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Egypt: Residents Of 30 Houseboats On River Nile Evicted

CAIRO, EGYPT – 2013/01/06: Floating House Boats on the River Nile in Zamalek. (Photo by John Wreford/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Some have put their life savings in it, others have a pleasant summer residence there: in Cairo, about thirty barges are threatened by a project of development of the army which moves in Egypt, where many denounce a sacrifice of the inheritance to the profit.

“I realized a dream by buying this barge, I fitted it out to welcome my grandchildren and to spend my last days there”, tells the AFP the writer Ahdaf Soueif.

But soon the Nile could no longer rock these houses perched on metal caissons along the popular district of Imbaba facing the very chic island of Zamalek.

Already, some of them have been taken away because the inhabitants received an eviction order on June 20 within two weeks -without any offer of rehousing or compensation.

They could be replaced by cafes, hotels and restaurants, which are much more profitable for the army, which is still in charge in Egypt since the end of the monarchy and has a dominant position in the fields of development and infrastructure.

“I sold my apartment, my father his car and we used the severance pay of my two retired parents,” Manar, a 35-year-old engineer, told AFP.

Today, she feels she has lost everything: “the people in the slums have been rehoused, the state moved some graves when it built a road through a cemetery and for us, nothing.

His fate and that of his neighbors has moved and, surprisingly in Egypt, the talk shows usually fervent supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, have taken their side.

Since the 1950s, these boats have been the backdrop for the serenade of the Egyptian crooner Abdel Halim Hafez in the film “Ayam wa Layali” or for the smoky discussions in “Drifting on the Nile” by the Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.

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– Bulldozer politics –

The alarm was sounded in 2020 when the governor of Cairo announced that he was “suspending the permits to park barges”.

Since then, the inhabitants have remained without news. Until the eviction order which, says one of them, “does not leave them time to file a legal appeal”.

And above all, the State is claiming arrears for parking, the dock concession and registration of between 40,000 and 50,000 euros, i.e. 20 times more than what they were paying.

Aymane Anouar, head of the Nile Authority in Cairo, says they were warned: “In 2020, the state banned the use of barges as homes because they do not give a civilized image and pollute the Nile,” says the senior official in a talk show.

“We were not informed enough, it is by listening to Mr. Anouar on television” that Mrs. Soueif says she understood her only alternative: to transform the barge into commercial premises.

“At my age, to reconvert myself into a café manager? It is an eviction which does not say its name”, she answers.

The activists denounce a lack of consultation with the inhabitants as during previous demolitions, in Boulaq and Maspero, near the city center.

If the bulldozer policy started in these poor informal districts, with the barges it is the wealthier families who are paying the price of the big development works.

– “Lost in advance” –

Previously dotted with cafés where all social classes came to sip tea for a few pounds, the Nile corniche is one of the few public spaces where one can escape the din of the megalopolis of 20 million inhabitants.

On the other bank, the “Egyptian people’s promenade” is one of the “mega-projects” wanted by former Marshal Sissi and piloted by the army, along with the “new capital” which is emerging from the sands 50 km from Cairo.

“It is a disaster: every square inch must be profitable, there is no more public space, people can no longer be outside without paying,” laments Ms. Soueif.

However, the government assures that this promenade — with “marina, open-air theater, cafes and restaurants” — will “guarantee public access to the Nile”.

For Awad, who has been on his barge with his wife and children for 25 years, “a square meter of riverbank for commercial rent is 1,000 pounds, so they prefer to rent to cafes than to us, to earn more money.

“It is dramatic because it is a piece of the heritage of Cairo that has seen the passage of King Farouq, Oum Kalsoum and Mounira Mahdia,” the greatest singer of Egypt between the wars, laments the sixty-year-old.

“It is lost in advance: even before the Council of State, it is the state so we can not do anything, we are told that it is a decision from above, “he said pointing to the sky.

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Written by PH

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