|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
29 Oct. - 4 Nov. 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Evictions at Ezbet Abul-Nour
"We were in our houses and at about 3am the government [police] came in and said you have to get out because we are pulling these houses down," recounted Fatma Sayed heatedly, standing next to an old fan and folded mattress on the sidewalk. "We were afraid that our things would be lost in the demolition, so we agreed to bring them down. We were promised alternative housing but so far we have slept in the street."
Maj. Gen. Mohamed Mahmoud Hammouda, head of the Wayli district council, who was overseeing the demolition, told Al-Ahram Weekly that residents had been given an 11-day notice and that all had either received or would receive alternative housing in the new city of Al-Nahda along the Cairo-Ismailia highway. "The demolition falls within the framework of the prime minister's decision to remove 13 shanty areas from the governorate of Cairo. Some 500 families were given contracts for new homes," said Hammouda.
"It is the governorate, specifically the Cleaning Authority, which is shouldering the cost of moving people's belongings," he added, pointing at the many trucks being loaded up with furniture.
However, the inhabitants of the area that was being aggressively pulled down by bulldozers had a different point of view. "It was my grandfather's house that was torn down," said 82-year-old Sayed Moussa Metwalli. "These houses belonged to us. What right does anybody have to come and throw me out onto the street?"
Residents added that they paid electricity bills and had telephones connected to their homes. "And yet they call us a shanty area, even though we have been paying real estate taxes and have been here for years," screamed Halima, an old woman who lived in an eight-room house shared by six families. "Most of the people who live here are day labourers. How can they find work even if they are given flats in that far-away place?"
The issues raised by the latest eviction are not new. This year has witnessed other evictions in Boulaq, the dispute over the Zarayeb area in Ard Al-Liwa as well as Ezbet Abu-Hashish in Ein Al-Sira -- all of which brought to the fore similar questions.
In fact, as the demolition takes place in Wayli, the 3,000 inhabitants of Manshiyet Ein Helwan are struggling to keep their homes intact against eviction orders. Tarek Khater, a lawyer with the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Aid who has been following their case, said: "The inhabitants of this area, which developed in the early 1970s, were able to obtain counter-eviction court orders in 1985, 1992 and 1997, and yet the local council has insisted that the area is a shanty one and must be brought down for purposes of beautification."
Inhabitants claim that the electricity and water departments have refused to extend facilities to their houses despite the court orders. The dispute escalated last September when the city council demolished 30 homes on the grounds of necessity in order to broaden the main road. "Since then, there have been daily threats that the rest of the area will be brought down and people are no longer able to go to work because they must stay home to protect the walls within which they live," added Khater.
A policy paper prepared by the Cairo Governorate last December estimated the cost of developing shanty areas at LE963 million, a sum to be allocated within the framework of the fourth five-year development plan, which ends in 2001-2002. The plan provides for upgrading 68 areas as well as the demolition of 13 others -- the latter housing approximately 110,000 people.
"The interesting thing about the court orders obtained by the inhabitants is that they included language to the effect that in view of the severe housing problem and the shanty areas inhabitants' poverty, people should not be evicted abruptly and without proper compensation. Otherwise, social strife could be the result," Khater said. The situation on the streets of Wayli and Helwan shows these words of advice may yet prove true.