Egypt’s sovereign fund to revamp historic area under citadel

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Egypt approved a plan on Wednesday to turn over an abandoned historic area under Cairo’s towering 12th-century Islamic citadel to its new sovereign wealth to develop for tourism and culture, a cabinet statement said.

The 56,000-square-metre Bab al-Azab area lies within the citadel’s walls behind the ornate Azab gate, built in 1754. It contains early-19th-century warehouses, some with traditional wind scoops for cooling ventilation, built by the Ottoman ruler of Egypt at the time, Mohamed Ali.

“The aim of the project is to revive the area so that visitors find fun and entertainment by creating a mixed-use cultural centre,” the statement quoted Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani as saying.

The area, controlled by the Antiquities Ministry, will be leased to the fund to develop and operate under a 49-year concession. Final approval depended on a more detailed plan, including finances, Anani said.

The preliminary proposal includes spaces for a museum, a spice market, a plaza for traditional foods, a crafts market, hotels, shops, a performances and events center and a hammam.

The citadel was built by Salah al-Din, also known as Saladin, a Muslim warrior who wrested control of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the late 12th century.

An ancient path through the concessionary area, from Bab al-Azab to the citadel, was the site of a famous massacre in 1811 of Mamluk officers by Mohamed Ali that allowed him to consolidate his control of Egypt.

Ayman Soliman, CEO of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt, told Reuters last week that the fund was looking to Egyptian businessman Samih Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Development Holding, to help develop the area. Between them they plan to invest 2 billion Egyptian pounds ($125 million) in the project.

“It is a very old and neglected area. It has been used for storage, Islamic art storage, military museum storage,” Soliman said. “They’ve erected ugly warehouse buildings there so it impacts lots of land. So now we’re going to clean it up.”

He said they would remove the modern construction and restore what remains of the historical buildings and walls.

The new sovereign fund says it plans to take control of some of the government’s most promising assets in industries such as power and real estate, to bring in private investors to develop them.

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