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The New Cairo Officially Unveiled

Officials say they are improving the square in line with famous plazas in Europe, and its facelift – which includes new lighting on repainted buildings – has attracted some praise on social media for its grandiose effect. Critics say the project appears designed to tighten control of a symbolic public space and prevent future protests. Some archaeologists worry about the preservation of four sandstone sphinxes placed on a busy roundabout. Tahrir Square is charged with political symbolism. It gained global renown as the cradle of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011. A short inscription on the ancient obelisk recently installed in the centre of the square hints at official thinking. Tahrir Square came to symbolise the Egyptian people’s “freedom and steadfastness” after witnessing the anti-colonial revolution in 1919 and the events of 2011, but “became a symbol of the Egyptians and their freedom by the June 30th (2013) revolution”, it says. Some are concerned about four ram-headed, sandstone sphinxes placed round the obelisk in the centre of the square. The sphinxes were relocated from the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, a UNESCO world heritage site 500km (300 miles) south of Cairo. Though the granite obelisk should withstand the climate and the pollution, “it will be more dangerous for the sphinxes as they are made of sandstone, and the rain, mixed in with pollutants could prove damaging”, said Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo.