Monday, January 11, 2010

Redevelopment: Living with the dead

Al Ahram Weekly (Dena Rashed)

The residents of Cairo's cemeteries are sceptical about government plans to reorganise the area, as they explain to Dena Rashed

Deadly silent may sound like a cliché when describing the alleyways that separate the cemeteries in Cairo, but there is an unexpected quietness at the Al-Ghafeer cemetery nonetheless. There are no burials, and no one is walking about or visiting the graves of loved ones. Minutes away from the bustling noise of Cairo's streets and in the middle of the day, stray dogs seem to own the place, relaxing and sleeping in the sandy alleys.

The residents are the people who keep the place alive, with many either choosing to live in the cemeteries or having little choice but to do so. Since Egyptian tombs consist of an underground burial room and a vacant area above ground level housing a room or two, many families reside in rooms above the dead. People residing there are not always related to the business of burials. Having not succeeded in finding cheap accommodation in the city, they end up renting rooms in the cemeteries.

Now it seems that this situation is about to change, since the government has announced that some cemeteries will be moved in an effort to revamp the city over the coming decade. While the Al-Ghafeer area is not among the cemeteries slated for removal, the future of its residents has long been on the line. The Ain Al-Sira cemeteries are expected to be moved to the outskirts of the city, on the other hand, because the area suffers from rising ground water.

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