NYT: Destruction of Nile houseboats removes parts of country’s history

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Owners of boat houses on the Nile River in Cairo denounced the governmental decision to remove boat houses by force and fine the owners with up to $50,000, reported the New York Times. “This week may be their last sharing that particular stretch of the Nile, a narrow tract in central Cairo that, since the 1800s, has been lined with wooden houseboats — homes that double as living lore,” it said. “More than half of the 32 structures, connected to mainland Cairo by lush riverbank gardens, have already been destroyed or towed away for scrap, with at least 14 of them disappearing on Tuesday alone.”

“With them will fade the remnants of a glittering, fast-disappearing history. Divas hosted debauched salons on them. The Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz wrote a novel on one, and famous films were set on others. Life was peaceful, airy and private on the riverbank, nothing like the dusty, frenzied metropolis whose imagination the floating homes had captured for so long.”

“Though the government has offered little information about its plans for the riverbank, residents say the authorities have increasingly pushed to replace residential boats with floating cafes and restaurants in recent years. That is in line with government plans to modernize — and monetize — much of Cairo by handing it over to private developers or the military, bulldozing several historic neighbourhoods to build new high-rises, roads and bridges.” “But even in a country where the heavy hand of the state often comes down on ordinary citizens without warning, the houseboats have disappeared with disquieting speed.”

The newspaper quoted residents saying that over five years, the government raised fees or changed regulations several times and stopped renewing or issuing licenses two years ago. A letter sent to residents last year also indicated that the government would only issue new licenses to commercial boats. Officials are now using the lack of permits to justify the demolitions, even though residents say the government refused to renew the licenses.