Eventually you got so used to seeing them that you didn't even notice them anymore.

Then again, they suddenly caught your eye when you crossed the bridge from the Nile island of Zamalek to the west bank: the two-storey houseboats that lined up there.

Some radiated old elegance or new colors, others were in need of renovation.

But all exuded a nostalgic flair that belonged to Cairo like the noisy traffic and the slow-flowing Nile.

Demolition notices for 32 houseboats

Christian Meier

Political correspondent for the Middle East and Northeast Africa.

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But now the last hour of the "awwamat" has struck.

Because the Egyptian government has little time for nostalgia unless it brings in money.

In mid-June, the residents of the 32 houseboats received notifications of extortionate fines and short-term demolition notices.

For a year, the authorities had refused to renew the licenses for the boats that had thawed on the shore.

The reason: the government wants to "upgrade" the banks of the Nile.

On the opposite bank, construction work has been going on for some time.

And recently, expropriations have been announced to make room for waterfront cafes and restaurants and pleasure boats.

Such developments often benefit companies owned by the military.

The head of the "Central Administration for the Protection of the Nile in Greater Cairo", Ayman Nour, said on television that the banks of the Nile should be given "a civilized face again".

The occupants of the houseboats were given the choice of either converting their boats into commercial sites or moving away.

They tried to take legal action to prevent their eviction and even appealed to President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.

Still, about half of the 32 boats were removed by authorities by mid-week.

The remaining boats are to be taken away in the next week.

It's not just a drama for the residents themselves.

The houseboats also have a place in Cairo's cultural history.

There were once said to be 300 after living on the Nile became more popular in the late 19th century.

They have been the subject of films, even a novel by Nobel Prize winner Nagib Mahfuz is based on one, Chats on the Nile.

The famous writer once lived in an awwama himself.

Later their numbers dropped and they were confined to the Kitkat township shoreline.

Nevertheless, 87-year-old Cairo native Ikhlas Helmi, who has lived on the Nile for decades, told the independent news site Mada Masr last year: "There is nothing better than living on a houseboat." Where she will live in the future is uncertain.