During World War II, Britain’s Special Operations Executive plotted sabotage across the Mediterranean from the Rustum Buildings on Sharia Rustum (now Sharia Mohammed Fahmy). Security there was so tight that when SEO people asked taxi drivers to take them there, they would smile and say, “Oh yes, Secret Building.” Army General Headquarters (GHQ) occupied a rusticated stone pile known as “Grey Pillars” or “Number Ten” after its address on Sharia Tolombat (now Ittihad al-Muhamiyin al-Arab). SAS officers held wild parties in a flat crammed with captured ammunition at 13 Sharia Naguib Pasha, where the novelist Olivia Manning also lived. British sang-froid only cracked once, when the Afrika Korps seemed poised to seize Alexandria and advance on Cairo. On “Ash Wednesday” (July 1, 1942) GHQ and the Embassy burned their files, blanketing Garden City with smoke. Half-charred classified documents were wafted aloft to fall on the streets, where peanut vendors twisted them into cones to sell their wares in.

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