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Residents and preservationists protest Cairo 'City of The Dead' cemetery demolition

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Residents and preservationists have registered their alarm as demolition continues in the Cairo cemetery complex known as the City Of The Dead.

The work's being undertaken as part of a new 17.5 kilometre highway project. The highway, named Al-Ferdaous - or Paradise - is intended to connect major road arteries and ease traffic in the city of 20 million, as well as provide better links to the regions.

But preservationists say that the work is destroying many important structures included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site of historic Cairo.

The City of the Dead has been developed over many centuries and contains the graves of ordinary people as well as the elaborate mausoleums of historical rulers and celebrated figures.

Cairo-based independent journalist Sharif Kouddoustweeted that his family burial plot was partially demolished to make way for the highway: 

"We had to move the bodies of my grandmother, grandfather and great-grandfather." 

The complex also contains communities of people living in buildings and walled yards that surround each gravesite. Mother-of-three Menna said she was caught off guard when a bulldozer flattened much of the mausoleum her family use as their home: 

"The earth-mover suddenly hit the wall and we found ourselves throwing our things (out) in a panic. They kicked us out on the street.

"It was awful. We moved the dead on straw mats." 

She and her husband shifted several bodies, including the remains of her father, to a segment of her home that was still intact. 

Menna's family has lived in the complex for three generations. For thousands of others unable to afford expensive Cairo rents, the burial chambers have provided homes.

Menna's family and many others have built extensions to the original mausoleums to augment their living areas.

Menna is now living with neighbours in a part of the cemetery that is not in the demolition area.

Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has responded that no registered Islamic monuments have been destroyed during the course of the demolition work.

But some antiquities experts say that’s too narrow a view; they say that, among the demolished sites are many that still have significant historical or architectural value.

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