Demolition of famed Egyptian writer Taha Hussein's tomb appears imminent

Speculation that the literary giant's resting place would be removed to make way for a road project began earlier this year

The entrance to the tomb of renowned Egyptian author Taha Hussein which has been marked with a red cross and the word 'demolition' amid reports that it will be razed to make way for a road project in the historic area of Cairo. Photo: Maha Aoun
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The tomb of renowned Egyptian writer Taha Hussein appears likely to be demolished to make way for an overpass in the Old Cairo district of Egypt's capital.

Speculation that the tomb had been earmarked for demolition began in May when visitors noticed a red cross spray-painted on the entrance, similar to thousands of others in Cairo's historical City of the Dead — a medieval necropolis in Islamic Cairo — that are being removed for construction of a corridor connecting a complex network of new bridges.

Although there has been no official confirmation, sources from Cairo's governing authority told the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm on Wednesday that Hussein's tomb would be removed this month, along with several others in Old Cairo's Al Khalifa neighbourhood.

This week the word “demolition” was added above the red cross. Photos of the markings circulated on social media were met with outrage from fans of Hussein's works, which are part of school curriculums all over the Middle East.

Buried at the tomb with Hussein are some of his descendants, several of whom were influential in their own right. They include his daughter Amina Taha Hussein, one of the first Egyptian women to receive a university degree, and her husband, Mohamed Hassan Al Zayat, a diplomat who played a central role in Egypt's negotiations with Israel and the US that led to the signing of the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979.

Egyptian author and researcher Galila Al Kadi condemned the demolition plan in a post on Facebook on Wednesday in which she said the water supply to the tomb had been cut off. Family tombs in Egypt are typically made up of a several rooms and a garden that are maintained by a custodian.

“We will sacrifice the remains of our scholars and writers, those people who created Egypt’s renaissance and enlightened the region with their art and knowledge. We have returned to a primitive age where bridges and corridors are sacred,” said Al Kadi, who wrote a history of the City of the Dead, a large portion of which is a Unesco heritage site.

According to owners of tombs that have already been demolished, families are given the option to remove the remains of deceased members for reburial elsewhere, such as new cemeteries outside Cairo that were opened specially for this purpose.

Hussein’s great-granddaughter, human rights activist Maha Aoun, phoned in to several talk shows in May after the initial reports about the imminent demolition of his tomb.

She told Al Nahar, a private television network, that when she asked about the reported demolition order, the Cairo governor issued a statement calling it a rumour and saying that the tomb would remain intact.

However, when demolition machinery was brought to the site a few days later, she submitted an enquiry to a city planning authority. The authority confirmed that there was a development project under way in the area but said exactly which tombs would need to go had not yet been decided, she said.

Updated: September 01, 2022, 2:26 PM