By William Fisher
In post-Mubarak Egypt, an estimated 850,000 people are facing forced eviction from housing deemed “unsafe” by the transition military government, according to a new report from Amnesty International (AI).
The report condemns the treatment of the country's 12 million people who live in Egypt’s vast slums. It documents “how the Egyptian authorities have persistently failed to consult communities living in ‘unsafe areas’ on plans to address their inadequate housing conditions.”
The 123-page report -- ‘We are not dirt’: Forced evictions in Egypt’s informal settlements -- was prepared by Amnesty Egypt researcher Mohamed Lotfy and Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen.
The report describes cases of forced evictions affecting hundreds of families in the country’s so-called “unsafe areas” where residents' lives or health are said to be at risk.
Amnesty cites Abdel Nasser al-Sherif's story as an example of injustices currently being committed.
The lawyer and his extended family used to live in a four-storey building his father built in 1949 in Old Cairo's Establ Antar informal settlement. In 2009, the authorities announced that a cliff beside the settlement was “unsafe” and life-threatening.
Without issuing any warning or an eviction notice, the authorities decided to demolish al-Sherif's property. After he protested and refused to leave his house, riot police entered and dragged him away. Al-Sherif's possessions were dumped by a lorry in a resettlement area across the city. He has not been compensated for the destruction of his family's home of 60 years.
An acute shortage of affordable housing has driven Egypt's poor to live in slums and informal settlements. Around 40% of Egyptians live on or near the US$2 a day poverty line, while the vast majority of the victims killed or injured during the “25 January Revolution” were from underprivileged backgrounds. Some 18,300 housing units in Egypt are at risk of imminent collapse, Amnesty says..
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said, “People living in Egypt's slums must be given a say in finding solutions to their dire housing conditions, but the authorities are failing to respect their human rights. And when slum residents dare to object, they face unlawful forced eviction and arbitrary arrest under repressive laws.”
She added, “Government plans for 'unsafe areas' are essentially demolition plans that don't explore alternatives to evictions where possible. Not one person out of the hundreds we interviewed had ever been adequately notified before their eviction or consulted on alternative housing.”
“With elections approaching, Egyptian authorities have an opportunity to right that wrong,” she said.
Amnesty says it has found that many slum residents have been left homeless after the authorities demolished their homes against their wishes and failed to provide new housing. Research shows that authorities discriminate against women - especially if they are divorced, widowed or separated - in the allocation of alternative housing.
Amnesty also found evidence of communities that had apparently been abandoned under the threat of rock falls despite asking the authorities to resettle them, while other communities facing lesser risks have been demolished, such as the Al-Sahaby area in Aswan. This inconsistent approach has spread suspicion among slum-dwellers that some of them are being cleared out of their homes not to protect them, but so that the land can be developed for commercial gain.
Following a deadly rockslide in Cairo's Manshiyet Nasser slum in 2008, the Egyptian authorities identified 404 “unsafe areas” across the country. In Manshiyet Nasser, thousands of families living at risk of future rock falls were relocated into alternative housing, but most have been moved far from their sources of income and generally lack the necessary documentation for their new homes.
The authorities have routinely failed to give residents proper warning before security forces - including military police in recent months - arrive to force people out of their homes in breach of Egypt’s international obligations and its own laws, Amnesty charges.