1.         Historic Cairo (Egypt) (C 89)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (i)(v)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/89/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1979-2014)
Total amount approved: USD 398,900
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/89/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount granted: Special Account for the safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Egypt: USD 2,203,304 dollars for the project Urban Regeneration of Historic Cairo (URHC).  For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/663


Previous monitoring missions

August 2002, March 2005: ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring missions; April and December 2007: World Heritage Centre missions for the Cairo Financial Centre; October 2008: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission; 2009-2013: several World Heritage Centre missions for the URHC project; November 2014: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory mission; June 2019: Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission ; January/February 2021: UNESCO Advisory mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/89/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2021

On 30 January 2020, the State Party submitted a State of Conservation Report, a summary of which can be found at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/89/documents/. This sets out progress made in addressing the recommendations adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019).

A joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission visited the property from 9 to 13 June 2019. A copy of the mission report is also available at the above-mentioned web address.

The State Party report provided details on the following:

The main conclusions of the 2019 mission were:

The recommendations of the 2019 mission included the following requests to the State Party:

A UNESCO Advisory mission to Egypt took place from 30 January to 4 February 2021. The mission considered several issues related to the conservation of World Heritage properties, including Historic Cairo. High level meetings, onsite consultations and a workshop with site managers and focal points were held, in addition to a short online workshop prior to the mission, to provide a detailed introduction to the World Heritage Convention and its Operational Guidelines.

The main recommendations of the 2021 mission included:

On 26 April 2021, the State Party informed the World Heritage Centre about the issuance of decree number 1097 on 14 of March 2021, which orders a pause on demolition permits in the area of Historic Cairo.

A map of the property in Arabic and a justification including the names of the roads in English was also received, but a presentation in line with Paragraph 164 of the Operational Guidelines for submission to the Advisory Bodies is still expected.

With funding provided by the Government of France, a workshop on HIA was organized in June 2021, as follow up to the recommendations of the 2021 mission and the request of the State Party. Coordinated work with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies is needed in order to finalize the RSOUV, and to identify attributes that convey OUV as a basis for the Management Plan and also for a boundary definition of the property.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

The 2019 mission has highlighted that there has been progress at a strategic level over the past five years, but this did not appear to have been matched by progress on the ground in terms of stopping continuing degradation of the urban structure or applying stricter regulation to demolitions, as has been requested by the Committee.

Clarification on the implementation of Decree No. 90 and the scope of third stage of the URHC project are welcomed, as is advance information on the development of major restoration projects with international support.

Decree No. 90 relates to protected/registered structures and does not prohibit demolition of non-registered structures. For these structures, demolition has thus been allowed on the basis of undermined structural stability due to neglect and lack of maintenance. For unprotected structures, there has been no necessity for demolition permits. The recent decree of March 2021, which pauses demolition permits in the property is to be welcomed, but it remains unclear whether it extends beyond the demolition of protected/registered structures, and whether those where structural stability is proved are exempt.

The property is now reaching a critical point where degradation of the urban fabric appears to be increasing and in places accelerating with the vernacular buildings suffering more than the protected monuments. Although the exact number of demolitions over the past five years is not known, it is clear on the ground that these are cumulatively leading to drastic transformations in some areas of the city.

Moreover, it has been reported through the media that the demolition of several tombs and mausolea in the historic Northern and Southern Cairo cemeteries took place due to the construction of a new road. These cemeteries are within the property and each contained many thousands of tombs intertwined with historic buildings. No information on this project was sent beforehand to the World Heritage Centre for evaluation by the Advisory Bodies, as per Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, or since the work commenced. While these demolished tombs and mausolea may not have been protected/registered monuments, they are nevertheless important parts of the historic urban fabric, and the roads could channel yet more traffic into the property. The World Heritage Centre sent a letter in July 2020 to the State Party, requesting confirmation of this information and the provision of any relevant information, but neither of these has yet been provided. This confirms the urgency for a coordinated and holistic approach in terms of the conservation of the urban fabric, and individual buildings and monuments, in line with an overarching Master Plan, especially in relation to major development and infrastructure projects. 

The vast city of Historic Cairo reflects a succession of capital cities over nineteen centuries and while its complex historic urban landscape may be still just about existing in many parts of the property, its attributes of OUV are being cumulatively threatened by a combination of physical and environmental degradation, functional decay, demolition, and most recently, large-scale infrastructure development that is cutting through its urban patterns. Urgent measures and rapid actions are needed to halt the current trend, until the necessary plans are developed and management structures enabled to drive forward a conservation project that is based on protecting the OUV, while at the same time improving the economic and social structures of the city, thus bridging the gap between conservation and development.

Although the URHC is progressing and a Sustainable Development Plan should be elaborated in 2021, what is still lacking is an overarching Master Plan that sets out the road map, and a Conservation Plan that provides the context for renewal and development, while ensuring that overall historical urban fabric is retained. Moreover, a management structure that brings together all the key stakeholders has yet to be approved and implemented, as has the Management Plan.

