The Egyptian state has yet again proved intent on pursuing its own moneyed interests at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of its most vulnerable citizens. On July 16, security forces attempted to evict hundreds of residents from Warraq, a Nile River island just north of Cairo, and demolish their homes. Hundreds of demonstrators came out to resist the demolitions. One person was killed and 19 were injured, as security forces fired rubber bullets and released tear gas to disperse the protests. The standoff at Warraq is not an isolated incident and speaks to the debilitating and fatal cost of the state’s vision of urban expansion.
Warraq Island is the site of a major project called Rod el-Farrag Axis, by which the state, along with several private investors, are attempting to build a bridge to connect central Cairo with suburbs on the outskirts of the city. Future projections proposed by architectural firms show that the Egyptian government considers Warraq Island to a bourgeoning prime real estate site. About 90,000 people live on the island, many of them impoverished, and all of them will be affected, to some extent, by the Rod el-Farrag bridge project, let alone any future luxury development. Last week, demonstrators were resisting evictions that the government stated were necessary in order for the project to move forward. 700 demolitions were slated to take place before the clashes, but – as a result of the protests – only 30 were carried out. As of now, about 150 demolitions are still slated to happen.
This is only the latest in a long history of forced displacement instituted by the Egyptian government for the sake of its own development projects. When the Aswan High Dam was under construction starting 1960 under Nasser’s rule, Nubian communities were uprooted in order to make room for the dam. Just a couple of years ago, thousands of residents living along the Suez Canal were displaced in order to make room for the “New Suez Canal” expansion.
Resistance to the current Warraq project has garnered attention on independent and international media, with other victims of displacement on Dahab Island marching in solidarity with those on Warraq. While the government has largely scaled back on demolitions for now, and claims it is only seizing illegally used state land, the plans for the bridge project are set to continue.
As the Egyptian state moves forward with unrealistic and inhumane development projects, that come at the cost of the most vulnerable citizens. If the state continues to pursue these projects without considering how residents in these sites might be affected, resistance will continue to intensify.