File photo: Ferry boat which carries Gezirit Al-Waraq’s residents to their island home (Photo by Sarah El-Rashidi)
Inhabitants of Gezirit Al-Waraq, Cairo’s forgotten island, are protesting against recent increases in the price of ferry tickets outside the Ministry of Transport and the River Transport Authority.
The only way to reach the island is in a decrepit state-owned ferry boat controlled a local family.
Until recently, a one-way trip was 25 piastres, Rafat Abdel-Nebi, a local resident, said. The ferry ran every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day.
“The ferry has become too expensive. Islanders can no longer afford to leave the island to work or to get clean water,” Safat Abdel-Nebi, Rafat's brother, said. "A return trip is now LE10."
Although Transport Minister Dr Mohamed Rashad El-Metini decided not to increase ticket prices, the family which operates the ferry ignored his decision, local people claim.
In order for hundreds of residents to protest on the mainland, ten families contributed to the travel expenses.
“We are not going anywhere, we are going to stay and protest outside the ministry until this brutal injustice is rectified,” Safat said.
The family that controls the ferry boat is "corrupt" and runs it in a mafia-like fashion, Safat asserted.
On previous visits to the island, an Ahram Online journalist was aggressively prevented from taking photographs. On one occasion, a youthful ferry skipper, a relative of the owner, threatened to break the journalist's camera equipment.
The construction of a bridge connecting the island to the mainland was halted due to a long-standing political dispute between the state and the islanders. The previous government planned to transform the island into a luxury tourist resort and provide the residents with alternative mainland housing. However, after the islanders refused to move, construction was terminated. This ensured the island’s continued isolation and prevented residents from accessing basic amenities such as clean water, sewage disposal, bread, basic healthcare, education and transportation.
“A bridge is the solution to all of our problems,” Hag Bakry Arafa, a local farmer, said.
Apart from the transport problem, the political struggle helps explains why there has been so little progress on the island, which the health ministry claims has a population of 40,000 whilst locals estimate it to be 80,000.
Despite a collaborative a two-year project by Egypt’s health ministry and the World Health Organisation, a lot still needs to be done to improve socio-economic conditions and infrastructure on the island.
In this respect, Rafat has established a grassroots NGO called ‘Gezirit Al Waraq’ which is still awaiting governmental approval.