A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cairo's Other Island: Gazirat Warraq and Why it Votes Islamist

Warraq Island is at the top (Google Maps)
Ahram Online has an interesting geography lesson for all the Cairo hands. Everyone who visits Cairo gets to know the elite suburb of Zamalek, on Gezira Island (which means "island island," so most people just say Zamalek); the smaller Roda Island to its south is home to luxury hotels and old palaces. But the biggest island in the Nile at Cairo is Gezirat Warraq, the big one at the top of the map at left, and tourists don't go there; neither do most Cairo residents. A rural, agricultural island, there are no bridges, and only a single ferry. Yet it's officially home to 40,000 people (the locals say 80,000). On the island, the choice of transport is Toktok vehicles which charge more than taxis in Zamalek, according to the locals, or donkeys.

Sarah El-Rashidi at Ahram Online has gone to Warraq to find out what the people there are thinking. They think they're neglected, for one thing, and they wish they had a bridge. Several residents call the place a "living hell" and are ashamed to admit they live on the island. Poverty, inflation and government neglect have made it a stronghold for Islamists, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Al-Nour.

It's a reminder that there is much more to Egypt, and to Cairo, than most people see. And it helps explain the appeal of the Salafis, that bewilders so many people in the salons of Zamalek, on another island just upriver.

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