Cairo evicts Nile islanders over development project

CAIRO – The Egyptian government recently announced that 71% of the total area of ​​Warraq Island, located southwest of Cairo on the Nile, has been reclaimed and is owned by the Housing Ministry’s Urban Communities Authority. , with a view to eventually owning all the major Nile islands in the country.

As part of a government development plan for the island of Warraq, which occupies a privileged position on the Nile, a large number of security forces have recently cracked down on the inhabitants of the island to evict them and demolish their homes, claiming they had violated state property.

On August 15, clashes erupted between security forces and island residents. Mada Masr revealed that the Egyptian authorities arrested 14 residents island of Warraq as they resisted police who fired tear gas at them and raided houses with a view to expropriating them.

On August 19, MP Samira al-Jazzar condemned what she described as the forced displacement of residents of the island of Warraq after police forces used tear gas to disperse citizens protesting the decision. government to expropriate their homes.

The Egyptian government has been planning since 2014 to turn the island of Warraq into a tourist park, as part of a larger development project for Greater Cairo. The government is seeking to eradicate Greater Cairo’s many haphazard slums to preserve green spaces and transform them into a commercial, recreational and tourist park on the banks of the Nile.

On August 19, Egypt’s Housing Minister Assem el-Gazzar issued an official statement stressing that the state was implementing the consensual buying policy to develop the island of Warraq, denying all allegations of “forced eviction”. inhabitants of the island.

“The Egyptian state has never adopted this method in any of its projects, nor will it ever be able to,” he said.

The Egyptian government announced on August 8 that work is currently underway to implement a development plan for the island of Warraq, with the aim of modernizing this area and taking advantage of its unique location to carry out projects. of development.

The government explained in a statement that financial compensation has been determined for all citizens of the island and that there is in-kind compensation consisting of 56 apartments to be provided to residents of the island in the towns of Obour. and October Gardens, on the condition that the State hand over the housing to the beneficiaries after having provided it free of charge with the support of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Abdel Khalek Ibrahim, Deputy Minister of Housing who oversees the Warraq Island development project, told Al-Monitor that the measures taken by the current government to expropriate homes on the island are being implemented in a consensual manner. and in accordance with the law, denying the allegations of forced displacement.

He said: “The state recently assessed the land on the island as 1 acre was valued at 6 million Egyptian pounds. [$300,000]pointing out that this value is completely correct, and that most people have already accepted it; some residents have moved to other units, others have already received compensation.

Ibrahim noted that the cost of alternative housing for the population of the island amounted to 2 billion Egyptian pounds ($104.3 million), to establish 4,000 housing units and that the compensation amounts provided by the State amounted to 6 billion Egyptian pounds ($313 million).

He pointed out that more than 71% of the island’s land is currently owned by the state, noting that the state will acquire the remaining area in the coming period after reaching agreements with the residents and providing them with fair compensation. .

Ibrahim added, “The number of houses whose ownership has been transferred to the state has so far reached 2,458, in addition to taking all state-owned land. [Ministry of] Endowments except for small areas, not to mention the already state lands which amount to 68 acres, leaving only 35.5 acres to acquire.

He explained that the state is working on the development of the island in several stages, the first of which is the construction of 40 towers, including 1,744 housing units, as part of a plan to build 94 residential towers at a later stage. , with a total of 4,092 apartments, as well as several service facilities such as schools, medical units, recreational and commercial centers.

Human rights lawyer Ahmed al-Jadami told Al-Monitor that Article 63 of the Egyptian Constitution clearly prohibits any act of forced or arbitrary displacement of citizens in all its forms and manifestations, noting that the constitution stipulates that it is a crime without statute of limitations.

He explained that the inhabitants of the island of Warraq who rejected the authorities’ decision to forcibly evacuate them from their homes are proof that a large part of the population refuses to leave, and that is why they have clashed with security forces who stormed the island in an attempt to evict them.

He pointed out that several photos and videos circulating in the media revealed the violence used by the security forces against the inhabitants of the island, showing a flagrant violation of the Egyptian Constitution and human rights treaties. signed by Egypt.

Jamadi concluded: “The current government seeks to evict the poor from their modest homes in Cairo and its suburbs under the guise of improving them. The truth is that the government wants to exploit these lands, especially in the promising areas, to implement huge investment projects for the benefit of Gulf investors. It also tries to bring money to the public treasury without considering social repercussions or legal rules, thus ruining the lives of citizens and their sources of income.

Lynn A. Saleh