CAIRO — The Egyptian government has recently announced that 71% of Warraq Island’s total area, located southwest of Cairo on the Nile River, has been reclaimed and come under the ownership of the Ministry of Housing’s Urban Communities Authority, in preparation to ultimately possessing all the large Nile islands in the country.
As part of a government development plan for Warraq Island, which occupies a privileged position on the Nile River, a large number of security forces have recently cracked down on the island’s residents to evict them and demolish their homes, claiming that they had infringed on state property.
On Aug. 15, clashes erupted between security forces and island residents. Mada Masr revealed that Egyptian authorities arrested 14 residents of Warraq Island as they resisted police forces who were firing tear gas at them and raiding houses in preparation to expropriate them.
On Aug. 19, member of parliament Samira al-Jazzar condemned what she described as the forced displacement of the residents of Warraq Island after police forces used tear gas to disperse citizens protesting against the government's decision to expropriate their homes.
The Egyptian government has been planning since 2014 to turn Warraq Island into a tourist park, as part of a wider project to develop Greater Cairo. The government is seeking to eradicate the many random slum areas in Greater Cairo to preserve the green areas and transform them into a commercial, recreational and tourist park on the banks of the Nile.
On Aug. 19, Egyptian Minister of Housing Assem el-Gazzar issued an official statement stressing that the state is implementing the policy of consensual purchase to develop Warraq Island, denying all claims of “forced eviction” of the island’s residents.
“The Egyptian state never adopted this method in any of its projects, and it can never do so,” he said.
The Egyptian government announced Aug. 8 that work is currently underway to implement a plan to develop Warraq Island, with the aim of upgrading this area and taking advantage of its unique location to carry out development projects.
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 the island’s residents in the cities of Obour and October Gardens, provided that the state hands over the units to the beneficiaries after furnishing them free of charge with the support of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Abdel Khalek Ibrahim, assistant minister of housing who is supervising the project to develop Warraq Island, told Al-Monitor that the current government's measures to expropriate houses on the island are carried out consensually and in accordance with the law, denying claims of forced displacement.
He said, “The state has recently been evaluating the lands on the island, as 1 acre was valued at 6 million Egyptian pounds [$300,000],” stressing that this value is quite fair, and most of the people have already accepted it; some residents moved to other units, others already took compensation.
Ibrahim noted that the cost of alternative housing for the island’s population 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 over 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 settlements with the residents and providing them with fair compensation.
Ibrahim added, “The number of houses whose ownership was transferred to the state has so far reached 2,458, in addition to taking all the lands belonging to the [Ministry of] Endowments except for small areas, not to mention the already state-owned lands there amounting to 68 acres, leaving only 35.5 acres to be acquired.”
He explained that the state is working on developing the island in several stages, the first of which is building 40 towers, including 1,744 housing units, within 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 acts of forced or arbitrary displacement of citizens in all its forms and manifestations, noting that the constitution states that this is a crime with no statute of limitations.
He explained that the residents of Warraq Island who rejected the authorities’ decision to forcibly evacuate them from their homes are proof that a large segment of the population refuses to leave, and that is why they clashed with the security forces that stormed the island to try to evict them.
He pointed out that several photos and videos that circulated in the media revealed the violence the security forces used against the island’s residents, showing a clear violation of the Egyptian Constitution and human rights treaties signed by Egypt.
Jamadi concluded, “The current government is seeking to evict the poor from their modest homes in Cairo and its suburbs under the pretext of improving them. The truth is that the government wants to exploit these lands, especially in promising areas, to implement huge investment projects for the benefit of Gulf investors. It is also trying to bring some money to the state treasury without taking into account the social repercussions or legal rules, thus ruining the lives of citizens and their sources of livelihood.”