A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekend Nostalgia: When Talaat Harb Street and Square were Suleiman Pasha

The old Suleiman Pasha Statue, pre-1954
Perhaps the Cairo Midan best known to Westerners, after Tahrir Square, is Talaat Harb, which like Tahrir is not a "square" but a circle; the street of the same name, which runs from Tahrir through Midan Talaat Harb, is also named Talaat Harb. The circle contains the famous Groppi's tea room and other landmarks, and the Cafe Riche is just off it; it's well-known as well as a secondary gathering place for protests in the past two years, often the starting point for marches to Tahrir. The street is one of the major downtown shopping venues.

When I first went to Cairo 40 years ago, no one called it Talaat Harb, though that was its name, and his statue stood in the center of the circle. Many Egyptians of the older generation still call it by its older name: Suleiman Pasha.  Readers of Alaa al-Aswany's novel The Yacoubian Building (and viewers of the movie made from the book), which is set in a building on the street, will note that the characters almost invariably call the street and Midan Suleiman Pasha.

Suleiman Pasha (Col. Sève)
The name was changed in 1954, and the statue was changed.  The old name, Suleiman Pasha, honored a European, a French officer in Muhammad ‘Ali's Army. Colonel Joseph Anthelme Sève served as a commander in the Egyptian Army and married an Egyptian; he was known as Suleiman Pasha al-Fransawi ("the Frenchman"). One of his descendants was Queen Nazli, wife of King Fuad I and mother of King Farouq. In the Nasser era he was doubly anathema: a foreigner and an ancestor of the ousted King. The statue and the name had to go.

The Midan with the Talaat Harb Statue
It was renamed in honor of Talaat Harb (Tal‘at Harb), economist and founder of the Bank of Egypt. The statue was changed as well, though the old name continued to be used by Egyptians for decades.

So what happened to the statue of Suleiman Pasha? Apparently (or so I've heard: the angles of the photos make it hard to be sure), it's the same statue now on display outside the Military Museum at the Cairo Citadel, shown below.

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