In a league of their own at the new Arab League HQ in Cairo

A local integrator has returned for a third time to upgrade The Arab League HQ in Cairo, in a project where stunning architecture meets forward-thinking AV design. Paul Milligan reports.

It’s not often a systems integrator will get to work on the same project three times in their career, but that is the case on this installation for Quality Egypt and the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo. Located in Tahrir Square and near the downtown business district of Cairo, the headquarters has views of the Nile River and Qasr al-Nil Bridge just to the west.

First constructed in 1955 by the modernist architect Riad Mahmoud, the hall’s renovation, which started in 2015 was commissioned and funded by the UAE. For those unaware, The Arab League was formed in Cairo in 1945, initially with six members (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria). The League currently has 22 members (Syria has been suspended since 2011). The League aims to help political, economic, cultural, scientific, and social programmes designed to promote the interests of the Arab world.

There are two regional main conference halls in the whole of Egypt, the Arab League is home to one, and the other is at the World Health Organisation (Quality has supplied AV for both). Attendees and speakers at the Arab League fall into two very high-profile categories; ministers or presidents.

This is the third time Quality has been asked to update the AV, with the last time being in 2007. This time around, working with a consultant in the UAE, Quality was asked to upgrade all aspects of the magnificent main hall, as well as 7 meeting rooms (small, medium and large) that surround it. In all Quality supplied a new audio system, conference system, interpretation system, camera recording system and a TV broadcasting network this time around. Having worked on this venue and with the client before, Quality was able to get to work straight away, but what were the requirements from the client on this particular occasion? “We had to modernise the main hall, to install cutting-edge technology. The other details were around how to integrate our technology within the interior and the fitout design that the client, consultant and architects were very strict about,” says Mohamed Attia, managing director, Quality Egypt. The architect in question was Nada Debs, her design preserved historically relevant features such as the scriptures above the main stage, and the intricate wooden wall panels. The central circle of the hall, the focal point of the assembly, has been updated with a beautiful pattern inspired by Arabesque geometry.

This project was a true case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as everything in the main hall was to be replaced, apart from one very old piece of marble in the middle of the circular main hall. With such a big AV remit (the budget for the AV kit was $1.2m), it was no surprise this project spanned a three-year contracted in August 2019, it then spent six months planning the installation, before finishing the installation in mid-2020, with final handover taking place in 2021, when other parts of the renovation were completed.

The centrepiece of the main hall, if we can take aside the stunning architecture for one moment that is, from a technological point of view anyway, is the Brähler conference system, which was the first of its kind to be installed in Egypt. The inner circle of the main hall features one seat for every Arab League country (22). Each position is home to Brähler SMic 133 chairman/delegate multimedia unit. Each seat features a 13-in full HD touch display which allows attendees to view relevant documents and vote. Each position also features a gooseneck mic and headphones for audio interpretation. Only those in the inner circle have the power to vote in sessions.

Alongside those are more than 300 Brähler Digimic delegate units, which feature a digital channel selector unit for up to 32 channels, with channel selection and volume control keys, all on an LCD display. Three Brähler CSX4 digital language distribution amplifiers make sure every position is covered for interpretation. The main hall can seat 488 in total, with 120 on the floor, and the rest in tiered seating. Every session will have an individual who will manage the debate, and that person is the ‘president’ of the session. Anyone in the inner circle of seats can have direct access to the screens, and anyone in the main hall (or the control room) can control the session via an iPad (although this is nearly always done by the ‘president’ of the session).

Why did Quality choose the Brähler system? “One of the main features is its very high encryption used by the manufacturer. Because each one of the high profile attendees could be presidents or kings or princes, they have a delegation behind them, they also have to have different features and tools to be able to connect,” explains Attia. When someone requests control it gives the ‘president’ a raft of information on the person asking for control – his/her picture, name etc before they make their decision to pass on control.

