CAIRO: It was built in order to shame and later on it was shamed upon. Some couples who visit are too ashamed to be seen together elsewhere. They would rather commit their “shameful acts 15 floors above ground.
With the urban legends surrounding it, the Cairo Tower seems more like a testimony of shame rather than a symbol of pride, as most monuments should be.
Shaming could very well have been Nasser’s purpose when he commissioned architect Naoum Chebib in the late 1950’s to design the Cairo Tower. If CIA agent Miles Copeland’s account in his book “Game of Nations is to be believed, the 187-meter tower was built with American bribe money exchanged between a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt and a Nasser confidant, Hassan El Tohami. Copeland, who was then the CIA station chief in Cairo, told Nasser that the American government would like to aid the Egyptian leader in his “costly political undertakings. Copeland was later mortified when Nasser announced that he was using the LE 140,000 to build a tower that would supersede the height of the largest pyramid in Giza to symbolize the CIA’s “monumental folly.
Historian Samir Rafaat wrote about this anecdote in his book Cairo, The Glory Years, saying the tower “would rise from the ground like a giant middle finger so that even the Americans would see it. [It became] known in Egyptian officialdom as waqf Roosevelt or Roosevelt s Foundation . later, Arabists in Washington interpreted waqf to mean waqef or erection, underscoring the malicious pun. Furious at the assumed Egyptian sleight, the Americans retaliated by referring to the Cairo Tower as Nasser s Prick.
Despite this tussle, Americans were not prevented from climbing the tower, not the least of visitors being Hollywood icon, Katherine Hepburn. An advertisement in a November 1966 issue of the New York Times enticed readers to visit Egypt with a caption saying, “At sunset, from the top of the Cairo Tower, you’ll have the city at your feet .t he old and the new Egypt.
But tourists come to Egypt for its old rather than new monuments, and the Cairo Tower does not draw the crowds that ancient sites like the Great Pyramids or the Citadel do. And it does not look so “new either. The peeled-off wallpaper in the tower’s revolving restaurant and the musky odor in the elevator would certainly make a foreigner think if the LE 60 entrance fee is worth it. A German friend strongly advised against visiting the tower, saying the stairs were notorious for smelling like urine.
For Germans at least, the building could also be notorious for the suicide of Adam Gotz, a German student who leapt to his death from the Cairo Tower in 1998 in order to prove his pharaonic belief that the dead get resurrected. Cult-ish beliefs in check, I visited the tower one Tuesday afternoon, coming upon a smattering of foreigners and Cairenes in the observation deck on the tower’s 15th floor. A cool wind graced the platform, from which one gets a rather impressive 360-degree-view of the sprawling city.
Nasri, from Israel, came with her husband and two sons. “I came here with my mother and father when I was a child. Now, I come back with my children, she said. She even paid the extra LE 40 per person for a meal in the tower’s cafeteria. Egyptians have the benefit of paying only LE 25 to climb the tower, already a huge increase from the original price of 10 piasters. With its romantic view and unparalleled privacy, it is the perfect tryst spot for couples. Here, they can comfortably be couple-like without disapproving or nosy onlookers.
I met a couple, Marwa and Baha, when I visited the tower. Together, we identified Cairo’s landmarks, amazed to see the Pyramids, the Gezira Club and the Mogamma all in one sweep.
“Cairo is much nicer from above then from below, Maha noted. They took pictures with me, and I with them. But when they found out I wrote for a newspaper, they adamantly told me to erase their photo, perhaps afraid that their families would uncover their secret tryst.
With rumors abounding that couples were regularly caught committing indecencies in the observation deck, an Islamic group in 1990 declared a fatwa against the Cairo Tower. They also claimed that the 187-meter tall structure seemed like a phallic symbol and might excite women. Personally, a lotus-shaped structure once likened to a trash bin is hardly erotic.
Renovations have been ongoing since last year to repair the fixtures, install piped-in music in the elevator and improve the tower’s lighting. Soon it will glow brighter in the Cairo skyline.