Egypt squat­ters lose homes as state seizes land

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

WAR­RAQ IS­LAND, Egypt: Hala Ga­mal looks at a pile of rub­ble on Cairo’s War­raq is­land - all that’s left of her house af­ter a po­lice op­er­a­tion to evict res­i­dents ac­cused of squat­ting on state land. Ga­mal, 31, said she had left the Nile is­land in the cap­i­tal’s north on July 16 to buy break­fast. She re­turned to find her home de­stroyed and her chil­dren on the street. As part of a govern­ment cam­paign to re­claim hun­dreds of thou­sands of hectares of state-owned land, po­lice stormed the is­land and de­mol­ished sev­eral homes, spark­ing clashes that left one res­i­dent dead.

The govern­ment says about 90,000 peo­ple live on the 420 hectare is­land. In a cabi­net re­port, it promised that “those who have con­tracts and of­fi­cial pa­pers prov­ing land own­er­ship” would not be af­fected by de­mo­li­tions. But Ga­mal said that was not true in the case of her house, where she lived with her hus­band, his mother and their four chil­dren. “I have all the govern­ment pa­pers and stamps that con­firm that my hus­band owns the house,” Ga­mal said. “So why this ag­gres­sion by the govern­ment against sim­ple peo­ple like us?”

Ferry owner Nasser Ahmed, 47, said the or­ders were signed just a day be­fore the de­mo­li­tions were car­ried out. “They rushed to im­ple­ment them the fol­low­ing day with­out send­ing a sin­gle no­tice (to res­i­dents). They de­mol­ished two in­hab­ited houses,” he said.

Na­ture re­serve

Squat­ters be­gan set­tling on the is­land more than 15 years ago, turn­ing what had been agri­cul­tural land “into a slum”, ac­cord­ing to a cabi­net re­port. In May, Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al-Sisi or­dered a cam­paign to re­cover state-owned land which had been en­croached upon. The au­thor­i­ties said in June that over 800,000 hectares of agri­cul­tural and build­ing land had been il­le­gally ap­pro­pri­ated, but that the govern­ment had re­taken con­trol of more than 386,150 hectares. Au­thor­i­ties have car­ried out sim­i­lar mea­sures be­fore. In 2012, the mil­i­tary or­dered peo­ple on Al-Qur­saya is­land, south of War­raq, to leave their homes as they were in a mil­i­tary zone. Ac­cord­ing to the cabi­net, the au­thor­i­ties made sev­eral failed at­tempts to im­ple­ment de­mo­li­tion or­ders on War­raq since 2007. But res­i­dents say lit­tle has been done to pro­tect their rights. “The govern­ment promised not to ap­proach in­hab­ited build­ings, but they did,” Ye­hia Al-Maghrabi, who was head of the is­land’s mu­nic­i­pal­ity for 16 years to 2011, told AFP. “Did the state for­get its land for 10 whole years?”

The state owns up to 25 hectares on the is­land, mostly agri­cul­tural land be­long­ing to the re­li­gious en­dow­ments min­istry and the Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, Maghrabi said. Farm­ers liv­ing on the agri­cul­tural land are there le­gally and pay rent to the au­thor­i­ties, he added. The re­main­ing state-owned land is home to some 2,500 peo­ple, who pay rent to the ADA, he said. Some of their homes have been there for more than 60 years.

In 1998, the Egyp­tian govern­ment is­sued a de­cree to clas­sify the is­land as a na­ture re­serve, a de­ci­sion Maghrabi de­rided. “Is it con­ceiv­able that there would be a na­ture re­serve with schools, a hos­pi­tal, a youth cen­ter, a po­lice sta­tion, and a mu­nic­i­pal­ity?” he asked.

Ru­mors have cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia that the de­mo­li­tions are meant to make space for a build­ing project. Users pub­lished pictures show­ing de­signs from 2013 to de­velop War­raq for com­mer­cial pur­poses. The de­signs, which had ap­peared on the web­site of Emi­rati-Sin­ga­porean com­pany RSB, were re­moved from the site af­ter the July 16 de­mo­li­tions. No de­tails were avail­able about who paid for the de­signs. The govern­ment de­nied the evic­tions were in­tended to clear the way for new de­vel­op­ment. — AFP

A pic­ture taken in Cairo on July 20, 2017 shows Egyp­tian Shoukran Rash­wan, 75, sit­ting on the rub­ble of her house that was de­mol­ished on Cairo’s War­raq is­land. — AFP

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