Outside of the conference system, delegates in the main hall can enjoy a host of complimentary AV technology. Two large NEC videowalls, in a 4x3 configuration of 55-in
tiles, and two 90-in Sharp LCD displays show content from the current presentation. Images in the room are processed via Extron 4K scalers and 64x64 matrixes. The AV is controlled via Crestron 10-in desktop touch panels and 7-in wall-mounted touch panels. Audio comes courtesy of UDE line array speakers, Sennheiser wireless and tie-clip mics, all working through an Extron DPS and mixed via a Yamaha TF1 console.

A way to record sessions was an absolute must for the client says Attia, and the end result can record up to four simultaneous languages at once. Visuals for recording are captured via a Panasonic 4K camera, and Panasonic camera controller, BlackMagic ATEMTelevision 4K switcher and BlackMagic HyperDeck Studio recorder. Nearly all of the AV in the main hall is fixed in one place, the only exception is the broadcast network, so that TV channels can place their camera whenever the director wants it to be situated. The AV feed from the main hall is also sent via the broadcast network to a nearby room, where the live real-time translation takes place, which then feeds that audio back to the main hall.

What was the biggest challenge faced by the integrator on such a large and prestigious project? “It was that we could not establish new cable routes, new conduits and new infrastructure for the venue because it's an old building,” says Adel Mohammed, AV solution manager, Quality Egypt. “They didn't want to change any of the architecture or interior spaces, so we had to use the same operating room as before, everything has to be the same, so we had to work with this situation for the new technology.”

Getting the equipment within the chairs and within the interior furniture was very challenging adds Attia, “The architect was very strict, so it was a tough one. I think we did a good job by interpreting exactly what she had in mind and her vision. Sometimes we had problems especially on the main circular table because we had places that we needed to put sockets, and it wasn’t always that easy, so we had to hide them somewhere. We had to work together very closely with the architect and the fit-out contractor to coordinate the technology within the furniture required.”

Every piece of AV kit was tested on-site by Quality’s own technical team rather than off-site because Quality had worked there before it had already established an office with a place to store the kit. The budget ($1.2m) was good says Attia, “We had the flexibility to satisfy the client within the budget they are asking for. We don't stretch our clients, we always try to do the best within the budget.”

Fortunately for Quality, it was able to order the kit before the huge problems with global supply chains had kicked in, “We were lucky enough to finish everything before it got messy,” adds Mohammed. On a day to day basis, who runs the main hall and new meeting rooms? Is there an on-site AV team, or does the IT team look after it or does Quality provide service and support? “We have a couple of technicians that are already on site for two shifts when they need us, we're always there for the technical support for big events,” says Attia. Quality was also on-hand to provide lots of training for the new kit, especially the conference system, even though it has been designed to be as intuitive and user friendly as possible.


Brähler CSX4 amplifier, TM58/6-500 gooseneck, ICen IV IR transmitter, IRX-12 IR receiver
Drawmer DA6 distribution amplifier
Extron DMP-128 Plus AT DSP Matrix
Sennheiser EW 100 G4-835-S wireless mic, EW 100 G4-ME4 tie-clip wireless mi, ASA214 antenna splitter system, A1031-U omni-directional antenna
UDE ACD-3008 steerable line array speakers
Yamaha TF1 digital mixer console
Barco Clickshare
Blackbox VS-2000-ENC encoder
BlackMagic ATEM Television Studio Pro switcher, SDI-HDMI converter, HyperDeck Studio Pro AV recorder
Brähler Digimic delegate units, DCen 32 central control unit, SMic 133 chairman/delegate unit, DDol 32 interpreter console
Crestron PRO3 control system, TSW-1060-B-S 10-in touchpanel, TSW-760-B-S 7-in touchpanel
Extron DSC HD-HD 4K scaler, Cable Cubby 700, DA2 HD 4K HDMI distribution amplifier, XTP II CP 4i input board, XTP II CrossPoint 6400 64x64 matrix
NEC E327 32-in LCD display, UN552V 55-in videowall display
Panasonic AW-UE70KEJ 4K PTZ camera, AW-RP50 camera controller
Sharp PN-Q901 90in LED display, H5-04UH-04UH videowall controller

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