Egypt denies destroying ancient Islamic cemeteries to build bridge

Egypt has poured cold water on an online campaign critical of the scheme to build a bridge through ancient cemeteries. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 July 2020

Egypt denies destroying ancient Islamic cemeteries to build bridge

  • Online campaigners claim construction project could wipe out historic Cairo monuments

CAIRO: The Egyptian government on Monday denied claims circulating on social media that ancient Islamic cemeteries and artifacts were being destroyed to make way for a bridge-building project.

Antiquities dating back five centuries in Cairo’s City of the Dead were among treasured items online posters said had been wrecked.
However, in a statement, head of the Islamic, Coptic and Judaic Antiquities Sector, Osama Talaat, said that the rumors were “completely untrue” and images of tombs that had appeared on social networking sites were not historic registered monuments.
He added that although the pictured tombs were from more recent times, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities had still ordered the formation of a scientific technical committee to examine the tombstones and look into the possibility of displaying some of them in museums.
An online campaign, launched on Facebook, has been critical of the scheme to build a bridge through the Mamluk Desert Cemetery.
Activist and journalist Khaled Abdel-Hadi said that the Mamluk tombs were part of Egypt’s world-famous Islamic architecture and destroying them would be to erase key aspects of the country’s history.
Archaeologist Hisham Auf pointed out that the cemeteries being demolished to make way for the bridge were in an archaeological site registered since 2009 and as such it was against the law to damage them.
He said the cemeteries dated back to the 1920s and contained the bodies of pashas, former Egyptian prime ministers, and members of the Egyptian intelligentsia who fought during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 against British occupation.

BACKGROUND

Archaeologist Hisham Auf pointed out that the cemeteries being demolished to make way for the bridge were in an archaeological site registered since 2009 and as such it was against the law to damage them.

This, he noted, “made the area a part of modern history as well as ancient history. The region as a whole went through changes, all of which were against the law as this tampered with Egyptian history and Egypt’s international pledge to UNESCO.
“It is true that during the construction of the Salah Salem Road during the time of (Egyptian) President Gamal Abdel Nasser parts of graves were removed, but this does not legitimize what is happening now and does not mean anything in the debate about the graves.”
Auf added: “We were informed only 10 days ago of the decision to demolish. It was an official report and was conducted by the person responsible for my mother’s family tombs in El-Ghafir, in which its two-room reception and large vacant space will be destroyed.
“As the tombs are on a side street, the cemeteries themselves are still safe. I don’t know if we have to move the remains of the dead. The state did not provide us with alternate graves.”
He said some people had been able to arrange for remains to be moved but others were struggling. “My great grandfather had bought a second cemetery in the same area, but he donated it. This second cemetery will most likely end up being destroyed and no one will move any of the bones located there.”
He said that to date there had been no offer of compensation.
“This is not a process of moving the graves. This is the demolition of the graves, which is untenable behavior. I am disgusted by the attempts to defend this sad day in the history of Cairo,” Auf added.


Turkey to arrest 82 including mayor over pro-Kurdish protests

Updated 4 min 50 sec ago

Turkey to arrest 82 including mayor over pro-Kurdish protests

  • The warrants relate to October 2014 protests in Turkey sparked by the seizure by Daesh militants of Kobane
  • Cimes committed during the protests included murder, attempted murder, theft, damaging property, looting, and burning the Turkish flag

ANKARA: Turkish authorities on Friday issued arrest warrants for 82 people, including a mayor, over pro-Kurdish protests six years ago, officials and local media said.
The warrants relate to October 2014 protests in Turkey sparked by the seizure by Daesh militants of the mainly Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane.
Police were on the hunt for the 82 suspects in the Turkish capital and six other provinces, the Ankara chief public prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The prosecutor's office did not specify what offences the 82 are alleged to have committed.
But it said crimes committed during the protests included murder, attempted murder, theft, damaging property, looting, burning the Turkish flag and injuring 326 security officials and 435 citizens.
There was also a warrant for the mayor of the eastern city of Kars, Ayhan Bilgen, Hurriyet daily reported.
Bilgen won the city in 2019 local elections representing the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which is Turkey's second-largest opposition group in the parliament.
Of a total of 65 HDP mayors returned in those elections, 47 have now been replaced by unelected officials, with some detained on terror charges, the party said last month.
The Turkish government accuses the HDP of being a political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party -- which has waged an insurgency against the state since 1984 -- but the party denies this.
Former HDP co-leaders, Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas, were named in the investigation but both have been in jail since 2016 pending multiple trials.
The government accused the HDP of urging people to take part in the protests across Turkey that left 37 dead.
But the HDP blames Turkish police for the violence.