The government stopped an encroachment demolition campaign on Al-Waraq Island in Giza, pending “further research”, following the death of a citizen over clashes between security forces and the island’s residents, according to Member of Parliament of Al-Waraq district Ahmed Youssef.
Security forces of police and the army were carrying a demolition campaign on Sunday on 9 buildings, some of which were inhabited, when the clashes began between security forces and residents of the island, Journalist and eyewitness Moustafa Al-Sayed told Daily News Egypt.
The clashes resulted in the death of one citizen died and injury of 19, while 39 police forces were injured, according to the Ministry of Interior statement.
“The residents were afraid that the campaign would extend to be an evacuation of the island,” Al-Sayed added.
The clashes escalated between security forces and the residents during the funeral of the resident who died as a result of the clashes, as well as at noon when residents were on their way to bury him, according to Al-Sayed.
Police forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowds and arrested 10 after unarmed individuals “attacked” the forces and workers of the demolition campaign with throwing stones, according to the Ministry of Interior statement.
Furthermore, electricity was cut off the island from 2 to 4 in the morning, while the ferry which residents depend on to commute to and from the island was not in service from 5 in the morning to noon, Al-Sayed added.
Following the clashes, Prime Minister (PM) Sherif Ismail said on Sunday that the state must “restore its territory”, adding that security forces were “surprised” by the reaction of the island’s inhabitants “attacking” security forces, reported state owned broadcaster.
Ismail explained that there were about 700 decisions to retrieve land, adding that the government did not take any actions towards citizens’ houses.
Furthermore, the cabinet spokesperson Ashraf Sultan said in a telephone interview with privately-owned TV channel Al-Kahera Walnas that the campaign on Al-Warraq Island was on uninhabited buildings only, adding that it was only on state owned lands and that there were no projects currently in construction on the island.
“The people of the island can tell the difference between what is legal and what is not,” Youssef said, adding that “unknown persons” were involved and managed to ignite the clashes and convinced the people that the island would be evacuated.
“Nobody spoke of an evacuation,” he added, explaining that the campaign was only meant to demolish encroaching buildings.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, part of the demolition campaign, sent a delegate to verify if the mosques in Al-Warraq were used to call for Sunday clashes, speculating that members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group were involved, according to Minister of Religious Endowments Ahmed Mokhtar Gomaa statements during a telephone interview with privately owned TV CBC.
According to local newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm report, high rank officials said that Al-Warraq would be on top of the list of the government’s development plans, to become a hub for business and investments, as well as legalising the residency of current residents.
Thousands of unlicensed buildings have been removed since Al-Sisi initiated a campaign in May titled “The People’s Right” to retrieve state property and demolish encroachments in all governorates around Egypt. The armed forces joined the campaign alongside security forces.
In his speech during the inauguration of several projects in the governorate of Qena, Al-Sisi urged the police and the military to end illegal land acquisition. The president criticised the performance of the government, urging it to improve and forcefully settle the legal status of land taken by force from the state.
In June, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi condemned during a speech the encroaching buildings, adding “the islands should be a priority to deal with,” in refrence to Al-Warraq.
In 2002, then-PM Ated Ebeid decided to turn Al-Warraq and Al-Dahab islands into public property, a decision which the Administrative Court later annulled and granted the residents their property of land, according to local media reports.