Tension, suspicion and anxiety have not ended since the beginning of our first steps to the ferry of Shubra al-Khaymah, which has brought us to Al-Warraq Island; That piece of paradise, which has become a place of conflict between people who came to it dozens and may be hundreds of years ago, settled and issued their government papers confirming their ownership, and the authority that has been trying to remove them.
It is one o’clock, and the call for Noon prayer could be heard from the mosque, mixed with the light of the sun that has spread over the island and dozens of surrounding islands. Things seem normal, but the closer you get, the more you know things are not normal at all.
Once you arrive at the river ferry that will take you to the island, especially if you are a stranger, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
A central security vehicle stands at the beginning of the road leading to Al-Moa’assassa ferry, which transfers people to and from the island, with officers and soldiers seem at first sight to be just hanging out, while in fact they are watching all that might happen suddenly from the people of the island in defense of their homes and land, where they grew up.
They are held away from any aspect of life for the island and its people.
- The people of the island of Al-Warraq had invited us to meet with them on the island to see their situation in reality and the extent of the suffering they are subjected to. We accepted the invitation and went to meet them. When we went to the ferry, which transfers people to the island and while we were waiting for it, we noticed the presence of a central security vehicle stationed at the ferry and a table with security personnel who were more than five, of which police ranks were numerous on their shoulders. They looked at us with great surprise as if they knew that we were not from the people of the island whom they have known very well.
- We waited on the ferry dock for about a quarter of an hour waiting for the ferry to take us inside the island to meet the people who were waiting for us on the other side of the island.
- While we were waiting, we tried to take some photographs of the security vehicle stationed on the dock, as well as the officers and security personnel, to document the scene, but that was difficult as they were examining us and whispering throughout the waiting period time, however, we were able to take a few non-professional photos of the scene when the ferry arrived.
- We took the ferry and then moved to the other side; Al Warraq Island, where some of the people who had invited us to visit them were waiting for us. We shook hands and went to the house where we would meet.
- On our way to the house or “Mandara” as the people of the island call it, we passed by many houses, and we saw the situation in which they live in; Poverty, poor standard of living until, and such a tragic degrading situation, until we arrived in the “Mandara” where the Council of the families of the island of Al-Warraq meets.
- We were welcomed by the owner of the house and a group of people who were waiting for us to come to the meeting, but we were told that the family council had been postponed for some time for reasons that were out of their hands, and yet they would meet us as they invited us to.
- The meeting began by talking about Al-Warraq Island and about the ownership of those people to the lands and houses, as private properties documented and officiated at the real estate registry office, and that now the state wants to force them out, to establish a tourism project with UAE participation, with no regard to the people of this island and their properties where they were born and grew up, them and their fathers and grandparents.
- The attendees were the people of the island who were meeting us; about 7 people affected by Prime Minister’s Decree No. 20 of 2018, published in the Official Gazette no. 22 bis., on June 2nd, 2018, which included the establishment of a new urban community on the territory of Al-Warraq Island, according to the detection of coordinates on the entire area of the island and the surface of 1561 acres, without considering or referring to the human society that has existed for hundreds of years, with all utilities such as electricity and water, except for the sewage system which they had been demanding of the state over and over again, including the prime minister who is the source of this decision.
- Then the people continued to talk about the island and its location, where it is located in the center of the River Nile area in Al-Warraq, Giza, with an area of about 1800 acres, of which about 1,200 acres of clay agricultural land, which is one of the finest agricultural lands in Egypt according to them. It has a population of more than 120,000 people.
- The island also has many factories, schools, farms, local units a village hospital, a social affairs unit, 2 water stations, an agricultural cooperative society, a veterinary unit, a civil society unit, a post office, a police station and a youth center, as well as 5 private playgrounds, many other facilities, and about 40 mosques belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf, 2 churches, and many administrative bodies serving the people of the island with neighboring villages and surrounding areas.
- The people also spoke to us about the beginning of the story and their struggle with the state, when the State issued Resolution No. 542 of 200, including the expropriation of the lands of Al-Warraq Island for public benefit, which was then canceled by the judiciary after a long battle with the state at the time, and things remained relatively calm until the announcement of the Gulf and Arab tourism projects, which has been posted through social media until it became a reality, with the issuance of the Prime Minister’s decision No. 20 of 2018, including the establishment of a new urban community on the territory of Al-Warraq Island in violation of Resolution 848 of 2001 issued by the Prime Minister (for them not to be evicted from their homes).
