultural heritage is recognized and crystallized under the effect of a panoply of seemingly unrelated initiatives that coincide to produce “self-evident heritage value.” I argue that “Belle Époque” in Egypt is the result of just such a process. It is telling that the fifth or sixth result given when the term “Belle Époque” is entered into a search engine refers directly to the Egyptian case.

10Three scansions, each one carving out its own path, meter the tempo of the phenomenon. The first is the new legislative context ushered in by the 1983 law (no. 117) on antiquities in Egypt. Then, in 1989, the emergence of the term “Belle Époque” resulted in a new narrative context and in the beginning of its induction into the consecrated historiography. Lastly, a new media context was created beginning in 1997, as the press began generating interest in the “architectural and technical heritage of modern Egypt.”

Legal Opportunities

  • 18 Georges Campos, Protection des monuments et œuvres d’art en Italie, en France et en Égypte, histori (...)
  • 19 Nathalie Heinich, La fabrique du patrimoine, de la cathédrale à la petite cuillère, Paris: Éd. de l (...)
  • 20 Antoine Khater, Le régime juridique des fouilles et des antiquités en Égypte, Cairo: Institut franç (...)

11Since 1918, the legislative protection of antiquities in Egypt is grounded on what jurists termed a “legal definition” of cultural heritage.18 Unlike the French system, in which expert assessment, institutional policy, and—more recently—advocacy define the changing boundaries of cultural heritage according to the historical, aesthetic, and administrative value acquired by given objects,19 practices in Egypt more closely resemble those in Italy or Great Britain, where cultural heritage is defined a priori: within a predetermined radius of urban centers in Italy and within predefined chronological bounds in Great Britain. Within law no. 215 from 1952, an object had to date from before 1879 (end of the reign of the khedive Ismail) to be protected as cultural heritage, although the law did allow for exceptions for “any object or building whose conservation the Council of Ministers has deemed to be of national interest.”20 This definition was replaced, in the law of 1983 (amended by law no. 3 of 2010), by the idea of a “moratorium period,” set at 100 years (comparable to what existed in Tunisia prior to the adoption of the conservation code in 1994). Accordingly, the objects considered eligible for the status of “antiquity” are:

any real-estate or chattel, that is the product of Egyptian civilization or the successive civilizations, or is the creation of the arts, sciences, literature or religions that took place on the Egyptian lands since the prehistoric ages and during the successive historic ages before 100 years, provided that it is of archeological or artistic value or of historical importance as an aspect of the different aspects of Egyptian civilization or any other civilization that took place on the Egyptian lands, and that it is produced and grown up on Egyptian lands and of a historical relation thereto and also the mummies of human races and beings contemporary to them.

12As a result, the body of cultural heritage objects can thereby grow chronologically from year to year. Article 2 specifies moreover that:

  • 21 Law no. 117-1983, concerning the issuance of Antiquities’ protection law and published in the Offic (...)

any real-estate or chattel of a historic, scientific, religious, artistic or literal value may be considered an antiquity by a decree from the Prime Minister upon recommendation of the competent Minister in cultural affairs, whenever the State finds a national interest in keeping and preserving such real-estate or chattel, this without being bound with the time limit specified in the hereinbefore article.21

13From 1983 to 2002, this last allowance was used to protect approximately forty modern buildings. It continues to be used in this way, as mentioned below.

Re-Envisioning History

  • 22 Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque: Cairo 1869-1952, London; New York, NY: Quartet, 1989, p. 172.

14The publication in 1989 of Egypt’s Belle Époque: Cairo 1869-1952, a compilation of stories gathered over a few years by Trevor Mostyn, a British journalist posted to Cairo and specialized in the contemporary Middle East, furnishes a precise date for the renewal of interest in a period of recent Egyptian history that had long been forgotten. The book offers a concentrated view of the rumors that circulated in the salons of Cairo about society life during the Khedivial period—the purported love affair between the viceroy Ismail and the French empress Eugénie (sic!), the opulent balls that were imagined to have happened at the Cairo Opera House, the grandiose ceremonies for the inauguration of the Suez Canal, etc. The journalist evokes Egyptian high society’s sense of loss at the disappearance of the built environment that accompanied this era, and draws a parallel between the 1870s and the decade following the Infitah [policy of economic “opening” instated by Sadat beginning in 1973].22

  • 23 Robin Ostle, “Review of Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque (1989)”, Journal of Islamic studies, vo (...)
  • 24 Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque: Cairo and the age of the Hedonists, London: I. B. Tauris, 2006

15The book was met with a chilly reception by western academic circles, which saw in it an inappropriate manifestation of “imperial nostalgia”—as had been applied to the Indian Raj—extended to the Middle East in the wake of celebrations for the 1988 centenary of Lawrence of Arabia’s birth.23 In Egypt, however, the book became an overnight success, not so much because of the (rather inconsequential) content but because of the new horizons suggested by its title. The new turn of phrase, in French in the text, was so catchy that it was soon inducted into the everyday vocabulary of a large and powerful slice of Egyptian society: the wealthy middle class, worldly, adept at foreign languages, readers of the English- or French-language Egyptian press (Al-Ahram Hebdo and Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt Today, the late Cairo Times and Revue d’Égypte, etc.), and consumers of satellite television and internet. The book was reedited in 2006, with an entirely reworked subtitle.24

16The periodization of Mostyn’s “Belle Époque” can generate endless discussion, bookended as it is on the front end by a date related to economic history (the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869) and on the back end by an event in the country’s political history (the Free Officers’ arrival in power in 1952). Given this breadth, British occupation is effectively submerged in a much longer time span. Upending the conventions of postcolonial theory, this vision of Egyptian history chooses to highlight the economic variable (a period of prosperity) and to downplay the political variable (a period of domination) of a context in which the colonial reality thereby becomes merely another component. The chronological vagueness of this position is accentuated in the second edition of the book, whose title eschews any direct temporal references, preferring the sensationalist subtitle Cairo and the Age of the Hedonists. The imaginativeness of such journalistic prose tends to both intrigue and amuse historians (was pre-Nasserite Cairo really so Epicurean?), but it does capture a social reality, a shared construct that imagines the “Belle Époque” as an alluring time.

