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Egypt: Authorities begin removing Cairo's iconic Nile houseboats

Residents, some of whom have lived on the boats for decades, are trying to bring the issue to the public's attention
Egyptian authorities are seen removing one of the houseboats from the banks of the River Nile on 27 June 2022 (Twitter/@ORHamilton)
Egyptian authorities are seen removing one of the houseboats from the banks of the River Nile on 27 June 2022 (Twitter/@ORHamilton)

Egyptian authorities have started removing dozens of Cairo's iconic houseboats floating near the banks of the River Nile amid protests from residents.

Earlier this month, more than 30 houseboats in the Kit Kat area of the Giza neighbourhood of the capital were issued removal orders by the Central Administration for the Protection of the River Nile.

On Monday, four houseboats were removed by Nile police, while on Tuesday, a fifth houseboat was dragged away.

Omar Robert Hamilton, a British-Egyptian filmmaker whose family live in one of the houseboats, told Middle East Eye that although there had been issues around the houseboats for years that they were surprised to receive the removal order last week.

Hamilton said that around 32 houseboats sit on a slight stretch of the Nile bank, stretching nearly one kilometre, up to the Imbaba Bridge.

https://twitter.com/ORHamilton/status/1541379642095026177

Authorities told residents that the deadline for removing the houseboats was the 4 July.

Hamilton said his family had anticipated a removal order at some point after the authorities had refused to renew their permits to moor in the Nile in the past years.

"Pressure has been building for a long time, now the family are actually fighting publicly, I think they feel better," he told MEE.

"We just did not know where we stood for years as they refused to renew licences, and they were making clear that they would take the land from us."

Hamilton added that the residents are trying to bring the issue to the public by speaking to the media and getting stories about it published.

He said that authorities had told them to obtain a commercial permit, normally purchased by restaurants and cafes, to keep the houseboat in its place, but the family had refused.

"We are now very much energised, in a battle mood, but of course, it's scary," he said.

"This is a family home, this is where I and my brother got married, and where my children first came to, where we rode Covid-19 all together, this is the centre of a very extended and large family.

"It's hard to imagine what life will be without it, and how to bring the family together without it."

'I have no memory away from the Nile'

Egyptian houseboats were once a thriving community on the Nile, where the elite of society lived.

Before the 1960s, almost 600 houseboats were floating near the upmarket area of al-Zamalek, housing writers, musicians, media figures, British and German spies and politicians.

However, Egyptians abandoned the houseboats after the government decided in the 1960s to move them north of the river close to Imbaba, one of Cairo's working-class neighbourhoods. 

Ekhlas Helmy, the oldest resident living in the houseboats, called on President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi to overturn the decision to remove them from the houseboats.

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"I have no memory away from the Nile, I was born here and lived here for 87 years," she wrote on Facebook.

"They claim that I did not pay the permits, but in fact, the authorities refused to accept money and said that permit renewals are suspended.

"I'm in this day and age looking to live the rest of my life in peace."

Egyptian authorities said that removing the houseboats is part of a plan to develop the Nile corniche and create river walkways.

Ayman Anwar, the director of the Central Administration for the Protection of the River Nile, told local media that the plan is to restore "the civilised scenery of the Nile River, in the Cairo and Giza areas, which are considered tourist attractions".

"These houseboats are damaging the civilised scenery. They don't have permits to dock in the Nile, and they will be removed... while the tourist houseboats will remain in place," Anwar said.