Following clashes between security forces and residents of Al-Warraq island this week, which resulted in the death of a citizen and the injury of dozens from both sides, the retreat of security forces is likely to be temporary as government officials have asserted they had no plans of stopping the demolition of buildings they claimed exist on lands owned by the state.
“The government will not be intimidated to stop its plans,” Deputy of Giza Governor Alaa Al-Haras confirmed to Daily News Egypt Tuesday, declining to give exact dates on when encroachment procedures would resume.
On the other hand, residents claim to have ownership rights over the lands and properties. Al-Haras denied the demolition of inhabited buildings, saying the campaign targets uninhabited buildings built on state-owned lands.
According to Prime Minister (PM) Sherif Ismail’s press statements following tensions, the state intends to “restore its territory” and has issued at least 700 demolition orders. Similarly, he claimed the government did not target citizens’ houses.
But Mahmoud Mohammed, one of the island’s residents, told Daily News Egypt Tuesday that the demolition campaign, which was carried out by a large number of police soldiers demolished one inhabited house.
“Soldiers hit people in order to demolish their houses,” Mohammed added, explaining how the clashes between security forces and people erupted.
Members of parliament (MPs) agreed on Monday with the governor of Giza that there would be coordination between the island’s residents and the executive branch institutions, MP of Al-Warraq district Saad Beder told Daily News Egypt.
MPs mediated to end the tensions between the government and residents of the island after clashes erupted on Sunday when the government was carrying out an encroachment demolition campaign, which was temporarily stopped.
“Meeting with the residents will not pressure us to retrieve our plan,” Al-Haras asserted, saying that claims of state assaults on citizens and their properties was “an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood group to ignite conflict.”
The outlawed group has been largely accused by officials and state supporting media to have been creating tensions and inciting people against the state.
Al-Warraq resident had protested Sunday as clashes with security forces left one dead. A large funeral was held by angry residents.
Security forces of police and the army were carrying a demolition campaign on nine 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 escalated between security forces and the residents during the funeral of the resident who died as a result of the clashes, and at noon when residents were on their way to bury him, according to Al-Sayed.
“The residents were afraid that the campaign would extend to be an evacuation of the island,” Al-Sayed explained.
Still, police forces arrested on Sunday 10 citizens, after firing tear gas to disperse the crowds as unarmed individuals “attacked” the forces and workers of the demolition campaign with throwing stones, according to the Ministry of Interior statement.
The North Giza prosecution ordered the detention of at least nine for 15 days pending investigations, according to state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram. The prosecution accused the defendants of causing riots during the clashes between residents and police.
However, Al-Haras confirmed that residents would not be evacuated, explaining that even if the government wanted to evacuate some areas, there would be compensation.
“There will be development, not an evacuation,” Beder said, adding that the area would host touristic projects hence the infrastructure of the island would be developed to serve both the projects and the residents.
High-rank officials said that Al-Warraq island 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, according to local newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm report.
He added that the island is inhabited by almost 90,000 citizens, and the state would be unable to offer them alternate residency. The island also has all basic life services including hospitals, schools, and police station, according to Beder.
In August 2014, the Minister of Housing and Urban Development Mostafa Madbouli discussed with the governor of Giza Ali Abdulrahman a plan to develop Al-Warraq island, reported Al-Ahram.
The plan objectives were creating tourist attractions, public open areas for entertainment, and cultural activities, raising the quality of life for the current residents of the island, investing in the island’s unique location, and recreational opportunities for citizens.
Local media reported that an Emirati company was carrying out a project towards the development of Al-Warraq island, which Al-Haras denied.
In June, Ismail decided to exclude 17 Blue Nile islands from the list of natural reserves, including Al-Warraq island, in order to prepare for development projects, according to local media.
President Abdel Fattah 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, demolishing thousands of buildings since then.
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 reference to Al-Warraq.
The Administrative Court annulled in 2002 a decision by then-PM Atef Ebeid to turn Al-Warraq and Al-Dahab islands into public property, granting the residents their property of land, according to local media reports.