  • 25 Tewfiq Aclimandos, “L’Égypte de l’après-guerre, historiens, acteurs et documents : regards rétrospe (...)

171989 was also a year for reevaluating the existing literature and for welcoming new historical writings by Egyptian authors. It is the year that the writer Louis Awad (1914-1990), a politically committed editorialist, published in Cairo his memoirs, necessarily harkening back to his pre-Nasserite childhood and to the interwar period, an era that had disappeared from the Egyptian history books. This initial incursion opened the door to a flood of memorial publications, which could not avoid discussing a whole slice of contemporary history. According to political scientist Tewfiq Aclimandos,25 it is the first-hand account by Husayn Husnî, secretary to King Faruk, published in 1992, that first familiarized the Egyptian public with their “constitutional monarchy” past, theretofore omitted from collective memory.

  • 26 Yoav Di-Capua, “Embodiment of the Revolutionary Spirit: the Mustafa Kamil Mausoleum in Cairo”, Hist (...)
  • 27 Fekri Hasan, “Memorabilia: Archaeological materiality and national identity in Egypt”, in Lynn Mesk (...)

18The historical profession, on the other hand, was having hard time assimilating the radical readjustments that revolutionary historiography and the Nasserite legacy underwent with each regime change. The doctrinal history promoted by the government that came into power with the 1952 coup d’état was a taut linear narrative stretching from the French campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) to the liberation of the country. A series of episodes of resistance to “occupying forces” (Bonaparte’s army, Mamluk militias, the Khedivial dynasty, the British presence…) provided an underlying narrative of national action that was charged with revolutionary energy. This plotline was largely based on the exclusion of the memories of diverse elements of Egyptian society (Christians, minorities, naturalized citizens, militant communists, aristocratic Turk-Circassians, etc.); the “irregularities” generated by the cultural and social diversity in contemporary Egypt were thereby abolished.26 The sudden change in the official version of history that followed the coming to power of Sadat created confusion,27 which in turn stimulated an urge to revisit Egypt’s recent past. The 1998 book by historian Magda Baraka opens with these words:

  • 28 Magda Baraka, The Egyptian Upper Class Between Revolutions (1919-1952), Reading: Ithaca press, 1998 (...)

My interest in class was initially sparked by an early need to know and re-evaluate the truth about the modern history of my country, as my passage from childhood to adolescence occurred at a particular juncture which I believe was conducive to serious questioning. […] I had spent my primary education under the total dominance of one influence, that of the Nasser regime, but was starting my secondary education under a new influence—of the Sadat regime—which seemed to throw everything I had learned earlier into doubt. Yesterday’s heroes were suspected of being today’s villains, while yesterday’s villains were somehow being gradually rehabilitated as the makers of an Egyptian belle époque for which a growing nostalgia is today in evidence.28

  • 29 Khaled Fahmy, “Modernizing Cairo: A Revisionist Narrative”, in Nezar AlSayyad, Irene Bierman and Na (...)
  • 30 I owe this hypothesis to Nicolas Michel, an astute observer of contemporary Egyptian society. See a (...)

19The desire to reconsider the conventional narrative is one of the striking aspects of the literature of Egyptian history written over the past twenty years. The new historiography explicitly claims to be “revisionist”—though needless to say in a very different sense from that used in the context of Holocaust denial. Such is the case, for example, of work by Khaled Fahmy, author of “Modernizing Cairo: A revisionist account,” in which he attempts to cut a new path between the Nasserite legacy of partial, biased history and the exclusively colonial, Eurocentric view long espoused by European historians, by giving voice and agency to Egyptian protagonists, to the “average Egyptian”.29 One of the challenges for these rewritings has been to revisit, indirectly, the national narrative charted by the Nasserite era, and to discreetly call for its reevaluation.30

  • 31 See, for the example, recent dissertations by Magdi cAlwân cUthmân (Tanta University, 2002), on rel (...)
  • 32 Mohamed Scharabi, Kairo, Stadt und Architektur im Zeitalter des europäischen Kolonialismus, Tübinge (...)

20Protagonists and subjects that formerly garnered no interest (large landowners, the foreign presence, Egyptian Free-Masonry, or even the use of modern legislation in the nineteenth century by the “ordinary citizen”) made their entry into academic history and led to a widespread renewal of its objects. Archaeology was affected; indeed, it should be recalled that the study of architectural history took place within this discipline, in the absence of art history departments in the Egyptian universities. “Belle Époque” architecture, including roughly everything built in Egypt between 1850 and 1950, became the subject of dissertations in the archaeology departments of Egyptian universities despite its technically being outside the scope of the discipline: contemporary architecture was considered to be within the fold of “Islamic archaeology,” which traditionally defined this field as ending with the French campaign in Egypt (1798-1801).31 Although the German-educated art historian Mohamed Scharabi used the attribute “colonial” in his 1989 catalogue of the Cairo city center,32 “Belle Époque” has now definitively become the consecrated term. It should be remembered, however, that neither can be properly translated in Arabic, which most commonly uses the expression afrangî [alla Franca] to describe this type of building.

  • 33 Naguib Mahfouz, Karnak Café, Arles: Actes Sud, 2010 (Mondes arabes).
  • 34 Anthony Gorman, Historians, State and politics in twentieth century Egypt: contesting the nation, L (...)
  • 35 See the “About Us” tab of www.egy.com. Accessed December 2, 2013.
  • 36 1939, The Imperial Wedding, Cairo: Max Group, 1995; 1866, the Khedivial Post, Cairo: Max Group, 199 (...)

