Suffering in Stillness: The Tragic Realities Behind the Statues of Downtown Cairo
These tired old stones can barely hold the melancholy that these men have been through.
Say you have relatives/friends/significant others/ex-spouses coming to visit from another governorate. Say they’ve never been here either, and all they know about what they want from Cairo is to figure out where the hell CairoZoom are, and to take a scenic tour through Downtown. After attempting (and failing) to explain that CairoZoom isn’t an actual place, but rather a scary corner office here at MO4, you’ll be assaulted by demands to go around the nooks and crannies of Downtown, even though Cairo has a lot more to offer (except you, Mohandeseen).
Why Downtown of all places? Well, it doesn’t take too much of a genius to figure out that Downtown’s nooks, crannies, crevices, streets and even the concrete itself hold countless, boundless tales of a people who’ve seen naught but struggle and turmoil.
It’s also a place where some of Egypt’s most influential historical figures lived, loved, and ultimately, lost. These are folks who’ve been banished, betrayed, beloved, all to end up beneath a mound of pigeon shit and human sadness in statue form. So why not check up on their petrified marks on history, as we know them today? We promise it’ll be fun.
Talaat Harb – A Broken Banker
You’ll hardly hear anything about Talaat Harb except the fact that he basically gave Egypt’s infant economy life, did a shit-tonne of economic reforms, and there was that whole Banque Masr business. You don’t, however, know about how his legendary bank went down the financial toilet, or how he had to step down from any worthwhile position, and eventually leave Cairo altogether for some clarity. World War II happened, and with funds rapidly being sucked out by a booming (literally) war effort, folks were worried about their funds, so they started pulling it all out of old Talaat’s bank. The Finance Minister at the time had to intervene, coaxing Talaat to relinquish his (dying) bank to the government and step down. He did so much, but got next to nothing in return, and after the revolution of 1952, the Free Officers decided to pay tribute to good old Talaat; they turned the then-Soliman Pacha square into the Talaat Harb Square, placing the faithful banker’s monument square in the middle. We didn’t deserve you, friendo, and we hope you’re in less dire straits in the afterlife.
Mohamed Farid – A Socialist Sentry
Over at the Mohamed Naguib Metro, you’ll find a statue sculpted by the renowned Mansour Farag of the fiercely-mustachioed Mohamed Farid - not too strange a coincidence to be honest, but there it is. Farid was an activist and a freedom fighter; the kind that routinely got accused of being a treacherous spy and a government hound, damn near 100 years ago. This guy saw hell at its hottest; he’s originally Turkish, but he spent all his earthly possessions fighting for an Egyptian cause, all to kick the bucket before a much-awaited uprising took place, only to be buried broke and battered in Europe. His family didn’t even have enough funds to repatriate his corpse (queue the waterworks), but thankfully, an Egyptian merchant who was a staunch advocate of Farid’s efforts went all the way to Europe, snagged his corpse, and flew back to Egypt for a proper burial, all on his expense. You probably never even heard
Ahmed Maher – A Massacred Prime Minister
World War II, all things painfully considered, was not a fun time for anybody involved, especially the countries that found themselves lumped in with one side or another purely due to colonisation, kind of like us. Ahmed Maher was Egypt’s Prime Minister back in 1945, a time when the war was nearing its bloody end with Hitler pulling every last miserable stop to die in a blaze of glory. Towards the end of the struggle (for no good reason), Egypt decided to chip into the allied offensive, siding with the British mostly due to circumstance. Maher was a pivotal character in that decision, and yet he let it happen anyway, perchance Egypt might find itself declaring total independence from British rule by the end of it - maybe even sit with the big boys at the UN table, with all the diplomatic goodies that it entails. Sadly, though, it was for naught; not long after Maher took the plunge, he was awarded with two bullets to the chest by a dick called Mostafa Essawi, eventually dying unfulfilled. Many accusations of treason and siding with the Brits piled up, as per usual, and his death was seen as more of a riddance than a tragedy. He was immortalised in stone in 1948 by a young Mohamed Helmy Yousef, and placed on a little island of grass underneath Galaa Bridge. Looking at the thing makes you feel like it desperately wants to run away, but cannot (stone and all), striking resemblance though.
