The Politics of Refurbishing the Downtown Business District
A new coalition of preservationists has manufactured a resurgent, generalized nostalgia for a previously unvalued period—now relabeled “Cairo's belle Époque.” This campaign selectively ignores the foreign hegemony of the period 1870–1952 and, instead, reidentifies this time as a golden age of urbane, liberal, cosmopolitan Arab creativity, grounded in the art deco, art nouveau, French Empire, Arabesque modern, and neo-Orientalist structures of Cairo's downtown villas, theaters, cafés, shops, and institutions. These rediscoverers of Cairo's belle-Époque heritage consist of a class of well-connected professional, financial, commercial, and creative elites in today's Egypt who look back to this era not as one of colonial-monarchical decline but as a proud moment of the country's urban rebirth, when liberal nationalist movements emerged and important modernist, secular, literary, social, and cultural experiments were generated. This nostalgia for belle-Époque Cairo is articulated during a time of economic and political decay, which these preservationists consider worse than the now-mythic era of the colonial monarchy.
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