The government is determined to displace its residents: Renewed clashes in Warraq Island

Al-Warraq Island, located in the heart of the Nile River in the Egyptian governorate of Giza, has witnessed demonstrations and clashes between residents and security forces during the past few days in protest against the arrest of several residents because they rejected the government’s plan to evacuate the island to establish commercial and investment centres and towers. The latest developments in the island began last Friday when the people organized a march to protest against the continued imprisonment of a number of their children accused of the “Al-Warraq Island case.” Subsequently, the security forces stormed the island, clashed with the residents, and arrested at least three.

Warraq Island case

The government’s plan to evacuate Al-Warraq Island, inhabited by about 100,000 citizens, began in June 2017, when President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi gave the starting signal to displace the island’s residents, claiming that its lands belong to the state. The people vehemently deny this, stressing that they have contracts for their land and have lived on it for decades and that the state normally provided them with services such as water, electricity and schools. About a month after Sisi spoke, police forces, along with officials from the Ministries of Awqaf, Irrigation and Agriculture, raided the island to implement decisions to remove about 700 homes on the island, which developed into clashes that resulted in the death of a citizen of Warraq, and the injury of several police and civilians.

The security forces arrested dozens of island residents. They charged 35 of them with “violating public and private property, displaying force, preventing public officials from carrying out their work, thuggery and displaying force.” After a trial that lasted for years, in December 2020, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced one defendant to life imprisonment in absentia, 15 years in prison for 30 others, and five years for four defendants. Attorney Sayed Mohamed, a lawyer for a number of the defendants in the case, confirmed that the verdict is “very harsh” and is not appropriate for a patient with no evidence or seizures. He explained, “Most of the police’s injuries were suffocation from gas or bruises…in which 9 of the defendants were injured and taken from hospitals and included in the case, and one of the families was killed, and no one was charged with murder.” Since then, the people of Al-Warraq Island have been demonstrating from time to time to demand the dropping of sentences against their children and the release of those arrested, considering that the case is one of the pressure tools used by the government to force them to give up their homes and property on the island.

Warraq siege

Over the past years, the Egyptian government has applied various pressures to displace the island’s people. In 2018, the former Prime Minister, Sherif Ismail, issued a decision to transfer the affiliation of Al-Warraq lands to the New Urban Communities Authority affiliated with the Ministry of Housing to establish a “new urban community,” which is a preparatory measure for the start of “development” operations. After that, the government successfully confiscated tens of buildings and acres under the pretext of establishing a secure campus for the traffic axes that pass through Al-Warraq Island while offering meagre financial compensation, which the island’s residents rejected, but the plan went ahead.

In recent years, the authorities have tightened the siege on the island’s people. The agricultural association and the veterinary unit were closed, and the post office served about 3,500 people, most of whom were pensioners, widows and people with special needs. In November 2021, the authorities closed down the health unit that handles the registration of births and deaths and provides essential medical services, including vaccinating children against various diseases, under the pretext of carrying out maintenance work. Then, about eight months later, the residents were surprised when the health unit building was completely demolished, in addition to the youth centre building.

Shawky Seddik, a specialist in urbanization issues, considered in an exclusive interview with Egypt Watch that all the government’s actions confirm that it is moving forward in implementing its plan to displace the people of Al-Warraq Island to establish luxurious commercial, investment and residential areas and offer them to investors, especially Gulf investors. Siddik also confirmed that “the views that the government may postpone the island project at present, due to the difficult economic conditions and fear of an explosion of citizens’ anger, are incorrect. These conditions push the government to move forward with its plan faster to offer the island’s lands to investors in exchange for payment in hard currency.”