First Published: 2018-02-20

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis
Many in Egypt support a nationalist trend sparked by Egypts war on terrorism and various regional challenges.
Middle East Online

By Amr Emam - CAIRO

A sign of Riza Pasha Street in Cairo. Riza Pasha (1860-1932) was a well-known Turkish politician

CAIRO - Egyptian authorities are revising street names in Cairo, addressing calls to change historical Ottoman-era street names amid growing Egyptian-Turkish antipathy.

The calls gained strength after a report by an Egyptian academic branding the Ottoman rulers colonisers led to a street named for Ottoman Sultan Selim I to no longer be called in his honour.

Deputy Cairo Governor Mohamed Ayman said he supports the moves. It is totally illogical that our streets be called after Ottoman figures when our country has people who deserve this honour much more, he said. We must change these street names.

The Street Naming Committee in Cairo is to present a plan to the Egyptian cabinet to rename streets with Ottoman or otherwise non-Egyptian sounding names. The committee is creating a database of suspect street names. The list is expected to include hundreds of streets.

Authorities assured residents they would be part of the process of choosing new street names. One of the proposals was to rename streets after Egyptian Army and police personnel killed in the war on terrorism.

The dispute over Cairos street names comes as Egypts relations with Turkey deteriorate. Relations worsened after the Egyptian Army backed a popular uprising against Islamist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013. Since then, Cairo and Ankara have faced several issues, including Egypt accusing Turkey of supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and seeking to interfere in its domestic affairs.

Ankara said it considered a 2013 Egyptian-Cypriot maritime demarcation agreement over the eastern Mediterranean invalid. Cairo reacted angrily to the perceived Turkish threat to its interests in the eastern Mediterranean. An Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said that Cairo would confront any attempts to infringe or diminish Egypts rights in the area.

Mohamed Sabri al-Dali, a professor of history at Helwan University, published a study highlighting the bloody record of Selim I in Egypt, leading Cairo Governor Atef Abdel Hamid to order Selim I Street in north-eastern Cairo renamed.

Selim I was the Ottoman ruler who conquered Egypt in the 16th century. Dali described him as Egypts first coloniser.

The Ottomans made catastrophes during their five centuries of presence in our country, Dali said. They left us a dastardly legacy that turns them into criminals, not heroes who deserve to be glorified.

While some might criticise the street renaming project as an attempt to rewrite history, many in Egypt support a nationalist trend sparked by Egypts war on terrorism and various regional challenges.

Egypts regional standing was weakened by years of unrest following the 2011 revolution against longstanding President Hosni Mubarak. A year of Islamist rule after the revolution threatened further instability and challenged Egypts perceived nationalist and pan-Arab identity.

Following the ouster of Morsi, there has been a return of traditional nationalist sentiment in Egypt and having street names honouring Ottoman-era figures appears to contradict that trend.

Ayman denied the move has to do with political differences between Cairo and Ankara and more to do with Egyptian attempts to express patriotism. Many Egyptian lawmakers have spoken publicly in support of the renaming process and linking it to regional tensions.

MP Mohamed al-Komi, who said he would lead a move in parliament to pressure administrative officials in all Egyptian provinces to change foreign street names, asserted that Egypts Ottoman history is far from bright.

They came here as occupiers and left our country in devastation and backwardness, he said. Why should we name our streets after those who colonised and destroyed our country?

Opponents warned that seeking to change street names is short-sighted, particularly if it was based on temporary political tensions.

History is history and the people behind the street naming campaign should know this, said Ahmed al-Sherbini, a professor of modern history at Cairo University. We might differ on the legacy of some of the figures after whom the streets are named but this difference should not open the door for changing facts about these figures.

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Syria rebels prepare to quit penultimate pocket of Ghouta

Egyptians prepare to vote with Sisi reelection guaranteed

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Iran slams US sanctions over hacking scheme

Iraqi widow saved recruits from slaughter by IS

Policeman dead in bombing in Alexandria

Syrians in Manbij fear Turkey, bet on US

Quick victory unlikely in Egypt assault on IS

Sisi, Egypt's undisputed leader and 'father figure'

PKK to quit northwest Iraq after Turkish threat

Iraqi asylum seeker gets life sentence for London bombing

UK says Israeli sentencing of Palestinian teenage girl "emblematic"

Sarkozy vows to clear name in Libya probe

Syria announces second evacuation deal for rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.

Three dead after suspected IS gunman takes hostages in France

170,000 flee violence in Syria's Afrin

Norway proposes bill to ban full-face veils in education

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007