21The historian Tony Gorman has demonstrated how fiction and the popularization of history also played a role in these historical reevaluations. The great Naguib Mahfouz was one of the first to mercilessly portray the authoritarian Nasser regime in his short story Karnak Café, written in 1971, published in 1974, and only recently available in French.33 Because of their position on the margins of the academic establishment, authors of popular history have also enjoyed greater freedom to produce narratives that are less constrained by the dominant ideologies of pan-Arabism and Nasserism.34 A compelling example of these dilettante pursuits—in the noblest sense of the term—is the website maintained by the journalist Samir Raafat, first under the name The Egyptian Gazette, launched in 1993, then Egy.com from 1998.35 It offers thousands of pages, increased on a nearly daily basis as Samir Raafat collects oral histories. Other comparable enterprises also deserve a mention, such as the journal Misr al-mahrûsa, by the publicist Maged Farag (29 issues published from 2000-2003). Celebrations of eternal Egypt, multilingualism and the monarchy, in a nostalgic nod to the past, characterize a “Belle Époque” deliberately anchored in Egyptianness. The content of the periodical, largely based on photographic archives in private hands, situates it halfway between Points de vue et images du monde and a magazine of popular history. Volume VI from March 2001 brings together an article on king Fuad’s visit to Switzerland in 1929, a photo documentary on the Heliopolis Palace Hotel in the 1920s and a biography of the very liberal princess and artist Nazli Fadel (1853-1913). Maged Farag is also the editor of the Royal Albums, a series of volumes with full leather bindings devoted to different aspects of the old dynastic lifestyle: marriage of an Egyptian princess to the Shah of Iran, protocol practiced at the court of Egypt, the Khedivial postal service.36 The website “Egypt of bygone days”, maintained by Max Karkégi (1931-2011) until his death, follows a similar path, but with richer photo-documentation and a greater sense of distance from Egyptian society, maintained as it is by a Egyptian collector living in France who cultivated close ties with Egyptian aficionados. The most striking symbol of the radical change in attitudes toward this period, long the poor stepchild of Egyptian history, is the unexpected success of Imarat Yacoubian (2002) by Alaa el-Aswany, now translated in countless languages and brought to the big screen in 2006.

Figure 1: Home page of the website Egy.com.

Figure 1: Home page of the website Egy.com.

Figure 2: Subscription card for Misr al-mahrûsa.

Figure 2: Subscription card for Misr al-mahrûsa.

The moon crescent and the three stars belonged to the Egyptian flag under the former monarchy.

Source: Author’s collection.

Figure 3: Homepage of website L’Égypte d’antan.

Figure 3: Homepage of website L’Égypte d’antan.

The pages are introduced by the following statement: “I may have left Egypt, but Egypt will hold me forever. Enjoy with me the Egypt I knew, loved and always will.” The website opened on February 14th, 2005; it had registered 1 475 649 visitors by September 6th 2010.

Media engagement

  • 37 See decree no. 135-1998 by the governor of Cairo from April 5, 1998 naming the members of the commi (...)
  • 38 Al-Ahrâm from June 18, 1997, p. 13.
  • 39 This was enacted according to decree no. 500 from March 2, 1997, which modified the 1996 law no. 21 (...)
  • 40 Order of the governor of Cairo, no. 349 from May 4, 1993.
  • 41 Order of the governor of Cairo, no. 39 from March 9, 1991.
  • 42 Mercedes Volait, “La requalification d'un ensemble urbain…”, op. cit. (note 11).

22Let us back up ten years. On January 15, 1997, a seminar organized by the newspaper Al-Ahrâm Weekly took place under the illustrious patronage of the President of the Republic, at the behest of the first lady, as was expected of any such novel initiative. The event launched a “National campaign for the preservation of architectural and technical heritage of modern Egypt,” which was intended to mobilize all governmental entities with a related mandate, as well as private sponsors, in pursuit of a few large-scale goals. The journalist Fayza Hassan (1938-2009) was one of the linchpins of the project, championing the protection of “Belle Époque” architecture from the pages of the very official newspaper Al-Ahram. In 1998, caught up in the general excitement and upon recommendation of the Fulbright Commission, the governor of Cairo instated a Consulting Committee for the preservation of the architectural heritage of modern Egypt and the rescue of important nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings. The committee brought together various figures from the world of architecture and cultural heritage (the president of the association for Egyptian architects and urban planners, the former editor-in-chief of the journal Alâm al-Bina, professors from Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University) who were familiar with the topic.37 One of its principal missions was to produce a list of villas and other buildings in modern Cairo worthy of preservation, with the intent of guiding the process of requesting permits for demolition and ultimately to push for new legislation covering recent heritage objects. Another objective of the campaign was to preserve and draw attention to Heliopolis, where Suzanne Mubarak was raised and resided.38 The area within a certain perimeter around the historical center of Heliopolis was exempted by decree (Prime Ministerial Decree No. 500/1997. Amends some provisions of the Prime Ministerial Decree No. 2104/1996 concerning height of buildings in Cairo) from the general provisions regulating construction (law no. 101 from 1996, amendment to law no. 106 from 1976) in order to guarantee that it would remain unaltered. Local construction on the al-‘Urûba avenue was limited to a maximum height of 8 m (two floors) along the street by 80 m deep (set back from the road by 10 m); height was capped in the rest of the exempted zone to one and a half times the width of the street, with a maximum height of 33 m.39 These measures followed a series of injunctions that had attempted to slow the densification of Heliopolis. In 1993, an order signed by the governor of Cairo had limited the maximal height allowed to buildings comprising a basement level, a ground-floor and six upper floors.40 Two years previously, the same governor had already signed an order forbidding the replacement of villas by multi-level structures.41 The campaign culminated with the donation to the Egyptian State of the villa of the Belgian Baron Édouard Empain (arch. Alexandre Marcel, 1907-1911) during the centenary celebration of Heliopolis in 2005, in exchange for property in New Cairo.42 The news made the headline of one of the main national newspapers (Al-Akhbar al-Yawm) on March 15, 2005 under the title: “Finally, a solution devised for the Baron’s Palace.”

