Farewell to Cairo's famous houseboats on the Nile
The Egyptian government has announced that it will remove all the houseboats floating in Cairo, on the banks of the Nile.
It's the end of a Cairo cultural and architectural legacy. The only things that will remain are memories and, of course, the pictures.
Image: Jens Aber / Unsplash
These houseboats are known in Egypt as 'awamat', which the BBC explains is Arabic for 'floating'. They had their golden age at the beginning of the 19th century.
The New York Times reported on January 29 that over two dozen houseboats have already been dismantled or towed away to be turned into scrap. The process is going at full speed.
The Egyptian government wants to change the Nile's appearance and doesn't believe these beautiful structures have any touristic or commercial value.
France24 wrote on June 30 that residents of the last 30 or so houseboats that remain moored in the Nile have been offered no alternative or compensation, unlike those who previously left.
In the past, these floating homes were cabarets and pleasure domes, venues for leisure and nightlife.
Naguib Mahfuz, Nobel Prize of Literature and one of Egypt's most respected writers, owned one of these homes and lived and wrote on the Nile some of his most memorable works.
Saad, seen in this picture, is one of the last houseboat residents that has been evicted. He was born in a desert oasis and has been living by the waters of the Nile for the past 35 years, after spending some time in Europe.
87 years old Ikhlas Helmy, known locally as Madame Hemly, claims she was born on a houseboat and has spent her entire life on them. According to the BBC, she lived for several decades on a floating home she built herself and now doesn't have anywhere to go.
Houseboat residents claim that the government is only sparing a few bars and restaurants, The New York Times writes. This would be in line with the recent government policy to modernize (and monetize) the historical city.
In fact, more than a few awamats are rented as touristic apartments. Yannis (pictured) is a German tourist that claims that he always stays in an awamat when visiting Cairo. Maybe he will have to check in the local Four Seasons on his next trip to Egypt.
The Cairo houseboats sprung in the 1800s and soon became popular among the carefree artists and Bohemian intellectuals of the ancient city, as well as Western visitors.
For several decades, successive Egyptian rulers have tried to put pressure on the houseboat residents. However, the riverside denizens had always found a way to negotiate their stay with local authorities.
According to The New York Times, local residents claim that since the mid-2010s the government has raised the fees and changed the regulations several times until they finally stopped issuing or renewing houseboat licenses.
“It’s kind of been brewing, but I never thought it would actually, actually happen,” said novelist and houseboat resident Ahdaf Soueif to The New York Times. “They’re so much a part of the heritage of Cairo”, the writer laments.
Activists have collected thousands of signatures in an attempt to save the remaining houseboats. But it seems that the writing is on the wall.
Cairo is an ancient city that has changed a lot since the time of the pharaohs. However, time doesn't make the demise of the houseboats any less painful or significant.