A government project to develop a park in the Egyptian city of Alexandria has led to a public outcry, with locals taking to social media to protest against the reported levelling of the area's green spaces.
In response, the Egyptian Cabinet issued a statement on Tuesday denying that rare plants and Khedival-era ornaments inside Antoniadis Park had been destroyed.
The statement asserted that the aim of the project was “restoring the park to its former splendour and its importance as a heritage site”.
The Cabinet’s denial did little to alleviate the anger of the city’s residents, who continued to circulate photos and videos of the park online, comparing its state before the development plan with what it looks like today.
Images taken from Google Earth were also widely circulated on social media, showing a marked shrinkage in the park’s green spaces.
One of the most popular meeting spots in the Mediterranean city, the park's origins can be traced to the Ptolemaic era (305-30 BC). But it has since undergone significant renovations, first under Mohamed Ali, and then during the reign of his grandson, Ismail Pasha, Egypt’s khedive from 1863 to 1879, who reportedly designed it based on Paris’s famed Versailles gardens.
The park was then given to Sir John Antoniadis — after whom it is named — an Alexandrian Greek merchant and a prominent diplomat. His son eventually gave it to the city of Alexandria.
Maj Gen Mohamed El Sherif, governor of Alexandria, called into Hadath Fi Masr, a talk show on state television, to answer what he called “rumours” being circulated by critics on social media.
“Some of the trees in the park are over 1,000 years old and we recognise how important that is,” Maj Gen El Sherif said. “Rest assured that no one would dare pick a flower in that park without the due administrative procedures.”
The governor said that the 40 hectare park fell into disrepair about two decades ago during the 2011 protests against former president Hosni Mubarak.
He said that after protesters in the city broke down the park’s fences, they were never rebuilt. The park subsequently turned into a popular haunt for drug users and criminals.
“When we started the development project, there were a large number of dead trees, the marble statues were cracked and needed restoration and all the buildings inside even Mohamed Ali’s palace had basically turned into abandoned caves,” Maj Gen El Sherif said.
When asked by the show's host whether the park would return to its former state, the governor said it would be in “an even better state than before”.
Critics on social media, however, pointed to other government development projects in Alexandria that have led to the erasure of some of the city’s most beloved areas.
The project to develop Antoniadis Park, which is being helmed by the state-owned Arab Contractors company, will be completed in under a year, Maj Gen El Sherif said.