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Downtown Cairo’s cultural heritage faces threat

Its elegance and prestige are fading, as the one-way streets and former palaces fall into ruin

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This picture taken on March 8, 2019 shows a view of the central Talaat Harb square in the Egyptian capital Cairo's downtown district. - Cairo's unique downtown district, with its elegant centuries-old, European-designed buildings, is wrestling to preserve its cultural heritage as the government prepares to move offices to a new desert capital. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Cairo’s downtown, with its old European-designed buildings, is wrestling to preserve its cultural heritage as Egypt readies a new capital in the desert.

A stroll through the district takes pedestrians past buildings that meld Islamic and European motifs, neoclassical columns and ornate decorations.

But its elegance and prestige are fading, as the one-way streets and former palaces fall into ruin and shops selling cheap clothes and odds and ends have moved in.

“Some buildings are in a seriously dilapidated state,” said Ahmed El Bindari, an architectural historian and volunteer tour guide, in the middle of a group of tourists.

He enthusiastically recounts the history of the old buildings, some housing government ministries, and little passageways but complains of a lack of political will in heritage preservation.

Ahmed al-Bindari, an Egyptian historian and photographer of modern (19th-20th century) Cairene architecture, holds up an architecture catalogue showing the historic Cairo Opera House (dating to 1896) which burnt down in the mid-20th century (L) and the First Museum of Modern Art at the Musairi Serail (R), during an interview at his office in the capital Cairo on March 8, 2019. – Cairo’s unique downtown district, with its elegant centuries-old, European-designed buildings, is wrestling to preserve its cultural heritage as the government prepares to move offices to a new desert capital. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Bindari and others fear for the future of the district’s old vacant buildings and worry that those in urgent need of repair will fall victim to a drive for urban renewal.

In the heart of Cairo and bordering Tahrir Square, the district is commonly known as Khedivial Cairo after Khedive Ismail Pasha, an Ottoman ruler who governed Egypt in the mid-19th century.

He is credited with transforming Cairo into a modern metropolis with European influences after being inspired on a trip to Paris.

Khedive Ismail ordered the building of the first opera house in the Middle East in 1869 to celebrate the inauguration of the strategic Suez Canal. 

He also commissioned French architects to design geometric, tree-lined streets and downtown became the cultural hub of the city flourishing with cafes, cinemas and shops. 

With its big avenues, facades and bronze statues recalling the French or Italian capitals, the district has also long hosted a lively literary cafe scene, as well as government ministry buildings.

This picture taken on March 8, 2019 shows a historic building near the central Talaat Harb square in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s downtown district. – Cairo’s unique downtown district, with its elegant centuries-old, European-designed buildings, is wrestling to preserve its cultural heritage as the government prepares to move offices to a new desert capital. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Authorities have traditionally been careful to ensure the buildings retain their style, and many in the city of around 20 million residents are fond of the area.

Since the 1950s however, middle-class residents have progressively moved out of the area in favour of quieter, smarter and more modern suburbs.

The ministries and public authorities still there are due to move too, once the new administrative capital being built in the desert some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the city centre is ready.

“What will become of the many ministries such as agriculture, education and health housed in historic palaces and buildings?” Bindari asked.

He points to the gentrification of the so-called Maspero Triangle area hugging the banks of the River Nile which the government is redeveloping into a financial centre, with luxurious shopping malls and hotels. 

It has led to thousands of residents in informal housing being relocated to alternative accommodation.

“I’m afraid that under the banner of regeneration, entire urban areas… will be razed to the ground,” Bindari added.

But Riham Aram, director of the Historic Cairo Restoration Project, is more upbeat.

Since 2014, some 350 buildings have already been restored under an initiative for Khedivial Cairo, she said.

“We’ve repainted entire buildings and restored decorations using similar material to what was originally used during construction,” she said.

“We must maintain this historic district so it doesn’t turn into slums in the future,” she warned.

And she said that ways to reuse 18 government buildings in central Cairo would be examined.

The private sector has also become involved in efforts to preserve the downtown area.

In 2008, a group of businessmen from local construction firm Ismailia Consortium set up an arm of the company to restore city centre cultural heritage.

“We found that the best way to conserve downtown Cairo is that there needs to be economic returns,” said managing director Karim el-Shafei.

“A lot of the apartments are empty. They can be renovated and rented out or sold bringing in profits because they are being used productively,” he added.

The firm has bought 32 downtown buildings as well as the historic Cinema Radio located on Talaat Harb street.

