How a concrete wall along Alexandria’s corniche sparked a privatization debate
Photos of a concrete wall built along a part of the Alexandria corniche went viral on social media amid concerns that in the near future average Alexandrians will eventually have no view of the Mediterranean.
Speculations about the wall varied as some said it is only a few meters long and is built for a particular project while others saw it as a step towards privatizing the entire coast of Alexandria.
What became certain, though, is that the issue had in a few days become extremely delicate with two university students arrested for interviewing passersby in Alexandria about the wall and a complaint filed at the House of Representatives.
Such developments increased the controversy about the Alexandria esplanade wall and raised even more questions about its purpose and what it means for the city.
Two students were arrested for gauging public opinion about the construction of the wall as part of their graduation project. They were remanded in custody pending investigations and the appeal filed by their lawyer was rejected. The two girls, who are still in custody, were arrested for violating law number 430 for the year 1995.
“The law regulates the making and release of audio or video material,” said their lawyer Mohamed Hafez. “According to the law, recording audio or video material without permission is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and/or a maximum fine of LE 500.” According to the police report, Hafez added, the girls should have obtained a permit from the Ministry of Culture. The girls are, however, facing other charges including disruption of public order and belonging to an outlawed group.
MP Haitham al-Hariri filed a complaint at the House of Representatives protesting the continuous violations of the rights of Alexandrians and which, he argued, started before the construction of the wall. “A large part of the Alexandria coast is now owned by private projects, which means average citizens no longer have access to the beach,” he said in the complaint. “In addition to particular privatized parts, Alexandrians need to pay to access the available beaches.” Hariri called upon the Committee of Local Administration at the parliament to investigate the new projects, check their permits, and examine their environmental impact.
The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights filed a lawsuit with the Alexandria Administrative Court to halt construction works along the Alexandria esplanade. According to the lawyers at the center, erecting walls and building private facilities deprive average citizens of the city of seeing the sea, hence violating their constitutional rights.
According to article 45 of the Egyptian constitution, “The state commits to protecting its seas, beaches, lakes, waterways, mineral water, and natural reserves. It is prohibited to encroach upon, pollute, or use them in a manner that contradicts their nature. Every citizen has the right to enjoy them as regulated by law.”
MP Salah Eissa refuted allegations that the new wall will extend along the entire esplanade as Alexandrians predicted and argued that this assumption is a result of rumors spread by “schemers” who want to undermine state projects in the city.
“This is just a three-meter high fence that was constructed to prevent cars from falling into the sea in that area,” he said. “Several accidents took place in that area before.” Regarding people’s inability to see the sea, Eissa argued that the wall was built only under a bridge. “Everywhere else the sea is visible for everyone.”
General Ahmed Hegazi, head of the Central Administration for Tourism and Resorts in Alexandria, said the wall, which is only 20 meters long, is part of touristic compound. “Part of this project, which involves 20 stores, was inaugurated. This part alone provides at least 800 job opportunities,” he said. “The whole project will provide around 4,000 job opportunities and will boost tourism in Alexandria.” Hegazi noted that the people of Alexandria had objected earlier to the construction of a bridge in this area, yet now realize its importance.
“They changed their mind when they saw how smooth traffic became after constructing this bridge and the benefits of the parking lot constructed under it.” According to Hegazi, the campaign against the wall was launched by “enemies of success,” as he put it, and only media outlets that want to undermine Egypt’s progress propagated the photo.
Journalist Karima Kamal argued that the height of the wall is not relevant since every building constructed at the esplanade was described in these terms. “Every time we hear that one building or another will ‘only’ take a few meters from the esplanade and now we have dozens of them,” she wrote.
“Eventually, these constructions will occupy the entire coast.” For Kamal, all coastal cities leave their esplanades clear since this is part of their identity that cannot be concealed. “You see this all over the world. Look at the esplanades in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Vancouver in Canada, and Limassol in Cyprus as well as Arab coastal cities such as Jeddah, Tangiers, and Beirut.” Kamal stressed that investment cannot be used as a pretext to build walls along the coast in Alexandria. “
This is a flagrant violation of people’s right to see the water, enjoy the breeze, and see the open horizon,” she said. “The sea is all what Alexandrians have. Many of them are already deprived of fully enjoying it as none of the beaches are free of charge now. So even looking at the sea will become a luxury for them?”
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