Almost 16 months after a popular revolt deposed long-standing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, presidential palaces have been infested with insects, bats and crows due to closure and a lack of attention.
Some of Egypt’s eight palaces were built in the 19th century, according to archaeologists, who call for turning them into tourist sites.
Most state institutions have stopped looking after the presidential palaces since Mubarak’s ouster in February last year for fear of being accused by opponents of the former leader as being loyal to him, officials said.
“These sites have around 100 rare species of trees, most of them are facing a serious decline due to negligence over the past months,” said an official, who requested anonymity.
“The accusations of treason and being a feloul (a holdover of the Mubarak regime) have prompted the institutions concerned with looking after these places to stay away from them,” the official added.
With Egypt set to get a new president later this month, a committee from the Agriculture Ministry has started fumigating these palaces, mainly in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt’s second biggest city.
“The committee is working hard to revamp the palaces and bringing them back to their status,” said Murtada Eisa, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Plant Care Institute. “This effort is aimed at preserving this heritage because it belongs to all Egyptians, not to a single person.”
He added that the latest effort has helped spare these palaces from disaster.
“Insects, rodents and termites have spread across them in recent months,” Eisa said.
These palaces were built in Egypt’s monarchy era, which was toppled by army officers in 1952.
Mubarak, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years, did not use or stay in any of the palaces. He used to hold official meetings and welcome foreign dignitaries at Al Ithadiya Palace, which stands next to his residence in Heliopolis in eastern Cairo.
Meanwhile, Al Qoba a palace located in Cairo was usually used as a residence for heads of state visiting Egypt.
The late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi used to pitch a large tent inside this palace of more than 100 years old during his trips to Cairo.
In winter, Mubarak often stayed in a residence in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm Al Sheikh. In summer, he went to Bourj Al Arab near Alexandria. He rarely went to other palaces or residences located in major cities of Egypt.
Source of income
“These palaces should be restored because they represent part of Egypt’s history,” said Abdullah Kamel, an archaeology professor.
“Most of these palaces can be converted into museums and tourist attractions, thereby becoming a major source of income to the country,” he added.
In his view, the future president will need no more than three palaces — one in Cairo, another in Alexandria and a winter residence in the southern city of Aswan. “
The rest of palaces and residences should be re-used in a way that would cut state spending,” he added.