The Committee, at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), had reiterated its concern as regards the lack of progress made in implementing the recommendations of the 2002 International Symposium. These included:
a) Designating Islamic Cairo as a Special Planning District, with buffer zones, in accordance with the provisions of the Operational Guidelines;
b) Preparing a comprehensive Urban Plan for the Conservation and Development of the Old City, whereby the conservation of historic buildings would be accompanied by appropriate development regulations to encourage the rehabilitation of the urban fabric, so as to ensure its compatibility with the historic character of Islamic Cairo;
c) Organizing regular meetings among Egyptian and international experts to review and discuss current conservation issues and projects.
The State Party did not submit a progress report as requested by Decision 30 COM 7B.50, but a list of project sites, in synoptic table form, concerning restoration works and other activities carried out or foreseen. No description or documentation was attached. However, the information available shows important progress in conservation of buildings and streets in the Old city. These efforts are not visible enough, scattered throughout the city, due to the absence of a comprehensive urban conservation plan that the authorities intend to initiate in the near future.
As suggested by the Committee in its Decision 30 COM 7B.50, the State Party proposed the change of name of the property to “Historic Cairo” (Document WHC-07/31.COM/8B.2). In addition, in response to the request expressed in the framework of the Retrospective Inventory, the State Party transmitted to the World Heritage Centre, a map representing the five components of the property. Some clarifications of the precise boundaries are still expected, before they can be presented to the Committee for approval.
Further to a request from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), alarmed by a considerable development project close to the Cairo Citadel, a mission was sent from the World Heritage Centre at very short notice in April 2007, and therefore, the ICOMOS expert residing in Cairo was not available to join. This development project (Cairo Financial Centre) is located on the verge of the boundary of the property, in the ancient quarries of the city, between the Cairo Citadel and the Mohamed Ali fortress. It consists of a number of buildings (hotel, offices, mall, etc.) located on a common base occupying a site of some 61,000m2 (advised by the developer, the exact site area is impossible to ascertain from information provided thus far). The maximum building height, taken from the developer’s information pack, is some 59.5 meters, i.e. some 51 meters above the Salah Salem road running along the Citadel (the exact heights are impossible to ascertain from information provided thus far). The shape and character of this very large complex, whose architectural language is mainly that of a commercial building, do not appear to be sensitive to the particular context of the site, both in terms of landscape and environmental conditions. From information provided thus far, indeed, it seems that this project would have a significant adverse impact on the visual integrity of the Citadel and its setting, which will be impossible to reverse.
The controversy raised by this project suggested that the issue was very sensitive and this is why the mission listened to presentations by both parties – the developer and the objectors, among them architects, urban planners and archaeologists. In order to be able to offer a balanced opinion, and one that is based on facts, the mission members requested that the developer makes available for study detailed architectural plans, sections, elevations, etc. printed to a measurable scale. These have thus far not been received. Considering the nature of the surrounding landscape and structures, which are very varied and rich in sculptural terms, it is impossible to arrive at a full understanding of view lines etc on the basis of drawings alone. This is why the mission has also requested from the developer that a scale model of the proposed scheme, showing the surrounding areas, the citadel and other structures, is made and offered for inspection. The mission expressed its concern that a project located in such a sensitive and tectonically complicated location was not analysed through site-specific study models, and that the final scheme was not assessed by a fully detailed model, essential to measure the impact of the project and to make a professional assessment. At the time of drafting this document, only presentation drawings were provided which do not allow an evaluation. The SCA has, further to the recommendation of the World Heritage Centre, halted the on-going construction works and an update should be available at the time of the Committee meeting.