OWNERS of the Nile’s famous houseboats in the heart of Egypt’s capital are having their homes demolished and towed away as authorities impound what they say are unlicensed dwellings.
The boats, many of them elegant two-story structures with verandas, have been moored for decades along the tree-lined banks of the Nile between the island of Zamalek and Giza, just west of central Cairo.
They have featured in films and literature, such as Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Adrift on the Nile.
Last week, owners of about 30 houseboats were served with notices saying that their boats would be impounded. Egypt’s water and irrigation ministry said on Tuesday that 15 had been removed, with the rest to be dealt with over the next few days.
The ministry posted pictures of the boats being smashed by diggers on barges and being towed away by tugs.
The water and irrigation ministry could not be reached for comment.
Ikhlas Helmy, 87, whose houseboat was still standing on Wednesday, said she had invested her savings in it and could not bear to leave.
“I was born in a houseboat, this is my entire life,” she said. “My husband loved the Nile like me. He died before he could refurbish the houseboat, so I did it.”
Authorities say the removals follow warnings to owners, presenting them as part of efforts to maintain the river and prioritise commerce and tourism.
In comments to local media Ayman Anwar, an official responsible for the protection of the Nile, compared the houseboats to polluting old cars.
Owners say they had been challenging sharp increases in mooring fees but had continued to pay other fees for use of the river bank and navigation rights.
They and their supporters on social media say the removal of the boats is the latest in a series of assaults on places of beauty or historic interest in the capital.
Officials have not said what development might be planned after the boats are gone.
On the eastern bank of the same stretch of the river, Egypt’s military has led the construction of a concrete walkway dotted with shops and cafes.
Elsewhere in Cairo, residential blocks, trees and parts of old cemeteries have been uprooted to make way for a network of new roads and bridges.
Ahmed el-Hosseiny, whose houseboat was towed away on Tuesday, described emptying it after being served with an eviction notice.
“We started to collect our possessions, our stories, our history, our hearts, our memories, and our feelings and place them into boxes,” he said.