Inside Africa

“Inside Africa” Episode  – Aired November 27, 2004 – 12:30:00   ET

The following material were extracted from the CNN’s official transcript of the episode.


“Cairo, Egypt is one of the most congested cities in the world. It’s hoped to — home to more than 60 million people living in very tight quarters. But in one neighborhood, a lush oasis is taking hold. And residents accustomed to pollution are getting a breath of fresh air, as Sylvia Smith tells us.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a huge dust bowl to the largest, green open space in any North African city. Lush and verdant, the new Al Azhar Park rose from the accumulated dust and debris of 1,000 years.

MAHER STINO, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: I don’t think anybody would have even the imagination to think how bad it was here. When we first walked into the park, the site here was full of garbage, debris, dust, concrete blocks, huge water tanks, there were concrete, all kinds of — I mean it was very discouraging to even think about this being a park here.

SMITH: To give a city the size of Cairo lungs has taken 10 years of producing, plants, shrubs and trees in acres of greenhouses, to plant out in the park, while cultivating new ideas about horticulture.

EL SAADY M. BADAWY, HORTICULTURIST: We are trying to make a training center but for the people to learn them, to teach them how to at first to make for themselves a propagation of the plants, how to maintain the plants at home.

SMITH: Removing millions of tons of rubble uncovered the remains of a wall laid over 1000 years ago by the ancestors of the Aga Khan, who founded the original Cairo. The ancient wall, in need of conservation, developed into a project to renovate the adjoining slum city, Darb al Ahmar, a neighborhood teeming with social problems. But micro credit programs and vocational training classes are turning the area around.

This elderly man says he’s very impressed with the way things are getting better. “This area used to be very run down,” he says, “now everything is being renewed.”

Business is thriving, learning new skills or refining old talents; involving the local community is all important.

DINA ISHAK BAKHOUM, CONSERVATION ENGINEER: This project has created a lot of work opportunities for local people in the area, as well as, of course, other restorers and technicians from other places.

MOHAMED EL MIKAWI, AGA KHAN SERVICES: Well, we see the park work as a catalyst, a catalyst for development of historic Cairo. We believe that the reopening of the gates, the old city gates connecting the Darb al Ahmar neighborhood with the park will create an influx of visitors from the community into the park and vice versa.

SMITH: Getting improvements to last means connecting this poor area with the tourism of Khan al Khalili, and making it attractive to big spending foreigners.

But the most compelling aspect of this massive development remains the park itself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It’s great. It’s fantastic. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’ll certainly come back again.

SMITH: The opening of the park has given many people here their first taste of nature on a large scale. Whether they will be able to maintain this impeccable green space is a question as wide open as the park itself.

For CNN’s INSIDE AFRICA, I’m Sylvia Smith in Cairo, Egypt.