Making way for an ever-expanding population, Cairo authorities have begun moving thousands of graves from the City of the Dead, whose tombs shelter masses of squatters, an official said Wednesday.
"Two thousand graves have already been moved from north of Bab al-Nasr to allow for the widening of the road," the Cairo governorate's press secretary Mustafa Alameddin told AFP.
New tombs have been provided in the satellite 15th of May City south of Cairo, he added.
The controversial government plan calls for moving all of Cairo's tombs outside the city limits over the next two decades.
Cairo is home to a total of around 109,000 graves in 21 sites across the city, but the project will prioritize areas bordering the old city gates of Cairo Bab al-Futuh, Bab al-Nasr and Bab al-Wazir, Alameddin said.
Vast cemeteries known as the City of the Dead, where whole communities of people live in tombs alongside the deceased, have long prevented the expansion of the overpopulated Cairo metropolis on its southeastern side.
But many here in Egypt oppose the long-discussed project as a sacrilegious disturbance.
"We won't force anyone to move against their will," Alameddin said.
The official also assured that the remains were being transported according to Islamic principles.
Historic sites within the cemeteries, such as the tombs of early Islamic figures, will be respected, Alameddin said, adding that the project would be coordinated with antiquities authorities.
He said it could be decades before the land is put to use for possible development projects, because Islam requires vacated graveyard land to be left for at least 15 years before building - CAIRO (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )