Getting Sultan Selim out of Egypt! The politics of renaming streets

Mashari Althaydi

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I am not a person who is generally supportive of changing the names of streets and squares, unless it is done to commemorate a person who may have contributed exceptionally for the country or for humanity, be it in the realm of politics, on the battlefield or in any humanitarian sphere of life. In such a case, the re-naming of a street or square seems acceptable.

New regime, new address

Thus, there should be strong and compelling reasons for the re-naming of streets, squares or buildings as they are part of public memory, even if a new regime or way of thinking comes into existence.

This might be an idealistic position that is out of sync with the current way of thinking, frankly it makes little difference to the personage who left the scene long ago in all his power and glory and perhaps some who may still oppose him find the re-naming offensive.

It is obvious that there is a Cold War brewing between Egypt and Turkey. The current dispensation in Cairo strongly rejects the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, and whoever supports them. As for Turkey, it is currently led by a person with characteristically ‘hot’ Ottoman temper, President Erdogan.

It is not only Egypt that disapproves of rising Turkish intervention in Arab issues, but also several other Arab and non-Arab countries. It is in light of these circumstances that Egyptian authorities decided to change the name of one of the streets in Al-Zaytoun district of Cairo — which was named after Ottoman King Selim I, who took control over Egypt in 1517, after defeating the Mamluk rulers of Egypt after their last king Toman Bai was killed.

Turkey’s tiff

This is not the first time names of streets, squares and buildings have been changed in Egypt. The practice started when the Free Officers took over the reins in 1952 and ended the monarchy. They renamed King Fouad Street to July 26 and even before that the Ismailia Square —named after Khedive Ismail — was renamed Al- Tahrir Square, and so on.

Iran changed the name of the street housing Egyptian embassy in Tehran. The street got the name Khalid Islambouli, after the terrorist who assassinated President Anwar Sadat.

Mashari Althaydi

On the other hand, the Turkish president has been irate toward people critical of the Turkish military governor of Medina during World War I, who is known for having tortured people. Erdogan believes that this Turkish leader, Fakhruddin Pasha or Fakhri Pasha, was a great man. Erdogan has even given orders to the mayor of Ankara to change the name of a street — where the UAE embassy is located — after Fakhri Pasha.

Among the most famous and provocative change of names was when Iran changed the name of the street housing Egyptian embassy in Tehran. The street got the name Khalid Islambouli, after the terrorist who assassinated President Anwar Sadat.

In conclusion, if a name is etched in memory — whether it be good or bad memory — it will remain attached to places irrespective of the decisions of municipalities and state governments.

Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.