Egypt's new highways draw ire as they pass through the pyramid plateau

The highway project is backed by Egypt’s powerful military and snakes through the World Heritage Site. 

Work just resumed on two controversial  Egyptian highways in close proximity to the pyramids outside Cairo. Construction was already underway in areas that were largely out of public sight but the activity becomes more visible in March. The Northern highway crosses the desert 2.5km South of the pyramids, while the Southern highway snakes through the Step Pyramid at Saqqara (that happens to be the oldest) and the Dahshur area where the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid lie.

Outrage from critics

Not many conservationists are convinced by the government’s explanation when constructing the pyramids. Each highway will be eight lanes wide and are strongly championed by the authorities who point out its benefits in linking urban developments while bypassing the congestion synonymous with Cairo Central.

However, Egyptologists argue that the project will create irrevocable damage to the world-renowned sites. They point out a potential disruption in the stability of the pyramid plateau, not to mention paving over unexplored archeological sites. Other concerns are damage to the monuments from corrosion, littering, and the risk of opening up of previously closed areas to archeological looting.

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Mostafa al-Waziri, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, defended the road development as highlighting their importance for Egyptians themselves. To assuage the naysayers he disclosed the intention to limit electric buses to the new routes. Construction of the highway was suspended in the 1990s after an international outcry.

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Memphis region

Work on the Memphis area has dissected the plateau into three while crossing a section of ancient Memphis. The 3000-year-old influential city is arguably at risk of losing some of her undiscovered histories. As it turns out, construction has been underway for a year, despite UNESCO and other parties having strong reservations on the project’s conservation footprint. Evidence could be obtained from satellite images on Google Earth. The Southern highway in Cairo’s second ring road linking the Sixth of October (a satellite city) to East Cairo (new capital) traversing 16 km on the desert on the plateau, farmland, and corners of Memphis.

Is the project justifiable?

According to authorities, the highway project is essential to Egypt’s development. A World Bank report on congestion in the Cairo area attributed a 3.6% loss in output to congestion. This road cuts through unexplored Some Egyptologists argue that the road snakes through unexplored cemeteries dating back to the 13th dynasty - a timeline we know little about. This is barely a walking distance from the Khendjer,  Pepi II, and Mastabat el-Fara’un pyramids.

Rumors going about

Some unconfirmed reports of statue blocks inscribed with hieroglyphics being unearthed since the project started. According to the antiquities authority, this discovering has been unearthed on private property. Memphis dates back 3000 years BC when Egypt was a single unified country. It was not abandoned when Alexander the Great shifted the capital to Alexandria in 331 B.C.

Archeologists estimate the cost stretched for 6 square kilometers forming the largest ancient settlement in Egypt. The new road is close to the commercial district of ancient Memphis, the harbor walls, an ancient Nilometer site, relied upon to measure the height of annual floods. A Roman wall that bordered the Nile is also at risk.