Residents of Warraq Island form committee to negotiate with government over fate of their homes

Iman Habib, Wednesday 16 Aug 2017

Egyptians shout slogans against the government during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clash
Egyptians shout slogans against the government during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clashes with residents of the Nile island of al-Warraq island, when security forces attempted to demolish illegal buildings, in the south of Cairo, Egypt July 16, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Residents of Cairo's Warraq Island – who the government says are residing there illegally – have chosen a committee of 10 members, instead of 30 as proposed by authorities, to negotiate with the government over the fate of their homes, the former head of Warraq Island’s local council Yehia El-‎Maghraby told Ahram Online.

Earlier this week, the head of the Armed Forces Engineering ‎Authority Kamel El-Wazir asked the island's residents to form a 30-member committee to talk with the government and reach a compromise.

However, El-Maghraby says that only 10 members have been chosen in order to "maintain neutrality," with a list of the committee members' names presented to government officials.

Government officials have said that residents of the island are illegally residing on public land, and that authorities are looking to offer them alternative housing elsewhere so the infrastructure of the island can be upgraded.

However, residents insist that they hold proof of legal ownership of their properties on the island.

No date has been set for a meeting between the committee and El-Wazir, where the committee is planning to demand the release of 19 residents of the island who were arrested after clashes with police in July, according to El-Maghraby.

On Sunday, El-Wazir and island residents failed to find common ground at a public ‎conference that was held on the island.‎

El-Maghraby says that residents are not prepared to abandon their homes on the island, although they welcome the idea of upgrading its infrastructure, which they have called for throughout the years.

“The state owns a mere 60 feddans of the [1,600-feddan] ‎Island, and 1,500 feddans are the property of the residents. We would rather die than leave ‎our land,” El-Maghraby said.

During the public conference on Sunday, El-Wazir assured residents that no one would be forcefully removed from their homes.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi also addressed attendees at the conference by phone to reassure them.

The conflict between residents of Warraq Island and the government erupted on 16 July after the surprise demolition of a number of homes on the island.

One resident was killed, 19 were injured, and 31 police personnel were wounded in subsequent clashes.

This is not the first dispute to arise between residents of Warraq Island and the government.

In 2000, then-prime minister Atef ‎Ebeid issued an order to seize the island for public use.

In 2002, however, a court ruled in favour of the residents after they challenged the prime minister's decision.

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