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04 November 2007

A Discontented Man From Alex


A DISCONTENTED Man From Alex!

By Hoda Nassef


Unlike most Alexandrians who are obsessively in love with their port city, and secretly consider all other Egyptian citizens in the other ‘alien’ Egyptian cities as second-class species, to my amazement I heard about one who was completely disenchanted with Alexandria! So, despite his Alexandrian roots and his success as a businessman, I was a bit disappointed, yet motivated to meet him and see why he no longer loved Alexandria, as I and most Cariennes did!

Eng. Abdel-Hamid Mohamed Fathy El-Fares, (Mechanical Engineer specialized in refrigeration) was born on 19 April 1947 and was educated in the Faculty of Engineering; University of Alexandria. His office is located in Abou-Kir St., (now called Tarik El-Horreya) facing the Alexandria Sporting Club, and he lives with his wife, Mrs. Mervat Fathy Ragheb in the nearby Moustafa Kamel district, but commutes with his silver top-notch Mercedes to his Showroom-cum-office.

Casually dressed, rugged features, with cordial good manners, strong voice and a hearty laugh, he is also a good Moslem, as he punctually performed his afternoon prayers with his staff, and we continued our friendly chat afterwards….

Q. How did you start your business in Alexandria and why did you choose refrigeration, such as selling many brands of air-conditioners, and so forth?

A. My specialty in Mechanical Engineering was about refrigeration, and my first job was in the Gulf Area. I returned to Egypt in 1992, and then opened my own office or showroom here, as you see. My wife (Mrs. Mervat Fathy Ragheb) also worked abroad in the Irish Embassy, and now she’s working in the British Consulate in Alex. We are both ‘career’ folks.

Q. Sir, I see that your shop/office faces the wall of the famous Sporting Club. What are the names of other clubs in Alex?

A. The best club is the Sporting Club, of which I’m a member. Then there is the Smouha Club, Marines Yacht Club, Greek Club, Shooting Club, and a few other smaller clubs.

Q. Are you happy living in Alexandria?

A. No. Nobody nowadays is happy living in Alexandria. At least not these days. It is not like it used to be before the 23rd of July Revolution days.

Q. What’s the difference now?

A. Before the mid-fifties, Alexandria was great. But ever since, havoc took place, and there is no ‘system’ or correct ‘planning’.

Q. What made the change, in your opinion?

A. Although I don’t have children, I know that how we were raised before differs totally nowadays, where the young don’t respect their elders as they used to. As for the youth now, there is no real ‘idol’ or leadership in Alex anymore.

Q. Over-populated, now?

A. Before, Alex had the population of about one or one and a half million, maximum. Now around 5 to 6 million. But, that’s not the real problem. There is not a real idol for people now to follow or emulate in their lives; no real leader (in Alex). I am not speaking politically. I mean, it starts at home. Parents don’t bring up their children properly like before.

Q. Tell us about your neighbours. Any foreign communities these days, like there used to be an abundance of? Such as Greeks, Italians and Armenians?

A. Not any more. There used to be lots before. I used to have many foreign friends, such as Greeks, Jews, Italians, etc. Many used to come from abroad for work, then fall in love with Alexandria and remain here. Others immigrated or left after their work contracts expired. We used to have many immigration offices in consulates abroad for expatriates who wanted to come to Egypt. Egypt used to be a great attraction for immigration and immigrants. Not anymore. For instance, I’m a member of the Greek Club in Alexandria, and now most of the Greeks who used to come to Egypt for work, or send their children from Greece to schools in Egypt, don’t do so anymore. So, the Greek club now has few original Greeks, but most members are Egyptians! We used to have good Greek schools here, but they have deteriorated immensely.

Q. In your opinion, what about the other foreign schools in Egypt – such as the English, French or American schools here?

A. Not all the schools or colleges affiliated are bad, of course. There are still many good French, German, and English schools here, including colleges and universities, such as the AUC, St. Marc in Alex, and others…(and he listed a few.)

Q. Main Mosques in Alex?

A. Abou El-Abbass, El-Khosseiry, Sidi Gaber, amongst others.

Q. Main Churches?

A. Many, mainly Saint Cathrine, Marcossia and Mar Girgiss.

Q. Where do the Alexandrians go on vacation, during the summer?

A. We wait till summer ends, and then we have our vacation starting in September after the (human) locusts return home! (Kidding) Then some go to Sidi Abdel-Rahman, or El-Montazah, or anywhere in the North Coast.

Q. So, that means the rumour is correct; Alexandrians don’t really like the ‘outsiders’.

A. It’s not the real issue, but the crowd now is filled with – sorry to say so – different classes than before; they are mostly uncultured people, or people with vulgar manners! So, we prefer to avoid them and wait till September. Alexandria has now become a One-Day getaway or beach resort! Starting at five in the morning, loads of private tourist buses or trucks come trickling in from the nearby villages, governorates or cities, such as from El-Beheira, Damanhour, Kafr El-Dawar and Cairo, with either school kids and students, or employees, or farmers, who rent these buses for a day. They fill up the public beaches and stay till after sunset. This is our new genre of local tourism! I’m not talking about our weekends only….this is daily, and throughout the week – summer, winter.

Q. Don’t you notice any positive things and new transformations made in Alex, after your return from the Gulf Area, such as the lovely new wide Corniche pavements, Biblotecha, etc.?

