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Egypt court refers Nile islanders’ eviction case to experts

Ruling comes almost two years after authorities moved to demolish 'illegal' buildings on Warraq Island, a large green isle near downtown Cairo that is home to almost 100,000 people
Warraq Island is accessible from Cairo only by ferry (AFP)

An Egyptian court on Saturday referred to experts the case of Nile islanders seeking to avoid eviction by the government, a defence lawyer said.

The ruling by the administrative court comes almost two years after Egyptian authorities moved to demolish "illegal" buildings on Warraq Island, a large green island near downtown Cairo that is home to almost 100,000 people.

The operation triggered violent clashes between residents and security forces, with at least one person being killed before the campaign was suspended, AFP reported.

The government maintains its actions were aimed at removing "encroachments" on state property, in order to develop the impoverished island.

The fate of the islanders has drawn the attention of the United Nations' expert on housing rights, Leilani Farha.

"The government has expressed an interest in initiating luxury developments throughout Cairo," she said in October after a visit to Egypt. "There is concern that the island will fall prey to this vision."

She has since criticised "new expropriations and home demolitions", triggering charges from the government of "unfounded allegations" over its housing policies.

Hussein Zeidan, a building contractor living on Warraq, told Reuters: “Development is great, but we don’t think it’s meant for us.”

Authorities have tried to coax people to leave with offers to buy their land or provide them with apartments at Asmarat, a sprawling housing complex on Cairo’s desert outskirts.

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“The offers aren’t enough - about 1,400 pounds ($80) per square metre. That’s too little to be able to afford other land in Cairo,” Zeidan said.

Other residents say prices on the bank opposite the island are closer to 8,000 pounds ($450) per square metre.

Authorities claim illegal buildings have created an informal residential area that should be cleared, although officials deny the plans are intended to make way for a luxury investment project.

Many of Warraq's residents insist they hold legal property contracts and took the case to court to challenge the government's decision.

Saturday's ruling is "a preliminary procedure that would allow experts to check the veracity of the residents' appeal claims," said defence lawyer Sayed Ibrahim.

The legal proceedings will take months and a verdict is not expected until after June, Ibrahim said.