The huge prison complex in the leafy Maadi district of southern Cairo is so close to Mohamed Rushdi’s home 50 years ago that he can see its wall from his bedroom window.
The stunning green surroundings and quiet streets do not invite comparison with the overcrowded, congested and polluted neighborhoods of some other areas of the Egyptian capital, and the wall of Tora prison is an eyesore to Mr Rushdi. For a long time he wanted the whole complex to be relocated.
“I am really happy that they have finally started moving prisoners to their new location,” said Mr. Rushdi, a 69-year-old retiree. The National. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because of the people being held there, but imagine how this land might develop in the near future.”
According to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, some prisons in the Tora complex will be closed, along with around 11 others across the country, after Cairo inaugurated a new prison in the desert of Wadi Al Natroun in the north in October. .
The ministry said it wanted to replace Tora’s damp, poorly ventilated and dark cells with prisons with sports grounds, hospitals and vocational training centers to rehabilitate prisoners.
Another goal is part of an ambitious program to monetize the assets of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt. He decided to reuse old buildings and reshape vital areas of Cairo by creating luxury apartment buildings, upscale restaurants and cultural centers, as well as preparing the ground for a regional hub for start-ups. -ups.
The changes have already started, with the colossal Mogamaa El Tahrir building in downtown Cairo. It was a symbol of bureaucracy as the seat of the offices of almost all government institutions.
Several investors are competing for the new development project.
Created in 2018 to help the government carry out its economic reforms, TSFE aims to raise $ 2.5 billion by the end of 2022.
“Making the most of underutilized public assets would be the best long-term prescription for the state’s fiscal woes. In this time of fiscal distress, all available options should be explored by the government, ”said Adel Beshai, professor of economics at the American University in Cairo.
Fund officials said it helped unlock the potential of former state monopolies and opened up markets to competition.
Speaking to Egyptian YouTube channel Economy Plus, the fund’s chief executive, Aymen Soliman, denied that he planned to auction off his assets but would revitalize the private sector to invest in major industries. such as telecommunications, education and health care.
Mr Soliman, an AUC-trained financial expert who has managed dozens of large companies in various industries, dismissed speculation that the projects aimed to provide a quick fix to the budget deficit or to manage the public debt.
Skeptics claimed the government was trying to fill holes in its annual budget deficit or use the fund’s income to pay interest on several loans from international banks to finance megaprojects, including the Dabaa nuclear power plant, power plants. solar and an entertainment district. in the new Egyptian administrative capital.
In its latest review on Egypt, the World Bank said the country’s macroeconomic environment has been resilient in the face of Covid-19.
But he highlighted lingering challenges, including the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product, which remains high at 87.5%.
A long trip
For Mr. Rushdi, a resident of the affluent Maadi suburb and former logistics manager at a silica sand factory, the benefits of developing the Tora prison area were just too good to ignore.
Proud Maadist, as many locals who have put down roots in the area are called, he said the new development plans would result in more amenities for future generations, such as schools, fitness centers, swimming pools. and chic cafes.
“We are not talking about gentrification here,” he said. “Maadi already has some of the best clubs, schools and facilities in Cairo, but we see this as a late extension with sleek, upscale skyscrapers, while the old Maadi retains its character.
“We want pet spas here,” he half-joked.
The prime location of Torah Prison alone is enough to attract investors. It is less than 2 kilometers from the east bank of the Nile, a 30-minute drive from central Cairo with traffic jams, and the area is connected to a ring road.
Maadi also has excellent infrastructure. Beyond that, the attraction for investors includes less suffocating air pollution and noise. The current exchange rate between the US dollar and the Egyptian pound also works in favor of foreign buyers.
Back at Wadi Al Naturn, the new location of the prison complex, inmates will look forward to the next family visit.
But it will be a long and more stressful trip this time around, and many families will not be able to make it.
Before, they were only a few bus or metro stops from Tora prison, said George Ishaq, a member of the National Human Rights Council.
“Now they will be around 200 km from their loved ones behind bars,” he said.
“Many families are destitute, without money or a car to live on. They cannot afford to rent expensive cars with drivers. They are already struggling financially to buy them food and cigarettes.”
Updated: January 5, 2022, 12:04 PM