But it faces several bureaucratic hurdles even for routine procedures such as opening a new cafe.

Shafei is also keen to draw tourists to the centre and to shop for locally made brands.

But it is not all about investing just to make money, when it comes to restoring important sites, some experts note.

“Along with the focus on the new capital, we hope that interest is not lost in the conservation of Cairo’s cultural heritage,” said Soheir Hawas, a Cairo University professor, who authored a volume on the area’s architecture.

Hawas, also a member of the National Urban Harmony Committee, wants to see government buildings turned into museums and cultural centres. “These are important pages in Egypt’s long and continuous architectural record and must be preserved,” she argued.

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Moroccan TV show suspended for celebrity guest’s boast of “beating his wife”

No legal action has been taken against Miloudi, despite waves of outrage on social media

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TV show banned in Morocco for promoting violence against women
Courtesy: Chada TV, Morocco.

A Moroccan television show has been suspended for allowing a celebrity guest to boast on air of “beating his wife”, the country media authority said Wednesday.

“Whoever doesn’t beat his wife is not a man,” popular singer Adil El Miloudi said in June on a Chada TV show, Kotbi Tonight, drawing laughter from a fellow guest, actor Samy Naceri, and host Imad Kotbi.

“In Morocco, this is normal, anyone can do what he wants with his wife, hit her, kill her,” he insisted after  Kotbi jokingly said: “It’s forbidden to hit one’s wife all over the world.” 

Miloudi’s remarks amounted to “justification for violence against women, an express incitement to violence, presented in a positive way as a sign of virility… or even recommended behaviour”, the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA) said in a statement.

In response to this “explicitly violent speech”, the host adopted a “playful tone” and allowed his guest to repeat his call for violence against women”, it added. The media authority said Kotbi Tonight was to be suspended for three weeks.

So far, no legal action has been taken against Miloudi, despite waves of outrage on social media in reaction to his comments. Misogynistic and sexist attitudes are commonplace in Morocco and rarely condemned by authorities.

Last year, HACA penalised a Chada FM radio show after a commentator said on air that “women who are the most exposed to uterine cancer are those who resort to prostitution or adultery”.

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Ake festival 2019: A festival of arts and books

The preservation of African culture gave birth to the Aké Arts and Book Festival

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Ake Festival 2019 partners News Central
A panel session with speakers discussing at the Ake Festival

What happens when two Afro-optimist giants and pioneers of African cultural advancement form a partnership to host the biggest cultural and artsy event on the continent?

You guessed right. An invitation to an authentic African experience. From October 24-27, the 7th edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival will take place in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. News Central will, this time, bring you all the action live from the venue.

Themed “Black Bodies: Grey Matter”, this year’s edition will feature book chats, readings, panel discussions, art exhibitions, films, music, theatre and many more creative expressions through black bodies that genuinely tell the African story.

The Ake Festival –  News Central Story

In the royal town of Ake, Ogun State, South-Western Nigeria, the birthplace of Professor Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a passion for the preservation of African culture gave birth to the Aké Arts and Book Festival.

For 6 years, the festival, founded in 2013 by renowned Nigerian writer, Lola Shoneyin has converged Africa’s brightest and most artistically creative minds to engage in pro-African discourse.

And this year, News Central hopes to infuse the “Africa. First.” narrative, an important piece in the Ake Festival puzzle for a successful celebration of Africa in all of her uniqueness.

What does Africa. First. mean for Ake Festival?

In a recent interview, Lola Shoneyin revealed her delight in partnering with News Central, a frontier media platform that puts Africa and Africans in the driver’s seat of our stories.

“I love Africa. First…and I love it because it really resonates with me.”

Lola Shoneyin

Africa. First. is a movement by Africans and for Africa! It seeks to put the conversation on African culture and power back on the front burner.  The African culture is vibrantly expressive, uniquely diverse, progressively modern and enviably embodied in Black Bodies and Grey Matter.

Our boldness and power are sourced from the blood of great inventors, mighty rulers and pioneers of civilisations that courses through our veins. African power is rooted in this transfer and it is our responsibility to protect and prolong it.

News Central is proud to pioneer this movement and shared vision to promote the African culture and power at events such as the Aké Fest, using our balanced and Afro-optimist media platform in making these stories accessible to Africans.

As our Director of Content and Programmes, Becky Muikia puts it:

“We give them a voice on a pan-African scale.”

