CAIRO — Egypt’s government is planning on turning over 150 rundown heritage buildings in central Cairo to the private sector in a bid to have them refurbished and then rented out for profit.
Egyptian Minister of Public Enterprise Hesham Tawfik announced the government’s plan April 23; it hopes to save a wide repertoire of buildings of neoclassical, art nouveaux, beaux arts, art deco and early modern styles, many built in the early 20th century and nationalized in the 1960s, Reuters reported.
Due to a major lack of funding and maintenance, as many tenants living in old rent-controlled units pay a pittance without landlords being able to raise the amount due, these buildings have suffered from various degrees of dilapidation.
Tawfik said April 24 on the TEN channel talk show that the purpose of renting these buildings out is to preserve their historic value, as most of them require restoration. He said that not all 150 buildings would be turned over to the private sector at once, but rather only four or five buildings at a time for starters to try how things would go.
According to a government report May 2, there are 351 such unexploited historical buildings across the nation that are owned by the state. These include 150 heritage buildings that date back more than 120 years.
The report said a plan is being devised for the development and renovation of the buildings in a bid to rent them out for adequate sums of money and use the proceeds for maintenance and preservation. The government has no intention of selling any of the properties, the report said.
The government’s plan would follow the model of the privately owned Al-Ismaelia for Real Estate Investment, which took over 23 historic buildings that have been under incremental renovation. The company would negotiate and settle with unit owners inside a building, buy and renovate the units and then rent them out to private sector companies.
According to Tawfik, in the case of government-owned buildings, the private sector would act as a partner handling the development and restoration but the buildings will remain the property of the state. The renting proceeds would go to the private sector.
Suheir Hawas, a professor of architecture and urban design at Cairo University and a member of the National Organization for Urban Harmony, told Al-Monitor via phone that there are five criteria to classify a building as a heritage building.
A heritage building should have a distinctive architectural style of construction, be the work of a pioneering architect, include physical reminders of historical events, represent a specific era in history or be considered as a tourist attraction.
Once a building is listed as a heritage building, it cannot be demolished or have its architectural style altered but it can be restored or revamped at the hands of specialized experts and under the supervision of the state-owned National Organization for Urban Harmony.
Hawas said Law No. 144 of 2006 on the regulation of heritage buildings does not prevent the sale, purchase, rent or change of the purpose of use of heritage buildings in line with their historical value. The government is considering to benefit from this heritage wealth in partnership with the private sector.
Hawas added that the government is working on vacating historic buildings housing government departments to be moved to the new administrative capital east of Cairo near the Cairo-Ain Sokhna Road. She noted that renting out these buildings will do no harm as long they are used safely and not turned into stores or workshops.
Hawas said that in the Khedival Cairo project, buildings have been renovated only on the exterior. But in this new partnership with the private sector, the entire buildings will be revamped.
On April 30, Taleet Khalil, a member of parliament for the Conservative Party, proposed a motion to Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouli, Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anany and Tawfik to turn over historic buildings to the private sector for renovation.
Khalil called on the government to set the necessary regulations to preserve the historical value of these buildings with guarantees that they will be restored to better conditions to last for generations to come.
For his part, the dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Ayman Ashour, told Al-Monitor via phone that restoring and properly reusing historic buildings would preserve their historical and cultural values.
He said they can be turned into museums, art galleries, music centers or libraries, which would at the same time serve the people in the surrounding areas. Ashour added that these buildings could also be turned into companies’ headquarters or hotels, which would be a good return on investment instead of closing or vacating them.
Yomn al-Hamaqi, a professor of economics at Ain Shams University in Cairo, told Al-Monitor via phone that revamping historic buildings in central Cairo and giving a facelift to the area would help boost the country’s tourism sector.
She added that this is an opportunity to attract Arab tourists, especially since the government has been interested in doing so as reflected in the Ministry of Tourism’s promotional campaign for the month of Ramadan that was launched May 1, inviting tourists to visit Egypt to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the holy month and celebrate it with Egyptians.