Egypt's Riddle: A Beltway - or Sphinx and Pyramids

Article excerpt

THE last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World is having a run-in with 20th-century civilization.

The 4,000-year-old Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx are endangered of an eight-lane highway that will bring speeding traffic only two miles from the paws of the lion-man.

The Egyptian government is scrambling to solve this problem, which erupted in November when UN cultural authorities attacked the construction of the section of the 59-mile Cairo ring road that now nearly encircles Egypt's capital.

But authorities are reluctant to make major changes to a master plan designed to relieve traffic in a city that has swelled to 15 million people. The $330-million, government-funded beltway will route traffic outside Cairo's congested center and make the country's desert communities easier to reach.

Many argue that having a highway just two miles from the Pyramids would further endanger the First Wonder, bringing modern civilization - high-rise tenements, office buildings, plus damaging vibration from 18-wheelers.

Construction of the threatening highway was stopped in November after Said Zulficar, the Egyptian-born head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), criticized the road's proximity to the Pyramids, saying it violates the international law protecting globally significant sites.

"They put the road through a world heritage site without informing us," he says. "Why didn't they say something 10 years ago?"

UNESCO has given Egypt until May 1 to solve the threat posed by the ring road and other encroachments, or it will remove the site from its World Heritage List.

Tens of thousands of public housing units are under construction, military camps dot the landscape, and garbage dumps not only spoil the area's views but also the aroma.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak formed a committee the end of December to solve the problem. Officials from the reconstruction, antiquities, and tourism ministries are meeting to discuss diverting the road farther south from the Pyramids. "We know we have the most historical area in the world ... …

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