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Egypt denies destroying ancient Islamic cemetery, heritage site to build bridge

The Egyptian government yesterday denied reports that parts of the oldest Muslim cemetery in the country were being destroyed to make way for the construction of a new bridge [emad.mahran.3/Facebook]
The Egyptian government yesterday denied reports that parts of the oldest Muslim cemetery in the country were being destroyed to make way for the construction of a new bridge [emad.mahran.3/Facebook]

The Egyptian government yesterday denied reports that parts of the oldest Muslim cemetery in the country were being destroyed to make way for the construction of a new bridge.

Images circulating on social media show half-demolished tombs and antiquities in the so-called "City of the Dead", also known as Al-Qarafa, a four-mile-long cemetery that runs from the northern to the southern part of the capital Cairo.

Many people have reacted angrily to the alleged destruction at the necropolis, which is included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site of "Historic Cairo", which dates back five centuries and includes tombs dating to Mamluk leaders and other important figures, in addition to Egypt's civilian population, reports Egyptian news site Scoop Empire.

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Not long after the images went viral, Egypts Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities posted a statement on Facebook clarifying that no heritage sites had been destroyed and that the images online were of modern tombs and not those listed as heritage sites, citing the head of the Islamic, Coptic and Judaic Antiquities Sector, Osama Talaat, who said that the rumours were "completely untrue".

Arab News reports that a campaign has been launched on Facebook which has called for the authorities to forego the project, which would establish a bridge through the historic Mamluk Desert Cemetery.

Archaeologist Hisham Auf said that the cemeteries 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. Some of the burial sites belong to pashas, former Egyptian prime ministers and those who fought during the Revolution of 1919 against the British occupation, he added.

"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."

"This is not a process of moving the graves. This is the demolition of the graves, which is untenable behaviour. I am disgusted by the attempts to defend this sad day in the history of Cairo," Auf added.

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