Security forces began the removal of Cairo’s feluccas from the Nile Corniche on Sunday. The boats, which were moored in front of the former headquarters of the National Democratic Party (NDP), had their electricity generators switched off by the Nile River Police and were forced to dock in Imbaba, Giza.
The boats’ neon lights and electronic music are a modern evolution of the traditional sailboats, which have long been a staple feature of downtown Cairo’s waterfront.
The boat operators and their families initially protested the surprise evacuation, with chants of “We won’t leave, we won’t leave,” but soon gave up resistance and complied with police.
According to 25-year-old felucca driver Ahmed Abdel Aziz, who was not targeted in the crackdown, the evicted boats had been docked in downtown for more than 20 years. He told Mada Masr that the families were not warned before the relocation began.
“The government has been trying to get rid of them for years,” he said, “so they always knew that they weren’t wanted, but they weren’t told anything in particular before Sunday. They just turned up and told them to leave.”
Abdel Aziz estimated that 100-200 boats have been displaced in the move. “How are [those families] going to eat now? I feel a lot of compassion toward them.”
Ahmed al-Shamy is a 30-year-old felucca driver based elsewhere in Cairo, who has not been affected by the sweep. He claimed that this is not the first time feluccas have been forcibly removed.
“Since the Warraq accident, around 200 boats have been evicted from the Corniche between downtown Cairo and Maadi,” he said, referring to the tragedy which claimed 35 lives in July. “That’s 200 families without a living now.”
Feluccas in Egypt need three licenses to operate. The first is given to the driver, the second to the boat and the third to a crew member responsible for the safety of the passengers. There is no license to indicate where a felucca is allowed to operate from, and it is unclear what the licensing status of the boats in downtown was.
“Some of them must have had licenses,” said Abdel Aziz. “But others probably didn’t. It’s very stupid not to. It puts them at risk.”
Speaking with state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, Cairo Governorate spokesperson Khaled Mostafa said that the forced relocations were part the Nile Corniche Development scheme. The Qatari-funded initiative aims to develop a large complex on the banks of the Nile that will feature 515 upscale apartments, a luxury hotel and three large towers, one of which will be the tallest building in Egypt.
The project began in 2012, and is funded by a subsidiary of the state-owned Qatari Investment Authority, which owns high-profile properties in other world capitals including the Olympic Village and The Shard in London, as well as projects in Washington DC.
Mostafa said that the boats would be relocated to Shubra, but as of Sunday, they could still be seen moored up in Imbaba.
“The government just left them there,” said Abdel-Aziz. “They should have found spaces for them to move to.” When asked if he believed the governorate would make good on their promise, Abdel Aziz replied, “They can only make it worse for them. They can take their licenses away, but they can’t make things better. The government doesn’t help anyone.”
The felucca drivers are the latest group to be hit by the regeneration of downtown Cairo that began after the 2011 revolution. Most recently, downtown’s informal street vendors have been subject to sustained evictions, as the authorities moved to take formal control over the center of the capital. Vendors complained that the government did not provide them with anywhere else to go, and that they lost their livelihoods as a result of the move.