It is understood that Decree No 90 will form the basis for the development of regulations for 17 proposed Historic Cairo areas. This could imply that new regulations will mainly be directed at the form and shape of new development rather than the conservation, restoration, renovation and upgrading of the historical non-designated structures. Also, from the few details provided for the proposed major projects, it appears that there is a focus on major monuments while conservation of the urban form, with streets and houses reflecting layer upon layer of history is not indicated. It is also concerning that the Sustainable Development Plan will identify areas for rehabilitation that can be offered to development companies in coordination with the Centre for Archaeology and Environment, Cairo University. The use of the many traditional markets as a basis for economic recovery, and the revitalisation of local culture, must all be part of an integrated approach to urban conservation.

The elaboration of the Master Plan and the Conservation Plan needs to proceed as a matter of urgency, based on an approved RSOUV and definition of the attributes of OUV, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Plan, and to be submitted to the World Heritage Centre for review. The demolition of all buildings should be halted until such plans are in place, Law 119 that permits demolition by owners for reasons of safety should be amended, and any further widening of roads or the construction of new ones to improve vehicular traffic within the property and in the buffer zone should be halted and be subject to an HIA, submitted with detailed plans to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies.

Given the positive reassurances that have been provided by the State Party over several years that progress has been made, details remain insufficient to demonstrate that the measures taken are achieving the desired impact. There still appears to be a strong focus on protected/registered monuments, and what appear to be lacking are mechanisms to promote and support the conservation of traditional and vernacular structures at the property and prevent their demolition. Progress remains extremely slow in improving the overall management framework.

Decision Adopted: 44 COM 7B.13

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/21/44.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 43 COM 7B.44 adopted at its 43rd session (Baku, 2019),
  3. Welcomes the clarification on the scope of Decree No. 90 and the modality of its implementation in relation to the setting of protected buildings, but notes that it does not preclude demolition of unprotected buildings but rather controls their renovation or replacement;
  4. Also welcomes the issuance of decree number 1097 on 14 of March 2021, which orders a pause in permits for demolition in the property, and the submission of a map of the boundaries of the property, but requests that the map be submitted formally in line with Paragraph 164 of the Operational Guidelines;
  5. Also notes that the proposed administrative structure that emerged from the second stage of the Urban Regeneration of Historic Cairo Project (URHC) will be overseen by a Higher Ministerial Steering Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, and is currently being submitted to the Supreme Committee for approval;
  6. Further welcomes the confirmation that the third stage of the URHC is being implemented to produce a Sustainable Development Plan that will include initiatives compatible with the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach, such as the development of local crafts and markets as an axis for development, measures to strengthen the structures of local communities, and revitalisation of local culture;
  7. Notes with concern that the 2019 Reactive Monitoring mission and the 2021 Advisory mission considered that degradation of the urban fabric has increased and in places appears to have accelerated; that the overall historic urban fabric is suffering more than individual protected monuments; and that neglect and lack of maintenance is leading to deterioration beyond affordable rehabilitation, or in places the total collapse of some structures;
  8. Further notes that this situation has been exacerbated by the continuing approval of demolition permits for protected/registered buildings that could be considered unstable, and the continuing lack of protection of unregistered structures, and that the accumulated demolition of buildings is beginning to have a highly adverse impact on the urban fabric;
  9. Expresses concern about the recently reported construction of a road, which has led to the demolition of many tombs and mausolea in the Southern and Northern cemeteries, known as the ‘City of the Dead’, and which could have a major impact on the historic urban fabric of these parts of the property and channel more traffic into the city;
  10. Requests the State Party to submit as a matter of urgency technical information on the new road construction project going through the City of the Dead, and any other major project at the property, or in its buffer zone, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;
  11. Appreciates the work undertaken by State Party over the past five years at a strategic level, but notes furthermore that this has not been matched by actions on the ground to halt the current degradation or to rehabilitate traditional structures as well as protected monuments;
  12. Considers that the property has currently reached a critical point where the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) are being damaged cumulatively by a combination of physical and environmental degradation, functional decay, demolition and major infrastructure development, to such a degree that they are under threat and could rapidly reach an irreversible situation if urgent actions are not undertaken;
  13. Also requests the State Party to finalize the Management, Master and Conservation Plans as a matter of urgency, and to:
    1. Ensure that these plans are aligned with the emerging Sustainable Development Plan,
    2. Approve and put in place a management structure that brings together all the key stakeholders and the necessary disciplines,
    3. Ensure that the plans are based on a clear definition and firm understanding of the attributes of OUV, and on clear boundaries,
    4. Establish one map for the boundaries and buffer zone of the property, and complete the Retrospective Statement of OUV (RSOUV),
    5. Submit the requested plans, map of boundaries and RSOUV to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  14. Urges the State Party to implement the 2019 and 2021 missions’ recommendations, as well as immediate and preventive measures, with particular attention to halting the demolition of all structures, both protected and unprotected within the property; amend Law 119 that permits demolition of protected structures by owners for reasons of safety against collapse, and refrain from pursuing any development project, further street widening or construction to improve vehicular traffic, until the Master, Conservation and Management Plans have been approved and are being implemented;
  15. Expresses its appreciation to the Government of France, for the support provided to the State Party towards the conservation and management of the property;
  16. Takes note that major conservation projects are being developed, and also urges the State Party to explore how these projects can contribute toward sustainable development of the urban fabric, rather than just to the repair of monuments;
  17. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 45th session.