Egypt's water ministry prepares for Nile boat house demolition campaign amid public outcry

Concern grows for boat houses which are viewed as an important cultural symbol of Cairo’s history

A general view shows the Nile river with houses and new islands during low tide at Shoubra El-Kheima neighbourhood in Cairo. Reuters.
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Egypt’s water resources ministry is preparing for the first phase of a demolition campaign of illegal boat houses on a stretch of the Nile’s western bank in central Cairo known as "Kit Kat".

The campaign has garnered a fair amount of backlash from Egyptians on social media, with hundreds of commentators denouncing the demolitions because they see it as a destruction of an important cultural symbol of Cairo’s history.

Many highlighted the mention of boat houses in the works of some of the country’s top 20th century literary figures.

In response to the public outcry, Mr Ayman Anwar, head of the central administration of the Nile in Cairo, phoned into one of the country’s most watched news shows on Friday night.

The structures to be removed are 32 boat houses which were built without the government’s consent decades ago, he confirmed.

Residents of these boat houses have thus far failed to issue permits for their homes, despite repeated notices from the ministry, he added.

He said that many of these homes were being used for extra-residential purposes, with some serving as workspaces for companies, and others being used as gyms.

While 3 of the boat houses were demolished on Saturday, June 18, according to Mr Anwar, the next wave will happen on June 28 to give the residents of the 15 boat houses set to be demolished in the first phase a chance to issue commercial or recreational licences.

Historical boat houses, as well as ones that have their licences in order, either as restaurants, cafes or water sports clubs, have nothing to worry about, Mr Anwar said.

The water resources ministry has, in recent months, amped up its efforts to ensure viable irrigation waters are not being wasted through unofficial channels, which Mr Anwar says is another reason for the demolitions.

He added that there are also several pollution concerns as many of the houses are old and use outdated waste disposal systems that are in violation of public health & safety measures.

The demolitions are the first part of a mass beautification campaign of the stretch of the Nile between the 15 of May bridge and the Coastal Bridge, Mr Anwar said.

The government intends to open those spaces for public use, he said, adding that many of the people who initially built boat houses there were encroaching on the state’s lands.

Mr Anwar confirmed that no compensation will be paid to the residents of these boats, many of whom are quite poor. He exclaimed during his phone-in that they owe the state years in unpaid fees for living in the boat houses.

Some critics on social media have said the government is simply forcing unwanted development on the area’s residents, who are perfectly content with their district just as it is.

Others argued that more pollutive projects are being undertaken on the banks of the Nile with the government’s consent.

Updated: June 25, 2022, 7:37 PM