Row in Alexandria over building work at beachfront

In response to mounting criticism, senior planning officials insist Anwar Sadat Bridge will provide much-needed solution to city's traffic congestion

A construction site on the beachfront at Montazah in Alexandria, where plans for a bridge have angered the city's residents. Photo: Egypt's Council of Ministers
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A project to ease traffic in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria has angered locals, who say the planned bridge will ruin a popular beach.

Construction of the Anwar Sadat Bridge has led to the temporary closure one of Alexandria’s most-loved beaches, the Beau Rivage — unofficially named after a now-demolished nearby hotel built by Swiss residents of the city in the early 1900s — but the project is expected to reduce congestion in a section of the city where three main roads meet.

In the early 20th century, Alexandria was the most popular destination for affluent Egyptians but progressive development of the nearby North Coast into a summer hotspot had resulted in a decline in upper-class footfall in Egypt’s second city. This, in turn, has brought more of Egypt’s poorer population to Alexandria’s beaches.

Alexandria's Greco-Roman relics and varied colonial-era European landmarks, such as the Beau Rivage Hotel, were widely regarded as the city’s most attractive aspects.

Beau Rivage beach has featured in a number of classic Egyptian films, making it near and dear to many Alexandrians’ hearts.

In response to mounting outcry from residents of Montazah district, where the bridge is being constructed, Gen Mahmoud Nassar, who heads the state authority overseeing the construction, told local news outlets that a team of experts from Alexandria University was behind the blueprints for the project, which includes a tunnel and a pedestrian overpass. He insisted there were no faults in the project and that no part of the beach would be taken up by it when it is complete.

However, the general’s response did little to alleviate the worries of the city’s residents, many of whom continued to make posts on social media that included photographs taken of the area this year alongside photos of it from the past, highlighting a marked decrease in the portion of accessible beachfront.

Mohy Ibrahim, 57, a resident of the city, told The National: “It’s heartbreaking to see Alexandria change so much. It used to be so charming, now it’s looking more and more like Cairo every year. I think that’s what’s upsetting people so much. Alexandria is deeply beloved by its locals and they don’t want to lose it.

“But what people have to understand is that Alexandria simply isn’t the same city that was in all these old films. For one, the city’s population is significantly larger today than it was back then and the infrastructure has to change to accommodate that.”

During a brief phone-in to El Hekaya with Amr Adib, a popular Egyptian talk show, Gen Mokhtar Hussein, who heads the state authority responsible for developing the North Coast, said the project was a necessity as the area brings together three of the city’s most important roads, causing a significant build-up of traffic that can take hours to alleviate.

Traffic is particularly bad around Montazah in summer, when the area becomes more vibrant with hundreds of shops and vendors selling clothes, accessories, snorkelling masks and large colourful buoys in various shapes.

Despite being a quintessential image of summers in Alexandria, and a nostalgic experience for many Egyptians who visited the city before the development of the now-popular North Coast beaches, the increased activity around Montazah causes continuous traffic jams on the Corniche, one of Alexandria’s main routes.

“We have been looking at ways to solve this problem for years now and this is the only way,” Gen Hussein said.

“And when we are finished, the beach will return to the way it was. We ensured that the roads and bridges were much higher than the beach.”

An aspect of the new project, the blueprints for which were released late last year, that many are particularly angry about is a pedestrian bridge that descends on to the beachfront, rendering a small part of it unusable for beachgoers.

Gen Hussein said the bridge would augment the experience of beachgoers by offering them shade from the sun.

Some of the project’s critics, on the other hand, are citing articles of the country’s law, which stipulate that no large structure can be built within two hundred metres of the seafront in Alexandria.

The project, which the government says will widen the Corniche by four lanes for a total of 10 lanes, will be completed in two months, both officials confirmed.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 2:52 PM