A. Alex is a city, and not a one-street road…such as the Corniche and what appears at first glance! The majority of the Egyptians are poor, so only a very limited number of people can really enjoy the Corniche, and only in limited areas as well! There used to be a Plan for West of Alexandria (El-Sahel El-Shemally) … and now only the rich or very rich can enjoy it, if they don’t already own it. Not only for Egyptians, as lots of land was and is still being sold off to foreigners.

Q. Anyhow, Alex is well known for its good sewage and drainage network and system, especially as it rains a lot in Alexandria. What I remember, is that when it rains heavily, the streets are dry half an hour later. There are no puddles or mud as in Cairo, afterwards! Is it still the same as before?

A. Unfortunately not! You are still under the impression that Alex is a one-street city! Come in winter and go into the inside streets and have a look! My street is then like a river, and no one resolves the problem. Even the drainage system is not like it used to be….

Q. Why?

A. There is no organization, in the whole of Egypt.

Q. Could you elaborate?

A. For example, France has about a population of 70 million …almost as many people as in Egypt. But, look at the vast difference! They are organized; we are not.

Q. That’s not a fair example; our topography is 90% desert, whereas France is an agricultural green land!

A. That’s still not the problem. From a bird’s-eye view (airplane) you see all of the 72 million in one lump…Cairo. Where is the planning to develop and populate the barren land? There is no planning and no coordination. Furthermore, there is no system!

Q. What’s the name of the current Governor of Alexandria?

A. Gen. Mohamed Abdel-Salam Mahgoub. (Nine days after the interview, Gen. Adel Habib was appointed by the President as Governor of Alex, to replace Mahgoub) --- By the way, not reflecting on him of course, even governors should be voted for, but they are hand-picked.

Q. What’s your solution, or motto, concerning ameliorating Alex?

A. Let me point out that it’s very easy to demolish a building, and rebuild on top. It’s even easy to bulldozer a whole country, and rebuild it, just as in after the World Wars. Europe was rebuilt from rubble. But…it is impossible to rebuild good qualities or good manners, in ruined or corrupt characters.

Q. Hypothetically, supposing you are nominated to be in charge of making the changes to your satisfaction. What would you do to bring Alex back to its former state, if not better?

A. To improve Alexandria, first of all the Governor has to be someone who was born and from Alexandria, and really loves the city. Second, he has to have good taste; artistic taste, for landscaping and beautifying it. To make sure it would be a Plan that is well organized, then, look into his background first and see if his life is well organized, and take it from there. I’m not saying that I disapprove of the present governor of course, but am speaking in a general manner. I think all governors should be elected by voting too, and chosen by its people from Alex, and by the way, this should be applied in each city; all the cities of Egypt…as in the USA and other countries. Furthermore, he has to be really patriotic, and altruistic, with his main goal in improving the Alexandria, and not just as trying to maintain his position for the job it implies. He should also come with a feasible and good strategy and planning system that lasts, and have good taste as well as a strong sense of beauty, for landscaping and beautification of the city.

For instance, we should go back to the legal policies of constructing buildings and streets. Look at the streets now! Too narrow. And, the buildings? The law still exists whereby there is a limited distance of space for each building, alongside another building, as well as in coordination with the streets, which means that if the street is a certain width, than the height and width of the building should abide by the existing laws. If the street is narrow, no tall new buildings should be constructed. Furthermore, as a proof that these laws are ignored, all our beautiful old villas were demolished in order to construct sky-scrapers (‘towers’) which are legally inconsistent with the old construction laws. All the legal implications or laws, if you like, have been broken by most of the previous authorities or governors. Also, any plan or strategy should include all the streets, and not just the main ones which are visible only to tourists, vacationers, and VIPs!

Q. In conclusion, what would you like to comment on that we may have left out?

A. Long ago, they used to call Alexandria: ‘Maria’, meaning then ‘a part of Europe’ – (or The Pearl of Egypt). Anyone in charge now should really love his country; his city. He also has to have refined taste, otherwise if he has bad taste or none at all, the city will be transformed without character at best, or turn ugly at worst. Years ago in Alexandria, special cleaners used to wash the streets at night! This relates to the whole country of Egypt. Good leadership will make us love our country more, and love where we live. Unfortunately, there is no real planning or strategy or coordination within the city. For instance, in the Alexandria area, there is no transportation for distant areas. How can the government expect to develop these barren sites, without transportation or other major networks? Travelling abroad, I noticed that the essence and basis of infrastructure and construction, is public transportation.

Q. What happened to the two-decked trams that Alex had, starting from Glym and going the length of the Corniche from its interior? What a pity if they were removed. Even as an antiquity, we should have preserved them in the Museum of Transportation!

A. They were removed and replaced by the modern trams, which are worse than the previous ones we had! Madam…sorry to say so, but Egypt has deteriorated since after the 23rd of July Revolution days. That’s my personal opinion. We, Alexandrians, HOPE that Alex of the fifties returns to its former state, or better…but, as everywhere else, I think it’s a hopeless case!

Q. So, what’s the solution, if you were personally in charge?

A. Will power, genuine love of Alexandria, and no private or ulterior motives from any Authority.

(Alexandria Corniche is now only 40% for the ‘public’. This is the same problem we have in Cairo, concerning the Nile Corniche. Most of it is now slotted out to private owners, whether for their casinos, restaurant boats, flower shops, or simply owning pieces and strips of land going to waste. Therefore, most have to pay to enjoy their heritage; the majority of the population can no longer enjoy their Nile Corniche, or barely see the Nile River, unless they have an apartment overlooking the Nile…or enter an expensive restaurant boat!)



H.N.

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