Saad Zaghloul Pasha - There's Just No Point
Saad Zaghloul Pasha, the man who’s seen quite a few things in his lifetime, none of which were pretty. You’d think once you’re dead you’d get some goddamn peace and quiet but not for one mister Zaghloul, who’s misery continued well after he kicked the bucket. Saad Zaghloul was exiled twice in his lifetime. Not to mention that the declaration of independence – which he fought tooth and nail for – was completely destroyed by the British.
That’s not all, though; Zaghloul became prime minister on several ocassions, only to be forced to resign because of his scandalous behavior every time. Even in death, the universe wouldn’t cut him any slack. The prime minister at the time of Zaghloul’s death, Ismail Sedky, refused to give the pasha a shrine as was customary for important Egyptian figures. His wife, Safeya Hanem, didn’t let this one slide and ended up moving his body to a shrine a few years after his death. The shrine is now on top of one of Cairo’s busiest metro stations.
The second-best piece of stone we have after him is a statue at the overlooking Al-Opera Square, an ulcer on the side of Zamalek, possibly giving the finger.
Omar Makram - No New Friends
Remember that time Nancy fucked you over after you spent all night helping her with her philosophy final? Or that time Heba decided to steal your boyfriend and cut you off after all the nights you stayed up holding her hair back while she puked the night’s partying away? Well Omar Makram had quite a few Nancys and Hebas in his life.
Every time we pass by the Omar Makram statue in Tahrir Square, we can’t help but think of this poor man’s terrible choice of an entourage.
Omar Makram embodies all those quotes warning us of frenemies and bad b*tches plastered all over tuk tuks and microbuses. This kind soul first fought with the mamluks against the French following which the Egyptian government decided to confiscate all his possessions. He then fled from Cairo only to return and get exiled by Mohamed Ali to the Domyat governorate, after fighting against the Brits in Rasheed. Oh and did we mention, that Omar also helped in Mohammed Ali’s ascension to the throne. This trooper still didn’t lose hope in humanity though. Instead he returned to Cairo and decided to have a change in career, declaring that he’s too old to be a leader. Meanwhile Egyptians were standing up to Mohammed Ali and throwing a revolution because they weren’t happy with the taxes imposed by the ruler.
Mustafa Kamel - Still Wish to Be Born Egyptian?
Mustafa Kamel is famous for his saying, “If I were not born Egyptian, I’d wish to be born Egyptian,” and we’ve all felt pestered by this uber-nationalist BS growing up in the Egyptian education machine. Kamel is known for doing his best. He started the first Egyptian political party, whose HQ was razed to the ground later. He died Egyptian, but pretty young, which kind of explains why he would want that. He wasn’t exactly seasoned in the morbidity of Egyptianness, or was he? Kamel’s statue was erected at the request of his student, Mohamed Farid, by the French sculptor, Leopold Savant, and was placed Downtown for him to enjoy his afterlife in its now world-famous smog.
Ibrahim Pasha - The Lucky One
The Pasha is known for saying “luck can make a blind man into a watchmaker,” which is exactly what did not happen for the son of Mohamed Aly Pasha, Ibrahim Pasha. He led a relaxed life, conquering his enemies, spreading Islam and winning all over the place. His lucky streak went on until Europe decided to just take over all the territory he had conquered. His second chance to rule Egypt came when his dad was lowkey going insane in his last days but instead dropped dead 7 months into his reign. Guess it’s not written in your stars dear Ibrahim Pasha. I mean, if it weren’t for that dusty statue in Opera Sq., maybe history wouldn’t even care. Actually, according to Sanaweya Amma books, you’re not even worth a full page.
This article was originally published on our sister site El Fasla.