Cairo: It was the 1950s, and country after country in Africa and Asia was emerging from decades, sometimes centuries, of colonial rule. Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Egypt was at the forefront of supporting nationalist and anti-colonialist causes. And one of the closest to his heart was the Algerian War of Independence against the French occupiers.
Nasser’s support for the cause of Algerian independence was total. He directed his security services to deliver arms to the FLN (Front de libération nationale or the National Liberation Front), which became the government of Algeria after the country gained its independence in 1962. Shipments of Egyptian arms were smuggled to the FLN through the border with Libya, and many FLN soldiers received training in Egypt.
Punish the Americans
It was at this time that – according to documents published by Maj Gen Adel Shaheen – the US government, through the CIA, gave Nasser between $1 to $3 million - a stupendous amount in those days - as a ‘personal gift’ in order to discourage him from supporting Algerian and other nationalists in Africa and the Arab world.
Egyptian government documents reveal Nasser – who had a reputation for being an honest leader – was insulted by this blatant attempt to bribe him. But, instead of returning the money, he decided to punish the Americans by transferring the funds to the government coffers and using the money to build the Cairo Tower. He said the iconic building would be “visible from the US embassy across the Nile, as a taunting symbol of Egypt’s, Africa’s and the Middle East’s resistance, revolutions, and pride”.
Tallest building in Egypt
Construction began in 1954 and was completed in 1960. At 187 metres, it is still the tallest building in Egypt (for comparison, the Burj Khalifa is 829.8 metres tall), and until 1971, it was the tallest in Africa. But, the Cairo Tower is still the tallest all-concrete edifice in the world – it contains no steel frames at all. Its design reflects a lotus; the flower had a special significance in pharaonic Egypt. Then, as now, the building is owned 100 per cent by the Egyptian government. Sitting on the mighty Nile’s Gezira island, it is the most recognisable modern monument in this ancient city.
Even today, the Cairo Tower is on the itinerary of most visitors. The deck at the top and the revolving restaurant one floor below offer spectacular, 360-degree views of the mega-city of 20 million people and the Nile river that runs through its heart. Standing on the deck, it is possible to see through Cairo’s permanent haze in the direction of Giza and spot the outline of the three big pyramids and the Sphinx.