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The languid houseboats on the bank of Kit Kat, in Cairo, formed a bucolic setting for lovers and walkers surveying the Corniche of the Nile on the island of Zamalek. The Nobel Prize for Literature Naguib Mahfouz made it, in 1966, in his novel Drifts on the Nile, the meeting place of a group of disillusioned intellectuals mocking, around a hookah of hashish, the hypocrisy of the government and the conservatism of Egyptian society under the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Some moored on the banks of the Nile since the reign of King Fouad Ierafter independence in 1922, the floating residences of Kit Kat are now doomed to disappear.
On Monday June 27, police ships began moving these remnants of old Cairo and several were destroyed. Four days earlier, the Nile Protection Department of the Ministry of Irrigation had sent notice of imminent demolition and staggering fines to the owners of thirty-two of these picturesque constructions. “They destroyed three of them on the pretext that they belonged to members of the Muslim Brotherhood [un mouvement d’opposition islamiste, classé terroriste par le pouvoir égyptien]. On Monday, they took away at least four barges. About fifteen were to be removed on Tuesday”, testifies Omar Hamilton, a 37-year-old Egyptian writer. Built in the 1920s in a traditional oriental style, the barge house that his family has owned for ten years is due to be removed on July 4.
“The authorities no longer want any residential occupation of the banks. They want to market this space for tourist purposes”, laments Mr. Hamilton. On television on June 24, the head of the Nile protection department in Greater Cairo, Ayman Anwar, defended this policy by assuring that many of these structures were built without the agreement of the State and he confirmed that the demolition campaign was the first step in an operation to redevelop the banks of the river.
The official said only residential barges would be removed, not those intended for commercial operation or rowing clubs. To the owners wishing to safeguard their property, Mr. Anwar advised to acquire a commercial license, and specified that, if they fail to obtain it, no compensation will be paid to them for the demolition of their barge house.
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