Becky Muikia

Africa, now is your time!

Promoting, amplifying and celebrating the African experience is at the heart of the Aké Festival and News Central partnership.

For four days, come witness a full blend of Afro cultural immersion and untold stories told by hundreds of writers, poets, dancers, artists, film-makers, and other creatives. Join us on this shared journey by registering to attend here Aké Festival.

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Iddris Sandu, the 21-year-old expert behind Instagram, Snapchat and Uber

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library

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Iddris Sandu speaks onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp

During his days in high school, 16-year-old Iddris Sandu created a mobile software that caught the attention of the U.S Former President Barack Obama. This got him an invitation to the White House where the honorary Presidential scholar award was bestowed upon him. The 21-year-old talented guru who is currently based in Los Angeles has completed many phenomenal feats, one of which includes building algorithms for Uber, Instagram and Snapchat which has given them the repute they have today.

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library for a period of two years. It was there he got an internship offer from a designer who worked at Google at the company’s headquarters. He had his first encounter with programming at the age of 13, alongside the first-ever Google Blogger, Google Plus and a host of others. Sandu was still determined to affect the world around him positively and at age 15, he built an app that students at his high school used to get directions to their classrooms.

He considers himself a cultural architect and aims to create a level playing ground between Silicon Valley and the younger generation of colour. He was given birth to and raised in Harbor City, California by his Ghanaian parents. He recalls an unforgettable and mortifying experience he had at the age of 8, while on a trip to Ghana with his dad during an interview with Oxford University’s Music and Style Magazine.

Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles
Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles 2019 at Los Angeles Convention Center on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Beautycon/AFP

He revealed that on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned him in a village, took his passport and came back to the States. He further added how he was abandoned and was only able to get in contact with an NGO after almost nine months, it was with the help of this NGO that he was able to travel back home. It was on his return to the U.S that the first-ever iPhone was unveiled and this propelled his journey into the world of technology.

According to him, he was greatly inspired and thought – this device is going to change the world. The iPhone was so highly regarded because for the first-time regular consumers developed for other consumers. He explained that in earlier times, you had to have work experience for a few years at a tech company for your offer or input to tech or creation of an app to be regarded at all. Apple conquered that problem and he knew that was the future.

Sandu gained recognition far and wide inadvertently from this. It led to him being invited to a meeting with former President Obama. During this period, he wrote an algorithm that he sold to Instagram and later became a consultant to Snapchat and Uber respectively. He created for Uber, an Autonomous Collision Detection Interface software for self-driving cars. He left big companies in the tech industry with the purpose of bridging the gap between the ignorant and knowledgeable. He further went on to the need for invention and creativity among youngsters like himself.

Sandu believes that information is one of the various things that keep people divided. You must think on a more advanced level in order to become a creator rather than a consumer. He posits that people of colour, in particular, are more likely to be consumers than creators; he further went on to say it is hard to make a difference in the society when you are a consumer rather than a creator. 

Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp
Honoree Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp; Leaders Awards Brunc.h Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Culture Creators/AFP

Sandu says he has been trying to change the narrative and he has experienced some success doing this. Upon meeting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle at a local Starbucks in 2017, Sandu and Nipsey were able to transform an abandoned store into the Marathon Clothing Store. All these happened while Sandu encouraged the study of STEM subjects in schools and at higher levels. According to The New York Times, the smart store offers exclusive music and other content to customers who have downloaded an app. The store drew its overall makeup from Nipsey’s cultural influences and Sandu’s solid background of tech and design. It attracted many big cultural icons such as Russell Westbrook, Vegas Jones of Roc Nation, among others along with many journalists.

In an interview with CNBC, Sandu said the store has helped him bridge the gap between culture and technology, and would love others to do the same. During the interview, Sandu expressed that we are in the digital age and we are constantly exposed to content instantaneously. He also said that more focus and attention should be placed on the more pressing issues affecting society and capitalize on that.

CNBC gathered the information that the genius is set to partner with Kanye West and Jaden Smith on some future businesses, clothing lines and disaster relief projects in 2019. Sandu has also partnered with Kanye West after he succeeded at creating his own music album whose sonics and instrumentals were created in just 3 days. Sandu is also working on a book that will discuss innovators such as Kanye West; Robi Reed, a casting director; and Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue.

Sandu is undoubtedly on his way to becoming a leader for the next generation of influencers and entrepreneurs; considering his passion to use all his connections to empower young people in America and to make a positive impact on the community around him.

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