Figure 4: The “Villa hindoue”known as “Qasr al-Baron” [the baron’s Palace] in Egyptin 2004, before its acquisition by the Egyptian State.

Figure 4: The “Villa hindoue”—known as “Qasr al-Baron” [the baron’s Palace] in Egypt—in 2004, before its acquisition by the Egyptian State.

Source: Author’s picture.

Figure 5: The “Villa hindoue” after some cleaning, in the context of the centenary celebration of Heliopolis in 2005.

Figure 5: The “Villa hindoue” after some cleaning, in the context of the centenary celebration of Heliopolis in 2005.

Source: Author’s picture.

Coincidences and Contingencies

23Different forms of emulation and complementarity linking activism, historical fiction, academic work and historical writing by enlightened amateurs, the mobilization of the media, and public actions combined to create the “Belle Époque” as an object of cultural heritage. On a micro level, one can observe that the system was largely impacted by coincidental and conditional circumstances, while at the same time serving interests that are anything but “preservationist” in the sense intended by specialists of the built environment.

  • 43 Interview with the architect responsible for the operation, Aly Nur al-Din Nasser, London, April 21 (...)

24The destruction of the Heliopolis Tower, undertaken in 2004 after a drawn-out judicial proceeding, is one of the most outrageous examples of the vagaries that can influence the fate of the built environment. Begun in 1987 with a construction permit for 7 floors, the building eventually grew to 22 floors, an abuse made possible by a common practice consisting of obtaining a permit a posteriori upon paying a fine corresponding to the number of floors built in excess of the original permit. Meanwhile, the services of the governorate of Cairo (the newly elected governor, Youssef Sabri Abou Talen, had made clear that he would brook no breaches to building laws) had brought a first charge against the owner for noncompliance with the permit granted, and the affair followed its course. As the bulk of the building was nearing completion, construction was brought to a sudden halt upon the occasion of a visit to Cairo by the Ethiopian head of state when the presidential secret service became aware, purely coincidentally, that the upper floors of the tower offered a view down into the gardens of the presidential palace. A long legal battle followed, which finally came to a close when an injunction was issued ordering the demolition of the illegally constructed floors.43 The decision was executed immediately. In June 2006, the tower had been reduced by 12 floors and demolition continued, to the satisfaction of defenders of the Heliopolitan urban environment.

Figure 6: The 22-floor Heliopolis Tower, built in the early 1990s by arch. Aly Nur al-Din Nasser.

Figure 6: The 22-floor Heliopolis Tower, built in the early 1990s by arch. Aly Nur al-Din Nasser.

Source: Author’s picture.

Figure 7: The Heliopolis Tower in 2006, after being reduced by 12 floors and in 2012.

Figure 7: The Heliopolis Tower in 2006, after being reduced by 12 floors and in 2012.

Source: Author’s picture and Claudine Piaton's picture.

  • 44 Mercedes Volait, “Alphonse Delort de Gléon”, in François Pouillon (ed.), Dictionnaire des orientali (...)
  • 45 Interview in April 1997 with the occupants of the building, who were convinced that it housed treas (...)

25An example of obtaining heritage status for personal convenience—if we can call it such—is illustrated by the example of a small mansion situation on Sherif Street in Cairo, built around 1889 on property that had been briefly occupied by a racetrack around the time when Cairo new quarters were being constructed under khedive Ismail. The building was erected at the behest of a French resident in Cairo, Baron Delort de Gléon (1843-1899), a banker who was a collector and supporter of the arts44; it comprises a number of as-yet-unidentified elements of gothic origin. Sold to the art dealer Maurice Nahman in 1914, it functioned as an antiques store for many years. On March 12, 1995, the relatively modest construction was listed as a historical monument by decree of the prime minister, after lengthy litigation. The artistic and historic value of the building is in this instance secondary; the enlisting is entirely a result of the current occupant’s need to legitimize the property right he claimed—also claimed by a bank at the moment when the property was sequestered in the 1960s. The defendant alleged that the heritage status of the building was recognized abroad and, as proof, he brought to bear that the first owner of the property, the Baron Delort de Gléon, had been an important donor to the Louvre.45 Cultural heritage is enlisted here for private benefit; it suggests that the reevaluation of “Belle Époque” architecture in Egypt can be fueled by real-estate motivations.

Figure 8: The former villa of antiques dealer Maurice Nahman on Sherif Street in Cairo, listed on March 1995 as a historical monument.

Figure 8: The former villa of antiques dealer Maurice Nahman on Sherif Street in Cairo, listed on March 1995 as a historical monument.

Source: Author’s picture.

26The nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings listed as historical monuments from 1983 to 2002 include numerous museums and government-owned properties, especially “presidential cultural heritage,” which had been the object of particular attention. The Heliopolis Palace Hotel, transformed into the Office of the Presidency of the Republic at Mubarak’s arrival in power, is such an example, as is the old Khedivial palace of Abdine. At the end of the 1980s, Hosni Mubarak had the entire palace—the seat of power from 1872 to 1952—refurbished with the intention of opening part of it to the general public. Made accessible to visitors in the heady days of 1952, the palace’s doors were quickly closed again. The 1992 earthquake complicated work on the site and led to more extensive construction than initially planned, which was finally completed in 1998. The conservation-restoration project included transforming one wing of the palace into a museum complex, directly accessible through one of gates into the grounds, the Paris Gate (named in honor of the Empress Eugénie during her visit to Egypt in 1869). It brings together several separate collections. Besides a hall in which are exhibited gifts offered to the President by his constituents or his foreign visitors, it also includes a military section, featuring firearms once belonging to different rulers, and a section dedicated to metalwork, porcelain and crystal from the Khedivial period, crowned by a beautiful collection of Gallé vases.