- Then people told us about the violations they have been subjected to since they decided to counter the state’s attempts to seize their land and take it by force in June 2017, where they were assaulted that even one of them was murdered in those events. In addition, 22 individuals of the island were listed in case No. 4047 for the year 2018, administrative Warraq charged by protesting, and their first trial session is scheduled for 29/9/2018.
- Also, people complained during this meeting of the security restrictions on them in the introduction of food supplies to the island, building materials, that the water is continuously cut off from the island, that the media campaign on them in the governmental and private channels is accusing them of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the island is a focal point of the Brotherhood’s concentration which is not the truth. They said they just wanted to live in peace within their homes and land where they grew up, and that the resolution to affiliating the island to the brotherhood to the public has become the pinnacle of the system on which all its losing issues are hanged.
We tried to wash our hands but the water was cut off, which confirmed their suffering from the continuous cutting of water on the island. People also expressed strong dissatisfaction with the spread of drug trafficking in public day and night without and security control, although there is a police point inside the island, especially after the clashes between the people and the police in June 2017 last year (We had already noticed that as we were leaving, we passed through the side streets of the island and we saw a woman selling narcotics during the day), which again raises the question of the real role of the police.
The origin of the story:
A Brief History of Al Warraq Island Events:
The events of Al-Warraq Island began when troops from the army and police on July 16th 2017 started to remove and demolish a number of about 18 houses of Al-Warraq Island, resulting in clashes between the residents and security forces which fired shots “cartridges” and tear gas grenades, leading to the death of one of the people of the island; “Sayed Ghalban”, and the injury of many, which led to a decision by the Minister of the Interior to stop the campaign of forced eviction of the people of Al-Warraq Island.
A report of the incident was issued, 22 people from Al Warraq were accused of protesting, and the case was referred to the Misdemeanor Court set for first hearing on July 30th 2018, and the case is still in Court.
In addition to the issuance of the Prime Minister’s Decision No. 20 of 2018, which includes the establishment of a new urban community on the territory of Al-Warraq Island, which means turning that island into a city like 6th of October, New Cairo, 10th of Ramadan, Badr, Shorouq and other urban cities, in preparation for the expropriation of the people of the island, which led the people of the island to appeal against the above-mentioned decision before the Court of the State Council.
However, the State has taken many measures to tighten the situation on the people of the island to force them to give up their homes, such as restricting the entrance of food, building materials, the deliberate cutting of drinking water, preventing them from the transfer and sale of agricultural crops, and the arrest of some of them putting them in many cases to force them to leave their homes.
Al Warraq Island is not the first island the state plans to turn into an investment project, as there is a plan to convert many islands such as the islands of Mohammed, Dahab and others.
All of the above proves the state’s policies toward the people of Al-Warraq Island by forcing them to evacuate the island constituting a violation of one of the most important human rights; the right to housing, as well as the attack on private property. As we are not only talking about violating ownership of some houses or yards to work on constructing a vital road, but about evicting people from hundreds or thousands of houses for the sake of an investment project. In different circumstances, citizens will resort to the state to protect them from the attempts of businessman or a greedy capitalist wanting their land, but here we talk about the state itself which plays this role!! Who to turn to?
- Not to resume the forced evictions again.
- The withdrawal of the security forces siege and allowing the residents of the island to enter food, and building materials, to enable the people to sell their agricultural crops, and other necessary measures towards their right to adequate housing.
- Taking all legal measures to stop the security prosecution of the people of the island accused in criminal cases and reconciliation with them in those cases.
- Adequate compensation to the family of the deceased Sayed Ghalban and those who were injured.
- Adequate compensation for damage to the owners and residents of houses that were demolished by the security forces.
- Abolishing Resolution No. 20 of 2018 issued by the Prime Minister, which includes “the establishment of a new urban society on the lands of Al-Warraq Island”.
- Allowing a community dialogue between representatives of the state and the people of the island to find alternative solutions accepted by the people of the island.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Field Visit by: Abdullah Tantawi and Nour Fahmi