Residents of a Nile river island in Cairo have rejected plans by their government to relocate thousands of homeowners to the outskirts of the city as part of a campaign to eradicate encroachments on state-owned land.
The evictions were acted upon after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the campaign in May.
Security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings in al-Warraq in late July, resulting in clashes with the residents that left at least one person dead and injured dozens more.
Since then, tensions have been high and residents say they will not leave their homes, some of which were built over 30 years ago.
One of the island’s residents, Hussein Zidan, told Reuters that around four months ago people on the island received notices that an order had been made for the demolition of all buildings within a 30-metre radius of the Nile shores.
He said members of Egypt’s irrigation ministry, as well as security forces, arrived soon afterward to demolish these buildings, and that the locals had helped.
“During this period, the policemen asked us to cooperate in order to solve this issue peacefully without any conflict between the residents and the police.
“We said there is no problem, we are all in the same boat and we must stand together and we will help them complete the demolition, on one condition: that any house sheltering a family or any living individual is off limits until said family or individual finds an alternative,” Zidan said.
But when security forces returned, chaos ensued as people refused to leave homes located outside of the plot of land previously identified.
“We told them we are currently living in our homes and this land belongs to us and we will live and die in our homes. If you have a developmental project come and tell me what it is that you want to do, I will help you. But at the same time, we cannot be evicted from our homes.
“If there are indeed projects, we have no problem with the government planning for investments, as long as it doesn’t harm us,” said Sayed Ali, a third generation island resident.
At least 37 policemen and 19 residents were injured in the clashes, the interior ministry said, and security forces had to withdraw from the scene to avoid more injuries.
“They have to go check the facilities they need and we will help them if they need help with the sewage system we are willing to help. There are many things we can do to help if they want us to help them, but if they want us to leave, let me tell you we’re all fixated on staying here,” resident Azza Yehia said.
Around 90,000 people are living on the 1,300-acre island.