Figure 9: Abdine Palace museum, 2005.

Figure 9: Abdine Palace museum, 2005.

Source: Author’s picture.

  • 46 Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities, ‘Abdine Palace Museums, Cairo, 1998.

27The general philosophy of the project was detailed in a preface by Hosni Mubarak for the museum’s brochure emphasizing that the purpose of the undertaking was “above all to maintaining the nation’s historical memory and its awareness of the events these buildings have witnessed through the ages.”46 Patriotic tone aside, this text-manifesto clearly expresses a change in the official position towards the history of contemporary Egypt—a more distanced position, careful to track the physical traces of the past and to render them public, in a gesture that undoubtedly reflects an understanding of the rules of “good governance” championed by Egypt’s American ally. The restoration in 1998 of a small saint’s mausoleum located in one of the palace courtyards suggests that the then ruler also felt the need to associate its name with a royal tradition of architectural patronage, itself harkening back to a sense of dynastic continuity at the very moment when Gamal Moubarak’s potential succession to his father as the head of state was being discussed. The construction, which antedated the palace and was dedicated to Sidi Badran, had been restored for the first time by the khedive Ismail, a second time by king Fuad, and finally by Hosni Mubarak, whose contribution was duly recorded in an inscription in the classical tradition decorating one of the mausoleum’s walls. It will be interesting to see what the new Egypt, born out of the “Revolution of 25 January” [2011], will undertake with regards to this presidential heritage site.

Figure 10: Inscription in the mausoleum of Sidi Badran at Abdine Palace acknowledging its restauration by President Hosni Mubarak (in Arabic).

Figure 10: Inscription in the mausoleum of Sidi Badran at Abdine Palace acknowledging its restauration by President Hosni Mubarak (in Arabic).

Source: Author’s picture.

28Another unusual practice, which reveals much about the variety of situations that can be found in Egypt in terms of modern heritage sites, is the Suez Canal Authority’s practice of preserving intact all traces of the prestigious company of which it is the proud successor and, as such, a sort of guardian of the cultural heritage. As a result, the large amount of real estate that it continues to manage is properly maintained. Particularly well kept is the villa that was used by Ferdinand de Lesseps, an important figure in the construction of the Suez Canal, when he visited the construction site in the 1860s.

Figure 11: Former villa of Ferdinand de Lesseps in Ismailia.

Figure 11: Former villa of Ferdinand de Lesseps in Ismailia.

Used as a small museum and a guest-house by the Suez Canal Authority, the building was listed in July 2003 as historical monument.

Source: Courtesy of Arnaud du Boistesselin.

Consolidations

29The “Belle Époque” phenomenon had continued developing in the 2000s. Its institutionalization has been consolidated, as has its economic appeal and its commodification. The infiltration of cyberspace with information on modern Egyptian cultural heritage, initially the work of a handful of individuals, now has its supporters in Egyptian public institutions, even going so far as to generate competing projects within a single institution: the Bibliotheca Alexandrina currently houses projects developed by CultNat—an entity sponsoring several programs on the “Belle Époque” that was founded with the purpose of offering digital access to Egyptian cultural heritage—as well as an initiative launched in 2008 called Digital Memory of Modern Egypt, which currently offer tens of thousands of images online.47

30The state is fully invested in the reevaluation of recent cultural heritage through legislative and institutional initiatives. A new legislative tool was created: law no. 144 from 2006 overseeing the demolition of buildings that are not a public menace, which greatly enlarged the scope of protective measures for aesthetic and environmental reasons. A new institutional context came into being with the creation, by presidential decree no. 37 from 2001, of the National Organization for Urban Harmony [NOUH], with the goal of promoting and protecting the quality of the architecture and urban environment of Egyptian cities. Placed under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, the organization has been run since 2004 by Samir Gharib, a journalist and high-level civil servant who directed the Egyptian National Library from 1999 to 2002 and the Egyptian Academy in Rome from 2002 to 2004. The law of 2004 entrusted NOUH with the task of producing a map of buildings with undeniable architectural value which, once approved by each “governorate” (a local jurisdiction comparable to a prefecture in the French system), could be used to pressure the owners. 488 buildings in the center of Cairo alone were set aside.48 The policy was extended to whole urban areas by a new law (no. 119 from 2008) requiring that new constructions built within these protected zones conform to the architectural character of that zone. NOUH’s mission is also to oversee national competitions; so far, three have been organized and judged. In 2010, May El Tabbakh architects won a competition for reclaiming the Sednaoui department store (built by French architect Georges Parcq in 1914), and its surroundings in Cairo with a plan to offer a diverse program of cultural and commercial activities for the building and its environs. A competition for ideas on how to revitalize the city center of Cairo, one of the main architectural enclaves of the “Belle Époque”, was launched in 2009, and the prize was given to the American company AECOM, specialists in “global architecture,” in association with an Egyptian team called Associated Consultants. The “concept” of the project—“Khedivial Cairo: an international destination showcasing elegance, activity, history, culture, and livable neighborhoods”—is an eloquent illustration of the move made since the 1950s.

Figure 12: Winning competition entry for the reclaiming of the Sednaoui department store in Cairo, by May El Tabbakh architects, 2010.

Figure 12: Winning competition entry for the reclaiming of the Sednaoui department store in Cairo, by May El Tabbakh architects, 2010.

