Demolishing dangerous residential buildings sounds like a good idea. Unless, that is, you happen to be a resident, reports Reem Leila
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Twenty-eight buildings in the slum area of Ezbet Al-Haggana were evicted and several were bulldozed
"They came just one day before the eviction and told us to move out. They started throwing our furniture into the street. We had nowhere to go. We spent three nights in the streets."
Ihsan Ramadan was the victim of a government demolition order. The family, together with 15 others, lived in two apartment buildings in Ezbet Al-Haggana, a slum area adjacent to Nasr City. In 2008 the minister of housing and land reclamation issued a decree ordering the demolition of 109 buildings in the area for violating building codes. Petitions were made to the municipal council and the number of buildings to be pulled down was reduced to 28.
Residents of the 28 buildings were evicted on 18 December. Some gathered in front of their homes and threw stones at police officers while bulldozers were lining up to demolish the buildings. Police fired tear gas, clashes ensued, and according to eyewitness accounts central security forces retreated under a hailstorm of stones thrown by residents. The demolition order was halted until further notice by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.
During the clashes 60-year-old Hussein Ismail Abdel-Meguid died and 11 civilians were injured. Residents turned their anger on the local police station, pelting it with stones. Five police officers and 15 central security soldiers were reported injured and several police vehicles were burned.
Sherif Taher, a member of Cairo Municipal Council, points out that the buildings were empty and the residents had no legal title to the apartments, denying the residents' claims. Taher, who blames administrative delays and legal loopholes for hindering the demolition of unlicensed floors, believes a special police department should be formed to enforce demolition orders.
"To execute a demolition order we always request the help of security forces to prevent any violence on the part of landlords and residents," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Landlords make use of administrative delays to add extra floors on the assumption that when those floors are inhabited it just becomes too impractical to enforce a demolition order."
While residents counter-argue that they were occupying the buildings and had documents showing they owned the apartments Taher explains that the buildings needed to be bulldozed because they were too high for the width of the street. The houses are all red brick and obviously unfinished. "A street which is less than six metres wide cannot have 10 to 12 storey buildings on both sides," he said.
Mokhtar El-Hamalawi, deputy governor of Eastern Cairo, insists the governorate is demolishing only empty buildings. "These buildings are still under construction, no citizens were inhabiting them and no one was removed," he says.
"The buildings, five of which have already been demolished, not only failed to meet minimum safety standards but also interfered with radio signals around Cairo International Airport."
According to El-Hamalawi, many houses in the area must be demolished "because they pose a great danger to people's lives".
Conflicting statements from residents and officials left many puzzled. While residents said they received eviction orders, officials, like El-Hamalawi, insisted that "demolition was executed on empty buildings."
Nasr City district MP Mustafa El-Sallab has tabled a parliamentary motion seeking to halt the demolitions. Ezbet Al-Haggana, he says, which is home to about a million people, contains thousands of other buildings that fail to meet minimal safety requirements.
The minister of local administration, Abdel-Salam El-Mahgoub, announced on 20 December that the government would halt the demolitions until a committee of architectural experts reports on the buildings' suitability for residential use. The minister's decision followed recommendations from the People's Assembly joint committee of local administration and housing.
According to Mouawad Khattab, a member of the Shura Council, local council officials in Nasr City should be brought to account for failing to prevent the construction of such high buildings in the first place.
The ministerial decree issued in 2008, says El-Sallab, requires all buildings that were constructed without a licence to be pulled down.
"Buildings constructed before the decree should be exempted from demolition," he says.