Outcry in Egypt as iconic Nile river houseboats face removal, including novelist Ahdaf Soueif's home

Outcry in Egypt as iconic Nile river houseboats face removal, including novelist Ahdaf Soueif's home
3 min read
04 July, 2022
Egypt's authorities have been removing houseboats nestled on the banks of the Nile river, including one belonging to novelist and activist Ahdaf Soueif, as the country undergoes infrastructure development and the establishment of commercial entities.
Houseboats resting along the Nile river's banks are part of Egypt's rich heritage [Getty]

The houseboat of renowned Egyptian novelist and activist Ahdaf Soueif was towed on Monday from its location along the Nile river in Cairo, according to Al-Araby TV.

Footage circulating on social media also showed the tugging away of Soueif’s houseboat, as well as images of her stranded with her belongings. Soueif’s son, filmmaker Omar Robert Hamilton, also shared videos of their home being removed along the river.

Authorities had already cut water and electricity from Soueif’s houseboat on Saturday according to the Facebook page belonging to the novelist, who is also the aunt of jailed Egyptian dissident Alaa Abdel-Fattah.

"Buying this houseboat was my dream", Soueif told AFP, who had been living in her houseboat since 2013.

The Egyptian authorities’ decision to tow away Cairo’s iconic houseboats, which stretch along the river's west bank, has sparked fury among Egyptian activists, prompting the spread of the #SaveCairoHouseboats hashtag on social media.

The activists say that the houseboats are being removed and demolished to make way for commercial establishments and cafes on the river’s western banks. They also described it as a "great loss" and a "victory for ugliness and distortion".

Some 30 houses were subject to removal orders last week, with Egyptian authorities ordering residents to evacuate their homes within 10 days, reported the British Financial Times newspaper.

Notable resident 88-year-old Ekhlas Helmy told the British daily that she "has nowhere to go" as her houseboat is due to be towed on Tuesday.

Photos of Helmy bidding farewell to Soueif’s home and packing up her belongings while other houseboats can be seen being tugged away were also shared on social media.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The New Arab (@thenewarab)

Activists say that at least a dozen houseboats, which are known colloquially as 'awamat', have now been taken away.

A decision to remove houseboats from the Nile was allegedly taken in 2020, said The Financial Times, but residents insist that they were not made aware of this decision until now, with authorities refusing to grant them new licenses to keep their homes.

Cairo’s houseboats, which have been present since the 1800s, are an emblematic symbol of Egyptian culture, having featured in several famous songs, films and novels, notably renowned writer Naguib Mahfouz’s 1966 novel 'Adrift on the Nile', which was also made into a feature film in 1971.

The lush greenery surrounding the houseboats also provides a change from the cityscape’s neutral colour palette.

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Egypt has been undergoing an infrastructure renovation and an increase in development projects in recent years, according to Al Jazeera.

The construction of commercial entities, bridges and real estate have been ongoing under General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's leadership, affecting millions of citizens along the way.