The department store was designed by French architect Georges Parcq in 1914.

Source: Courtesy of May El Tabbakh architects.

31The promise of a reborn downtown Cairo has attracted investors. In 2008, an Egypto-Saudi consortium called Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments, and funded with private equity, was created to purchase buildings in the downtown area and return them to the market after refurbishment: roughly twenty properties have already been acquired while still others have been emptied of offices and inhabitants in anticipation of forthcoming renovation. The firm’s goal is to acquire one million square meters as quickly as possible and, so doing, to trigger a process of gentrification in order to offer the wealthy classes an alternative to living in high-security compounds in the larger metropolitan area of Cairo, with two to three hours of daily commute.49

Figure 13: Cinema Radio complex.

Figure 13: Cinema Radio complex.

One of the properties bought by Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments in the 2000s on a prime location in downtown Cairo. Image showing before and after renovation, by Hassan Abouseda architects (2010).

32The Project concept aims to revive Downtown Cairo as a destination for all Egyptians to live, work, shop and socialize. Both its location in the heart of the city and the grandeur of its architecture make Downtown Cairo an indisputable focal point for this development especially, with the nostalgia to a ‘Belle Époque’ and the historical, contemporary and emotional significance for the Downtown area as a meeting point for the intellectual, artistic and cultural societies in Cairo.” (From the company website, which is no longer available).

33In the meantime, the architecture of the city center has been “Belle Époque-ified”: the Cairo Automobile Club, an exclusive venue if ever there was one, treated itself to a neo-Renaissance façade in 2004, which erased all traces of the neo-Islamic décor given to the building in 1935 by the architects Hasan and Mustafa Chafei to celebrate the national identity of an awakening Egypt struggling for its full independence. Other buildings in downtown Cairo were even quicker to adopt the change. The bank of Alexandria had an indefinable Neoclassical décor in the form of stuccos added to the front of its existing buildings. For its headquarters in Cairo, the weekly Ruz as-Yusuf acquired a palace from the end of the nineteenth century and had the office building next door decorated in a manner recalling the same style. The fashion for the “Belle Époque” was felt as far out as the outskirts of Cairo, where developments with such evocative names as “Rivoli,” “Concorde” and “Downtown” attempt to mimicry downtown Cairo.

Figure 14: The new neo-Renaissance façade (2004) of the exclusive Automobile Club in Cairo.

Figure 14: The new neo-Renaissance façade (2004) of the exclusive Automobile Club in Cairo.

The former façade of the building, dated 1935, was in Islamic style.

  • 50 Paul Croughton, “Cairo’s first boutique hotel”, The Times, March 22, 2009.

34The relevance of the “Belle Époque” is also reflected in the tourist circuit, from the Eugénie salons in the Marriott Hotel, to the Salamlik royal suite in Alexandria, to the bedrooms in the Ryad hotel that have been given a Farouk theme, in honor of the last king of Egypt. Nostalgia for the Egypt of the past is captured in the appropriately named travel agency “Belle Epoque Travel”, which refurbished six dahabiyya (a ceremonial felucca used in the nineteenth century to navigate on the Nile) in order to offer old-style cruises on the river. In 2009, the agency opened what it claims to be the first “boutique hotel” in Cairo, situated in two villas from the 1920s located in the old residential garden suburb of Maadi, entirely redone and consolidated to form… the “Villa Belle Epoque.”50

  • 51 Mariangela Turchiarulo, Costruire in stile. L'architettura italiana ad Alessandria d'Egitto: l'op (...)

35But “Belle Époque” is not only for foreign consumption. It is also interesting Egyptian film makers catering for a local audience. In a documentary shot in 2011, the young director Sherif El Bendary attempts to capture the soul of downtown Cairo with evident nostalgia for its bygone days (On the road to downtown, 2012). In 2012, another young director, Sherif Fathy Salem, released The Italians of Egypt, an 80-minute documentary, co-produced by Aljazeera, with interviews of surviving members of the Italian community in Egypt. Among the stories presented in the documentary, is that of Mario Rossi (1897-1961),51 the Italian architect that built the major modern mosques in Egypt during the 1920s and 1930s. The documentary clearly champions the idea that coexistence between different cultures is fruitful, and that this coexistence crosses culture and religion.

36It would be rash to try to guess the fate that awaits the “Belle Époque” label in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring. The uncertainty of Egyptian affairs has put on hold many activities in the country, be they cultural, financial or otherwise. Significantly, the website of Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments was no longer available on February 2013. But achievements regarding “Belle Époque” up until this point aptly illustrate the importance of naming and storytelling when it comes to cultural heritage. Without the bright invention of the term and its revised historical narrative, it is doubtful that it will have been put on the map of Egyptian heritage. Simultaneously, the rediscovery of “Belle Époque” architecture in contemporary Egypt evokes the profusion of issues at stake in the processes of creation and identification of cultural heritage, including the dynamics of branding and commodification that are now an inescapable part of it.

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Notes

1 Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1983 (Past and Present publications).

2 This notion is borrowed from John E. Tunbridge and Gregory J. Ashworth, Dissonant Heritage: the Management of the Past as a Resource in Conflict, Chichester; New York, NY: J. Wiley, 1996.

3 Saphinaz-Amal Naguib, “Heritage in Movement: Rethinking Cultural Borrowings in the Mediterranean”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, vol. 14, no. 5, september 2008, p. 467-480.

4 Among the literature proliferating on the topic, see Caroline Williams, “Transforming the Old: Cairo’s New Medieval City”, Middle East Journal, vol. 56, no. 3, 2002, p. 457-475; Ahmed Sedky, Living with Heritage in Cairo: Area Conservation in the Arab–Islamic City, Cairo: AUC Press, 2009.

5 Amy Mills, Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance and National Identity in Istanbul, Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2010.

