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Cairo's historic Nile River houseboats removed in govt push

7/7/2022 11:55
        With verdant gardens on one side and water on the other, they were an anomaly in a city bordered on three sides by desert. For decades, Cairo's houseboats occupied prime waterfront real estate, offering residents a front-row seat to the passing Nile River, with its water taxis, anglers, sport rowers and occasional family of ducks.
        
        But it's coming to an end: A government push to remove the string of floating homes from the city's Nile River banks has dwindled their numbers from several dozen to just a handful. Houseboats have been a Cairo tradition dating back to the 1800s and government efforts to remove them have drawn criticism in Egypt, where residents are mourning the loss of not just their homes but a way of life. Critics say the move is part of a series of development decisions by the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sissi that endanger the city's heritage.
        
        "The point is that they really, really don't seem to understand that there is value — intangible values — there is value in history," said Ahdaf Soueif, a prize-winning Egyptian novelist who bought and renovated a her houseboat after moving back to Egypt from the United Kingdom 10 years ago.
        
        The floating homes are being removed or renovated to develop the waterfront commercially, according to officials. They have not released detailed plans of what that entails. In recent years a surge in infrastructure projects by el-Sissi's government has drawn concern about heritage sites, including an ancient cemetery and historic gardens.
        
        In late June, residents of at least 30 houseboats were ordered to evacuate within 20 days. Located on a stretch of the river in the working-class neighborhoods of Imbaba and Kit-Kat, they sat opposite the upscale residential island of Zamalek. The eviction notices came after years of government pressure in the form of increasingly expensive mooring licenses.
        
        Action followed soon after, with most of the dwellings being dismantled by their owners or moved by the government in late June. The evictions are ongoing.
        Soueif said her two sons had their wedding parties at her houseboat and it’s where she planned to spend the rest of her life. This week, her family watched it float away.
        



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