Egypt forges plan to restore Cairo's historic heart

Egypt's historic Cairo is finally getting a facelift.

The country is pushing ahead with a new project to restore the city - a sprawling, but now rapidly crumbling thousand-year-old world heritage site.

The plan aims to revitalize Cairo as a tourist attraction, while the government prepares to move to a futuristic new capital in the desert.

Here's lead coordinator on the project, Mohamed Elkhatib.

"After the January 25 revolution, many buildings were erected in historic Cairo that do not comply with the historic nature of the site in terms of style, design or approach. We are trying to restore the façade of newly erected buildings in order to neutralize them so they blend in with the character of historic Cairo. These are the two main interventions in the first stage, we want to assure people that we are working to develop Cairo not erase it."

The plans gives architects and restorers fresh opportunity to save old buildings.

Ones they feared were being lost because of bureaucracy, official corruption and legal constraints.

Elkhatib says apartments will also be built on vacant lots in the historic district.

Residents and workshops will relocate there while dilapidated structures being are reconstructed and restored.

The plan also involves converting several of the city's wikalas or caravanserais, buildings which historically housed merchants and their goods, into boutique hotels - an idea that's proven successful elsewhere in the Middle East.

"We have actually begun working on pieces of land here and around al-Hakim mosque. We received the pieces of land and negotiations with residents have ended. We have begun. We have the site under our control and I'm here today to solve some problems at the site that need me to be present. We already started."

The city is the home of many stories in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales.

Some restorers and architects worry about the complexity and cost of restoration, and the possibility it could lead to Disneyfication - a claim Elkhatib refutes.

Eventually, much of the area will be pedestrianized.

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