6 www.casamemoire.org. Accessed December 2, 2013.

7 Diana Wylie, “The Importance of Being At-Home: A Defense of Historic Preservation in Algeria”, Change Over Time, vol. 2, no. 2, fall 2012, p. 172-187.

8 Taline Ter Minassian (ed.), Patrimoine et architecture dans les États post-soviétiques, Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2013 (Art et société).

9 Diana Wylie, op. cit. (note 7), p. 173.

10 For the French case, see Arlette Auduc, Quand les monuments construisaient la nation : Le service des monuments historiques de 1830 à 1940, Paris: La documentation française, 2008 (Travaux et documents. Comité d'histoire du Ministère de la culture, 25).

11 See Mercedes Volait, “Colonisation, mondialisation et patrimonialisation de l’espace bâti dans le Monde Arabe”, in Ziad Akl and Michael Davie (eds.), Questions sur le patrimoine architectural et urbain au Liban, Beirut: Académie libanaise des beaux-arts; Tours: URBAMA, 1999, p. 29-50; Mercedes Volait, “Du Caire ‘médiéval’ à l’Égypte ‘Belle Époque’ : l’invention patrimoniale entre ingérences et dissonances”, in Gérard Khoury and Nadine Méouchy (eds.), États et sociétés de l’Orient arabe en quête d’avenir (1945-2005). 2. Dynamiques et enjeux, Proceedings of the international workshop on Arab Middle East (Aix-en-Provence, Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l'homme, june 2005), Paris: Geuthner, 2007, p. 169-184; Mercedes Volait, “La requalification d’un ensemble urbain créé au xxe siècle, Héliopolis (1905-2005)”, in Ziad Akl and Nabil Beyhum (eds.), Conquérir et reconquérir la ville : l'aménagement urbain comme positionnement des pouvoirs et contre-pouvoirs, Sin el Fil: Académie libanaise des beaux-arts (ALBA), 2009, p. 21-37; Mercedes Volait, “La ‘Belle Époque’ : registres, rhétoriques et ressorts d’une invention patrimoniale”, Égypte-Monde arabe, troisième série, no. 5-6, 2009, special issue edited by Omnia Aboukorah and Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, Pratiques du patrimoine en Égypte et au Soudan, p. 35-67. URL : http://ema.revues.org/2891. Accessed November 12, 2013.

12 Cynthia Mintty, Paris Along the Nile: Architecture in Cairo from the Belle Epoque, Cairo: AUC Press, 1999.

13 Samir W. Raafat, Cairo, the Glory years: Who Built What, When, Why and for Whom, Alexandria: Harpocrates, 2003.

14 Shirley Johnston, Egyptian Palaces and Villas (1808-1960), New York, NY: H.N. Abrams, 2006.

15 Robert Solé, May Telmessani and Mercedes Volait, Mémoires héliopolitaines, Cairo: Al-Ahram, 2005.

16 William Cunningham Bissell, “Engaging colonial nostalgia”, Cultural anthropology, 2005, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 215-248.

17 Jean-Pierre Babelon, André Chastel, La notion de patrimoine, [1rst published in 1981] Paris: L. Lévi, 2000 (Opinion).

18 Georges Campos, Protection des monuments et œuvres d’art en Italie, en France et en Égypte, historique des législations italienne et française, Lyon: Bosc frères: M. et L. Riou, 1935.

19 Nathalie Heinich, La fabrique du patrimoine, de la cathédrale à la petite cuillère, Paris: Éd. de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2009 (Ethnologie de la France, 31).

20 Antoine Khater, Le régime juridique des fouilles et des antiquités en Égypte, Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1960 (Recherches d'archéologie, de philologie et d'histoire, 12), p. 308-316.

21 Law no. 117-1983, concerning the issuance of Antiquities’ protection law and published in the Official Gazette on August 11th, 1983, p. 13. A new text, as amended by law no. 3 of 2010, has been published in the Official Gazette on February 14, 2010.

22 Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque: Cairo 1869-1952, London; New York, NY: Quartet, 1989, p. 172.

23 Robin Ostle, “Review of Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque (1989)”, Journal of Islamic studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 1991, p. 130-131.

24 Trevor Mostyn, Egypt’s Belle Epoque: Cairo and the age of the Hedonists, London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

25 Tewfiq Aclimandos, “L’Égypte de l’après-guerre, historiens, acteurs et documents : regards rétrospectifs sur une recherche”, in Gérard Khoury and Nadine Méouchy (eds.), États et sociétés en quête d’avenir, 1945-2005. 1. Fondements et sources, Proceedings of the international workshop on Arab Middle East (Aix-en-Provence, Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l'homme, june 2005), Paris: Geuthner, 2006, p. 131-142.

26 Yoav Di-Capua, “Embodiment of the Revolutionary Spirit: the Mustafa Kamil Mausoleum in Cairo”, History and memory, vol.13, no. 1, spring-summer 2001, p. 85-113.

27 Fekri Hasan, “Memorabilia: Archaeological materiality and national identity in Egypt”, in Lynn Meskell (ed.), Archaeology under Fire: Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, New York, NY: Routledge, 1998, p. 200 -216.

28 Magda Baraka, The Egyptian Upper Class Between Revolutions (1919-1952), Reading: Ithaca press, 1998 (St. Antony's Middle East monographs, 30), p. 1.

29 Khaled Fahmy, “Modernizing Cairo: A Revisionist Narrative”, in Nezar AlSayyad, Irene Bierman and Nasser Rabbat (eds.), Making Cairo Medieval, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005 (Transnational perspectives on space and place), p. 173-200.

30 I owe this hypothesis to Nicolas Michel, an astute observer of contemporary Egyptian society. See also Elie Podeh and Onn Winkler, Rethinking Nasserism: Revolution and Historical Memory in Modern Egypt, Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2004.

