Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Island woes

Residents of Al-Warraq island have formed a 10-person committee to negotiate with the Armed Forces Engineering Authority which is seeking to develop the island, Ahmed Morsy reports

Island woes
Island woes

Residents of Al-Warraq island have formed a committee to represent them in negotiations with Major General Kamel Al-Wazir, head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority.

“Residents’ signatures are being collected so as to form a 10-person committee which will represent the population of the island in the coming meetings,” Al-Warraq resident Rami Sayed told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The decision to form the committee came after residents held three meetings with Al-Wazir, one of them an open call conference held on 13 August. During the conference Al-Wazir said residents who lose property under the development plan slated for the island could receive financial compensation or new homes in social housing projects.

Plans to develop Al-Warraq involve the demolition of all buildings within 30 metres of the shore and within 100 metres of the Road Al-Farag axis road which bisects the island to make way for a sewage network, water station and a network of paved roads.

According to Al-Wazir, affected residents will receive LE1,300 for each metre of land or alternative accommodation in social housing projects in Mokattam.

The army has been given responsibility for developing the island “in the interests of its residents”, said Al-Wazir.

Some residents of the island suspect the government wants to evict them to make way for a real estate project funded by Gulf investors. A month ago Giza Governor Kamal Al-Dali issued a statement saying he would meet with the island inhabitants “to reassure them we are not seeking to evacuate the island”.

The offer of compensation has been rejected by a majority of residents.

“We are not against developing the island but we are against leaving it,” says Sayed, who owns a two-storey building and runs a mobile shop on the island. Like his father, Sayed was born on the island. “We have official contracts for the building. And I don’t want to leave Al-Warraq. Instead of social housing somewhere else I want an alternative house on the island,” he said.

Mustafa Gamal, another resident, says the government has failed to take into account the importance of community and social cohesion. “We were born and grew up here, but now they expect us to leave and be dispersed,” he told the Weekly.

Gamal’s brothers, Ibrahim and Abdel-Moneim, were arrested following last month’s confrontation with security forces who were attempting to impose demolition orders.

“official”judge’.

On 16 July police arrived on the island to oversee the demolition of buildings allegedly constructed on state land but were met with resistance from residents. One resident died and dozens were injured in the clashes.

While the Interior Ministry claims residents fired birdshot at the police who responded by firing tear gas, residents say they defended themselves by throwing stones only after being assaulted by the police who fired birdshot and tear gas canisters. Two days after the disturbances Giza prosecution ordered that nine residents arrested during the clashes be detained for 15 days pending investigation. The Interior Ministry later announced 13 people had been detained for inciting violence. According to the island’s residents, 21 people were arrested, none of them during the clashes.

“Nine people were arrested while leaving the hospital after receiving medical treatment. The others, including my brothers, were arrested during the funeral procession of the man killed on 16 July,” says Gamal.

On 5 August the prosecution referred nine detainees to court. They face charges of illegal assembly and resisting public officials.

“One of the reasons we organised the open conference with Al-Wazir was that he promised the detainees would be released. He told us that he would come to the conference with a surprise, and we thought the surprise would be the detainees,” said Gamal.

On Friday hundreds of Al-Warraq residents joined a protest march on the island, chanting “we will not leave” and “Al-Warraq is not for sale”.

Last year clashes took place on the island when security forces attempted to evacuate houses to make way for the new Road Al-Farag axis road. Displaced residents were eventually offered alternative housing or compensation.

Al-Warraq island lies opposite Shubra Al-Kheima. It covers 1,400 feddans and has an estimated population of 90,000. There are three schools, a public hospital, police station, tens of mosques and a church. No bridge connects it to the banks of the Nile, leaving islanders to depend on five ferries.

The State Land and Assets Reclamation Committee, established last year and headed by former prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb, has been tasked with retrieving public land on which buildings have been illegally constructed. During a conference on land reclamation in June President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi referred to Al-Warraq without naming it: “There is an island in the middle of the Nile that stretches over 1,250 feddans,” said Al-Sisi. “Chaos has spread and people have been building on land that they seized. And now there are 50,000 houses there. Where does their sewage go? It goes into the Nile water which we drink.”

Residents of the island point out that they have been on the national water and electricity grids for decades.

“We built our house more than 50 years ago. If these houses are illegal, as the government claims, why did it supply utilities and install meters? Why has it taken them all this time to inform us we live in illegal structures,” asks Sayed.

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