|Alia el-Askalany has been going to Agamy since before she was born. The young marketing and PR manager says that her mother Dr. Aisha el-Kholy started going to the small Mediterranean town in the late 1970s, and it later became el-Askalany’s childhood haven.“We were the only house with a pool, so everyone used to come over to swim,” says el-Askalany. “It was a small community, so we all knew each other, and we were all of the same caliber.”
Such was Agamy in the golden years, a small compound reserved for the country’s elite looking for a nearby getaway, as well as foreigners of Greek, Italian and other origins flocking to the area’s famous turquoise waters and golden beaches.
A few years back, however, things began to fall apart as a series of tall buildings, in violation of the area’s building regulations, started to take over the otherwise clear skylines of Agamy. The local community would fight these violations and often win until last year, following the January 25 Revolution, when their pleas, official complaints and court cases started to fall on deaf ears.
Located 20 kilometers west of Alexandria, Agamy is no larger than 2,500 square meters. Its original inhabitants are said to be Bedouins of Moroccan origin, who occupied the area over 300 years ago. In fact, Agamy was named after its founder, Moroccan Sheikh Mohamed Al Agamy.
Aside from its beaches, Agamy also has a number of monuments, namely a French fort built during Napoleon’s occupation and several watchtowers from the Ottoman era.
In the early 1940s, Agamy was famous as a hunting area for turtles, quails and doves migrating from Europe, and it later evolved into a resort town for Egyptians and foreigners alike by the 1950s.
“Agamy has been a summer spot for so many years,” says el-Askalany, “but now we all feel that it’s a different place. The architecture, the beach and even the people are different.”
“This used to be our home, all our memories are in Agamy. We don’t want someone to take it away from us,” she adds.
Breaking the Law
For el-Askalany’s mother, it’s not just about the sentiment.
“We’re not talking about the spirit of Agamy, we’re talking about rules and regulations set by the government,” says el-Kholy. “These people are breaking these codes.”
Among the codes that el-Kholy is referring to: There must be a three-meter space between each building, building heights are limited to eight meters above ground level, the structure must occupy no more than three quarters of the purchased land, and it cannot trespass on the beach area.
“Violations of [building codes] are happening all over Alexandria,” says el-Kholy. “But it is more evident in Agamy because it’s a smaller space.”
El-Kholy adds that following the January 25 Revolution, people started buying villas in Agamy, tearing them down and erecting in their stead tall apartment buildings that often go up to 11 floors.
Such was the case with a building next to el-Kholy’s villa: The new highrise went up to six floors, violating her privacy and blocking the sun from her garden, causing the plants to die.
Before, when such violations would occur, the Agamy community would immediately resort to legal action that would cause the authorities to intervene in the situation. Lately, however, illegal structures that had been torn down before are now being rebuilt while authorities turn the blind eye.
No More Enforcement
Dr. Amr Sadek, chairman of the Paradise Beach Association, has been calling out for justice from multiple authorities, inlcuding the ra’ees el-hayy (district head) the governor of Alexandria, the northern leadership (al keyada al-shamaleya) and Maglis al-Dawla (State Council). He’s even taken out an ad in the newspaper, but all his calls have been ignored.
“There has been no reaction whatsoever, but what do you expect?” he says. “The whole country is the same way.”
Egypt Today attempted to contact officials in the Alexandria governor’s office for comment but received no response.
The Paradise Beach Association was founded in 1977 to preserve the local environment and heritage of the area and since then has kept a close watch for building violations over the years.
As an example, Sadek cited the case of a homeowner who built a structure encroaching on the beach area. The PBA filed a complaint with the Alexandria governorate and got an order to have the offending section of the building torn down.
“Before the revolution, we managed to stop these violations, as the president of the neighborhood was on our side. And we tore down a few buildings,” says Sadek. “However, after the revolution what happened was that a lot of people sold their villas.”
Sadek explains that a lot of home owners in Agamy have resorted to selling their houses after the revolution to solve their financial troubles. In turn, these houses, often villas built several decades ago, are being torn down and replaced with tall apartment buildings.
“They completely destroyed the heritage,” says Kareem el-Deeb, a resident of Agamy and owner of a villa. “This area is not supposed to have tall buildings.”
Aside from the aesthetic value, the increase in apartment buildings might actually take its toll on the area’s infrastructure, straining its water and sewage systems, as well as the streets of Agamy.
El-Deeb reminisces about a time when Agamy used to be the perfect getaway.
“When I first moved here, it was actually heaven,” says el-Deeb. “Everybody has a favorite memory of Agamy the way it was. Now it turned into the slums.”
As a result, residents have started moving out of Agamy. He claims that the situation is even deterring buyers, including his own potential neighbors who backed out of purchasing the villa next to his because they felt that the area was rapidly changing for the worse.
However, a lot of Agamy’s residents are attached to the resort town that is home to their favorite childhood memories.
“I was raised in Agamy, and I still go there at least once a week,” says a current resident who preferred to stay anonymous to avoid trouble in the area. “Agamy was one of the last places in Alexandria that could be called cosmopolitan, as it had a lot of Greeks, Italians. People were simple back then. You would go to the beach, have a barbeque or go for a walk at night. Every place has a memory.”
Unfortunately what is happening in Agamy is a small scale representation of what is happening all across the country.
“It’s sad, Agamy is like little Egypt,” says the anonymous resident. “The government doesn’t want to do anything because they simply don’t care.”
But according to Sadek, the Paradise Beach Association will continue to press charges against violators, hoping that authorities will soon respond. Until then, the most they can do is deny membership to home owners whose structure violates the building regulations.
“There’s nothing in our hands, I can only pray that things get better,” says Sadek.
El-Kholy shares the same sentiment. “What can we do? We are law-abiding civilians, we’re not hoodlums,” she says. “If the authorities won’t do anything about it, should we get our own explosives?”
Unfortunately for Agamy residents, there seems to be no glimmer of hope.
“I don’t think things are going to change in Agamy, but it’s a wake up call,” says the anonymous resident. “Maybe it’s time to save other places.”