31 See, for the example, recent dissertations by Magdi cAlwân cUthmân (Tanta University, 2002), on religious constructions during the reign of Abbas Hilmî in Cairo and Lower Egypt, and Muhammad cAlî Hafîz (al-Azhar University, 2003), on European architecture in Egypt in the second half of the nineteenth century.

32 Mohamed Scharabi, Kairo, Stadt und Architektur im Zeitalter des europäischen Kolonialismus, Tübingen: E. Wasmuth, 1989.

33 Naguib Mahfouz, Karnak Café, Arles: Actes Sud, 2010 (Mondes arabes).

34 Anthony Gorman, Historians, State and politics in twentieth century Egypt: contesting the nation, London; New York, NY: Routledge, 2002 (Islamic studies); Yoav Di-Capua, Gatekeepers of the Arab Past: Historians and History Writing in Twentieth Century Egypt, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009.

35 See the “About Us” tab of www.egy.com. Accessed December 2, 2013.

36 1939, The Imperial Wedding, Cairo: Max Group, 1995; 1866, the Khedivial Post, Cairo: Max Group, 1995; 1952, the Last Protocol, Cairo: Max Group, 1996; 1898-1998, National Bank of Egypt, Cairo: Max Group, 1998.

37 See decree no. 135-1998 by the governor of Cairo from April 5, 1998 naming the members of the commission.

38 Al-Ahrâm from June 18, 1997, p. 13.

39 This was enacted according to decree no. 500 from March 2, 1997, which modified the 1996 law no. 2104 on the height limit in different neighborhoods in Cairo.

40 Order of the governor of Cairo, no. 349 from May 4, 1993.

41 Order of the governor of Cairo, no. 39 from March 9, 1991.

42 Mercedes Volait, “La requalification d'un ensemble urbain…”, op. cit. (note 11).

43 Interview with the architect responsible for the operation, Aly Nur al-Din Nasser, London, April 21, 2003.

44 Mercedes Volait, “Alphonse Delort de Gléon”, in François Pouillon (ed.), Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française, Paris: IISMM; Karthala, 2008, p. 280-281.

45 Interview in April 1997 with the occupants of the building, who were convinced that it housed treasure.

46 Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities, ‘Abdine Palace Museums, Cairo, 1998.

47 http://modernegypt.bibalex.org/collections/global/advancedsearch.aspx. Accessed August 19, 2011.

48 http://www.urbanharmony.org: lists of the protected buildings in each neighborhood, organized into three categories (complete protection of interiors and exteriors, protection of exteriors only, prohibition to alter the existing structure), are available on the Arabic version of the website.

49 http://al-ismaelia.com. Accessed October 23, 2012. The website is no longer available.

50 Paul Croughton, “Cairo’s first boutique hotel”, The Times, March 22, 2009.

51 Mariangela Turchiarulo, Costruire in stile. L'architettura italiana ad Alessandria d'Egitto: l'opera di Mario Rossi = Building in a style. Italian architecture in Alexandria, Egypt: the work of Mario Rossi, Rome: Gangemi, 2012 (Archinauti, 45).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Home page of the website Egy.com.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 45k
Titre Figure 2: Subscription card for Misr al-mahrûsa.
Légende The moon crescent and the three stars belonged to the Egyptian flag under the former monarchy.
Crédits Source: Author’s collection.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Figure 3: Homepage of website L’Égypte d’antan.
Légende The pages are introduced by the following statement: “I may have left Egypt, but Egypt will hold me forever. Enjoy with me the Egypt I knew, loved and always will.” The website opened on February 14th, 2005; it had registered 1 475 649 visitors by September 6th 2010.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 4: The “Villa hindoue”—known as “Qasr al-Baron” [the baron’s Palace] in Egypt—in 2004, before its acquisition by the Egyptian State.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Figure 5: The “Villa hindoue” after some cleaning, in the context of the centenary celebration of Heliopolis in 2005.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 6: The 22-floor Heliopolis Tower, built in the early 1990s by arch. Aly Nur al-Din Nasser.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 7: The Heliopolis Tower in 2006, after being reduced by 12 floors and in 2012.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture and Claudine Piaton's picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Figure 8: The former villa of antiques dealer Maurice Nahman on Sherif Street in Cairo, listed on March 1995 as a historical monument.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 9: Abdine Palace museum, 2005.
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 10: Inscription in the mausoleum of Sidi Badran at Abdine Palace acknowledging its restauration by President Hosni Mubarak (in Arabic).
Crédits Source: Author’s picture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 11: Former villa of Ferdinand de Lesseps in Ismailia.
Légende Used as a small museum and a guest-house by the Suez Canal Authority, the building was listed in July 2003 as historical monument.
Crédits Source: Courtesy of Arnaud du Boistesselin.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Figure 12: Winning competition entry for the reclaiming of the Sednaoui department store in Cairo, by May El Tabbakh architects, 2010.
Légende The department store was designed by French architect Georges Parcq in 1914.
Crédits Source: Courtesy of May El Tabbakh architects.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Figure 13: Cinema Radio complex.
Légende One of the properties bought by Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments in the 2000s on a prime location in downtown Cairo. Image showing before and after renovation, by Hassan Abouseda architects (2010).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 536k
Titre Figure 14: The new neo-Renaissance façade (2004) of the exclusive Automobile Club in Cairo.
Légende The former façade of the building, dated 1935, was in Islamic style.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/371/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
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Référence électronique

Mercedes Volait, « The reclaiming of “Belle Époque” Architecture in Egypt (1989-2010): On the Power of Rhetorics in Heritage-Making », ABE Journal [En ligne], 3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2013, consulté le 15 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/371 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.371

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Mercedes Volait

Senior Researcher, InVisu (CNRS/INHA), Paris, France

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