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Cairo’s Zamalek residents hold street protest against removal of green spaces

Dozens of the island’s affluent residents took to the streets to call for more dialogue with the government on large building projects

Residents in the affluent Cairo island district of Zamalek have held a peaceful protest against a planned construction project on a bank of the Nile where green spaces are being torn up for building sites.

The protesters called for an immediate halt to the construction of a multi-storey car park on the entire length of the island’s eastern bank, and for more dialogue with the island’s residents, who had reportedly not been consulted on the project.

Among the group of people who stood for several hours on a pavement near the island’s Marriott Hotel for the protest on Saturday were former foreign ministers Nabil Fahmy — who held the position from 2013 to 2014 following the military’s ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi — and Amr Moussa, a prominent Mubarak-era diplomat who was foreign minister from 1999 to 2001 and also served as the Secretary General of the Arab League for a decade until 2011.

Also in attendance on Saturday was Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, another Zamalek resident who served as Egypt’s Minister of Trade and Industry from 2013 to 2015, and Ziyad Bahaa El Din, the former head of the General Authority for Investment.

“What we are calling for is an option that works for all those involved,” Mr Abdel Nour told reporters on the sidelines of the protest. “What is being done here is maiming the scenery, is an assault on nature and has a negative effect on the environment and the flow of traffic in the district.”

The 2.5-square-kilometre island has for the past two years been undergoing development work which has seen several of its green spaces removed to make way for various construction projects, including cafeterias, restaurants and other commercial and recreational enterprises.

The projects have been continuously criticised by Zamalek residents who do not want to see the island so profoundly altered.

“Perhaps most importantly, these projects have changed the very soul of Zamalek. It is a residential neighbourhood so it does not make sense to build such a long multistorey garage here,” Mr Abdel Nour said.

Mr Fahmy said that he was not against the government’s high-octane construction efforts, an important cornerstone of Mr El Sisi’s two-term presidency, but rather that he wanted to see more respect for the environment throughout such projects.

“Development efforts in Zamalek have caused a great deal of anxiety for residents, not because we are against development, but because we want to preserve the area’s residential status and more importantly, because we want to preserve Egypt’s environment at large,” Mr Fahmy said.

Photos and videos shared by Mr Fahmy with The National on Sunday showed heavy machinery continuing to clear large trees in the Saraya El Gezira public park on the island’s eastern bank to make way for the construction.

The protest comes soon after the United Nations climate change summit Cop27, which Egypt hosted in the Red Sea city of Sharm El Sheikh in November, that involved high-level talks on the preservation of natural spaces in urban areas.

At the inauguration of New Mansoura last week, a new city in the north of the country, Egypt’s housing minister was joined by Mr El Sisi in affirming the government’s commitment to sustainability throughout its construction efforts.

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