Dozens of police and Central Security Forces surrounded the downtown Cairo building that houses the Townhouse gallery — as well as several families and businesses — with orders from the muncipality to evacuate and demolish it on Monday morning.
Eyewitnesses said that police and workers were destroying parts of the building’s interior, despite the fact that tenants had obtained an official document confirming that the building is being considered for listing as a heritage site from a government body on Sunday.
“The police and men with picks and shovels are working their way from the first floor upward. You can hear through the open windows how they’re smashing the tile floors and shattering glass on what sounds like all floors,” said Alexandra Stock, a former curator at Townhouse gallery who was on-site. “Workers are carrying down wooden beams and piling them on the street.”
At 2 pm, Townhouse gallery posted on their official Facebook page: “Police forces removing windows from all the apartments of the building.”
Armed police had arrived in riot gear early on Monday and were aggressive with the tenants and their supporters, Stock told Mada Masr.
The southeast corner of the five-story, late-19th-century building on Nabrawy Street collapsed on April 6, prompting the municipality to send an architect to assess the building’s situation and safety last week.
According to Mido Sadek, a former Townhouse employee and part of the volunteer group supporting the tenants since the collapse, instead of properly assessing the building, the municipality’s representatives simply stood at the entrance and issued a non-legally binding memo stating it should be demolished because it is dangerous.
On Sunday, after the group reached out to the governmental National Organization of Urban Harmony (NOUH), Cairo’s Deputy Governor Mohamed Amin Abdel Tawab visited the Nabrawy Street building. He assured tenants that the governorate would send a new committee to carry out a proper assessment in two days, and the building would not be demolished until due process is carried out.
The group has an official document from the NOUH, which protects heritage sites, stating that the building in the process of being considered for listing as a heritage site and will be treated as such, according to Townhouse employee Sarah Bahgat.
Soheir Hawas, who heads the NOUH and had intervened to postpone the demolition, is currently travelling and Mada Masr was unable to reach her for comment.
“This is inexplicable,” Yasser Gerab, Townhouse’s outreach manager, told Mada Masr. “We want a decision regarding the building to be made by an impartial committee, according to the rule of law.”
“They are forcing us out. They are breaking our furniture and windows, and won’t let anyone in the building,” said 30-year-old Youssra Mounir, who has been living in the building for five years. “They have a lot of weapons and we are unarmed.”
“We haven’t seen a copy of this decision to evacuate or to demolish the building,” she added, “even though we’ve been asking for one since this started.”
The tenants of the apartments on the roof had been holding out, but were forced by armed police to evict the building Monday morning, Stock said.
Note: An earlier version of this article stated that tenants had an official document listing the building as a heritage site. It was edited on April 11 to indicate that this was a receipt confirming that their application is in process.