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Donia draws as she does her homework at her home in the fishermen's village in the El Max area of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

Om Mostafa, 50, cooks in her kitchen in the fishermen's village of the El Max area in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

Boats are docked in front of houses in the fishermen's village in the El Max area of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

Boats are seen moored in front of houses in the fishermen's village in El Max in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

A boy walks past boats docked at the entrance gate of the fishermen's village in the El Max area of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

Fishermen repair boats at the entrance to the fishermen's village in the El Max area in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

A fisherman repairs his boat at the entrance to the fishermen's village of El Max in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria

December 15, 2014
by Amr Dalsh
Alexandria, Egypt

In the coastal Mediterranean city of Alexandria, I visited a district of families dependant on fishing for their livelihood that is struggling to navigate Egypt’s economic troubles.

I’d heard a lot about El Max — the “Venice of Egypt” — where hundreds of boats dart through the canal. I’d seen pictures of its waterways and brightly-coloured houses, which many fishermen built with their own hands.

Almost every day, the men wake up before dawn and return home in the evening, earning 10 Egyptian pounds ($1.40). They’re used to the hard work, but still they worry that each year, the same amount of work has brought them less fish.

I visited the village several times while shooting this story, and it seemed to me a forgotten place. I was saddened to see how dirty it had become over the years, with raw sewage and waste floating in the canals, the water darkened in some places.

The fishermen pointed to the nearby cement and chemical factories, which they believe are dumping their waste into the waters.

They are concerned about how they will continue to feed their families on meager earnings which they believe are being reduced even further by the polluted water, making fishing more difficult.

Overall, they’re not very optimistic. Egypt has been hurt by years of political and economic turmoil ever since the 2011 overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak. The number of tourists visiting Egypt, while slowly recovering, is still significantly below pre-revolution levels.

The government has tried to fix the state’s finances by cutting subsidies and reining in spending.

But many here argue that the reforms have hurt Egypt’s most vulnerable, who have long-relied on a generous system of fuel and food subsidies to supplement insufficient incomes.