The island of Gezira dominates the waterfront from Garden City to Bulaq, nearly 4km long and connected to either bank of the Nile by three sets of bridges. The southern half is Gezira proper (literally “island”), and includes the Gezira Sporting Club, laid out by the British Army on land given by Khedive Tewfiq and occupying almost a third of the island. The northern half, Zamalek, is full of apartments, villas, offices and embassies, with a Westernized ambience and nightlife. Both seem so integral to Cairo that it’s hard to envisage their absence, yet the island itself only coalesced out of mudbanks in the river in the early 1800s, and remained unstable until the first Aswan Dam regulated the Nile’s flood in the 1900s. For more on the history and architecture of Gezira and Zamalek, check out Samir Raafat’s website at w egy.com/zamalek.
The Cairo Tower is the world’s tallest all-concrete structure, built with Soviet help between 1956 and 1961. Combining pharaonic and socialist-realist motifs, it takes the form of a cylindrical lattice of poured concrete, flared at the top to symbolize a lotus flower. The tower was funded with money passed to Nasser by CIA bagman Kermit Roosevelt as a bribe to stay on America’s side during the Cold War. Nasser spent it on the tower to be, as historian Samir Rafaat called it, “a giant middle finger [that] even the Americans would see”. Egyptian officials nicknamed it waqf Roosevelt, which can be taken to mean “Roosevelt’s endowment” or “Roosevelt’s erection”. The Americans retaliated by calling it “Nasser’s prick”, and this was apparently taken literally by an Islamist group in the 1990s, who issued a fatwa declaring the tower “against religion and sharia law. It must be destroyed,” they said, “as its shape and construction amid greenery could excite Egyptian women”. In fact the tower is a popular locale for discreet lovers’ trysts, and remains so to this day, much to the ire of the religious lobby.