Sunday 17 February 2008 saw the inauguration of rehabilitation work on El Magrabi wekala, presided over by Hany Mahfouz Helal, Minister for Further Education and Research, and attended by Montserrat Casanovas, European Union Cultural Delegate in Egypt, and José Lorenzo, Director of the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECI). A large group of architects, university lecturers, other experts in rehabilitation and many local residents and artisans who work in the wekala attended the opening ceremony and visited the completed rehabilitation site.
The RehabiMed Project was presented, with its aims and its international implantation throughout the Mediterranean area, as the context for an operation with other actions carried out in Cyprus, Morocco and Tunisia. In Cairo, the principal aim of rehabilitation was to improve the working conditions of artisans, which is why Gamalliyaa was chosen, a neighbourhood containing many buildings of great heritage value in an advanced state of abandonment. Many artisans live and work in these rundown buildings in very precarious conditions. Both the residential and the productive spaces needed major improvements to come up to present-day standards.
The Minister and all those present were pleasantly surprised by the results, and all see it as the first step towards the recovery of the neighbouring wekalas, thereby representing an exemplary focus of social, economic and cultural development for the whole region. And it is easy to understand the reactions of the artisans, who have seen how RehabiMed’s pilot operation has changed their precarious working conditions, or the families living in the dwellings on the upper floor, who said: “We’re going to buy new furniture! With a house like this, our old furniture just won’t do. It’s changed our lives.” After the inauguration, the residents got together and arranged a basic monthly collection to pay for maintenance work on the building, in order to keep up present conditions.
With all of the building’s restored features, no one present could overlook the existence of a poem carved into the stone of the wekala’s courtyard. A 19th-century poem, commissioned by the owner after remodelling work, praised the beauty of the building and its durability. In the words of the unknown poet: “[…/…] For eternity you shall represent / the most ancient qualities and the newest innovations.” Inshallah!