The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

On to Nubar Street

I went down to the warzone near the Interior Ministry this morning around 9am. There were a lot fewer people, but still a few hundreds out (no doubt their numbers will increase throughout the day.) The fighting stopped last night on Mansour Street, but seems to be moving to a second front on Nubar Street one block over. Once again I got close to the ministry as conscripts were eating their breakfast and cleaning crews were coming in and there are more truck-fulls of Central Security Forces and Army APCs. Everyone was just loitering around, the on the frontline barricades a few CSF were standing guard.

To get around the barricades you have to go around on the sidestreets of the Abdin neighborhood, and you see pretty much the same thing on the hand. Protestors having breakfast (it's amazing that even in the thick of the fighting the ambulant salesman are still there, selling sticky sesame-studded date bread and other goods), cleaning crews (one rather amusingly wearing a Halliburton uniform) and of course TV camera crews. The crowds, as they were, seemed to have moved to Nubar Street but were not engaged in any clashes when I was there, keeping a distance from the CSF barricade. Noubar Street is narrower than Mansour Street and appears to have seen some looting, notably at a small computer mall complex whose windows have been broken. People seemed to think that was the new center of fighting, and despite the calm, said there were sporadic clashes.

I thought that since the world is leaning about Downtown Cairo's street names, some history might be in order. The neighborhhood were the clashes have taken place is an administrative one and contains several ministries other than the interior ministry, as well as parliament, and the nearby (lower on Mansour Street, across from the ministry) beautifully renovated new office of the Freedom and Justice Party's MPs.

Mohammed Mansour Pasha was a two-time prime minister of Egypt, first as a member of the Liberal Constitutional Party and then for the Wafd. 

Mansour Pasha could refer either to an Ottoman Sultan of Egypt (1642-44) or, more likely, a short-lived Minister of the Interior (1879) according to the ministry's own website. This is more likely because the neighborhood dates from that period and most streets bare the names of contemporary officials.

Nubar PashaNubar Pasha was Egypt's first prime minister (and served two more times) and an Armenian from Izmir, in modern Turkey. He was quite a fascinating character, and is associated with Khedive Ismail's accumulation of debts from the construction of the Suez Canal and lavish spending (such as building palaces to entertain Napoleon III's wife, Eugenie) that eventually brought Egypt under direct British control. Nubar Pasha collaborated with France and Britain, Egypt's biggest lenders, to reduce the power of the Khedive and begin the transformation of the country into a constitutional monarchy.