During a meeting with Warraq island residents at his office on Tuesday, head of the Armed Forces’ Engineering Authority Kamel al-Wazir said there are no plans to evict them, Mosaad Hamed, one of the residents attending the meeting, told Mada Masr.
The proposal is to develop the land without evicting the residents, Hamed cited Wazir as saying.
The engineering head spoke to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the phone during the meeting and turned on the speaker for the president to address the residents, according to Hamed. “We are here to serve you, we are not against you. You are our children and family. It is not possible to evict you. But we want to develop the island,” Sisi told them.
The Armed Forces is responsible for an initiative to develop the island “in the interests of its residents,” Wazir said, adding that the size of the residential area on the island would be maintained as is, but that a few houses on the periphery would be demolished, with compensation given to residents and alternative housing provided within the residential area, with the aim of moving all residents to one space to develop the island.
The military’s Engineering Authority will take up responsibility for building new roads on the island, developing infrastructure and building new schools, Wazir told residents. But, according to Hamed, he also implied there is a possibility that some land will be allocated for investment projects.
Sisi asked the government in May to urgently reclaim state-owned lands, making a reference to Nile islands, including Warraq. “An island in the middle of the Nile, with an area over 1,250 feddans, I won’t mention its name, but the island now includes informal areas and people are taking over land illegally,” he said at the time, adding, “If there are 50,000 houses, where will their waste go? In the Nile, from which we drink?”
Agricultural land will be preserved, and the Armed Forces will buy from those who want to sell, as well as compensate those who want to leave the island, with alternative housing units provided elsewhere, Hamed cited Wazir as saying. However, the detailed plan for the island was not presented to the residents during the meeting.
Residents of Warraq island submitted a list of demands to Wazir, including the release of 17 detainees, who were arrested during clashes that erupted when security forces attempted to remove some buildings on the island in July, the privately-owned Al-Watan newspaper reported. The residents also demanded that the family of Sayed Hassan al-Gizawy, who was killed during the clashes, be compensated.
The residents say they have been residing on the island legally for more than 50 years, and if the state wants to reclaim their land, they must be provided with alternative accommodation on the island and compensated for any lost property.
One person was killed, 19 were injured and at least 10 were arrested on July 16 during clashes that erupted between Warraq residents and police forces, culminating in the use of teargas and warning shots fired by the police to disperse the crowds. This came after security forces attempted to implement 700 demolition orders for buildings that “encroach on state lands,” as described by an Interior Ministry statement. 30 demolition orders were carried out on that day, with the Giza governorate asserting that no one was forcibly removed from their properties in the process.
A week later, Warraq residents cancelled plans for another protest, after the head of Giza security allowed the families of the detainees to visit them and overturned the suspension of the ferry that transports food and gas cylinders to the island. However, hundreds of Dahab Island residents staged a two-hour protest on July 21 in solidarity with Warraq Island residents, as they were concerned about a similar crackdown after rumors spread that Dahab and Qursaya islands were mentioned in the demolition order, along with Warraq.