ISMAILIYA is popular with Egyptian tourists and honeymooners, who come to enjoy the beaches along Lake Timsah. While many might think that the place came into being with the building of the Suez Canal in 1862, historical research dates human settlement in the region to biblical times – the area is mentioned in the Bible itself. Today the city has a schizoid character, defined by the rail line that cuts across it. South of the tracks lies the European-style garden city built for foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company, which extends to the verdant banks of the Sweetwater Canal. Following careful restoration, its leafy boulevards and placid streets, lined with colonial villas, look almost as they must have done in the 1930s, with bilingual street signs nourishing the illusion that the British Empire has just popped indoors for a quick cocktail. North of the train tracks is another world of hastily constructed flats grafted onto long-standing slums, and a quarter financed by the Gulf Emirates that provides a cordon sanitaire for the wealthy suburb of Nemrah Setta (Number Six).

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