CAIRO — Egyptian police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse a rock-pelting crowd of residents defending their homes on a Nile River island against bulldozers sent by the government to demolish their illegally-built dwellings. The clashes left one person dead and 50 others injured.
The violence on the island of el-Waraq on the southern fringes of Cairo is likely to stain a nationwide campaign launched this summer by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s general-turned-president, to restore government control over state-owned land.
El-Sissi has vowed in televised comments to show no lenience to anyone taking illegal advantage of state-owned property, saying the law would prevail regardless of how powerful or wealthy the offenders were. Anyone using land that does not rightfully belong to them, he angrily said, is a “common thief.”
Illegal use of state land is widespread in Egypt, as well as building on agrarian land in violation of the law. Since el-Sissi launched his campaign earlier in the summer, local media has been showing images of police and army troops demolishing buildings illegally built or operating without a license, attempting to project an image of a government keen on protecting what is being billed as “people’s property.”
To el-Waraq’s middle class and poor residents, however, the sight of bulldozers coming to demolish their homes may have been more than they could bear at a time when they, like most Egyptians, are struggling to…