Egypt highway uproots graves, homes in ‘City of Dead’

Egyptian mother-of-three Menna said she was caught off guard when a bulldozer clearing space for a controversial highway flattened much of a mausoleum that doubled as her home in a sprawling cemetery.

“The earth mover suddenly hit the wall and we found ourselves throwing our things in a panic” outside, she told AFP. 

“They kicked us out on the street,” she said, surrounded by rubble and dust in the UNESCO-listed world heritage site. 

Menna’s parents and grandparents had made their home among the graves of the City of the Dead, the oldest necropolis in the Muslim world.  For those unable to afford prohibitively high rents in Egypt’s capital, the burial chambers provide shelter for thousands like her.

Many built extensions to the original mausoleums, eking out a largely tranquil, if bizarre, existence side-by-side with dead sultans, singers and saints in the sprawling east Cairo cemetery. 

But Menna said her peace — and that of the dead — was shattered by the arrival of workmen.

“It was awful. We moved the dead on straw mats,” she said.

She and her husband shifted several bodies, including the remains of her father, to a segment of her home still intact. Menna is now living with neighbours in part of the cemetery that is not in the demolition area.

Dozens of bodies were displaced by the construction work in the second half of July, according to local media, to make way for the 17.5 kilometre (11 miles) Al-Ferdaous, or Paradise, highway.