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Residents worried after police attempt to evacuate Giza slum

The attempt at a forced evacuation of a slum in Dokki, part of a new plan for undeveloped areas, has appalled NGOs and angered residents

Ola Hamdi, Friday 4 Sep 2015
Egypt
An Egyptian resident leaves a house in Manshiyet Nasser shanty town in eastern Cairo File Photo:(Reuters)
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Sunday 30 August: Eshash El-Sudan is a slum area of three acres next to Sudan Street on the outskirts of Giza's middle-class Doqqi district.
 
A footbridge at the end of a narrow street opposite a metro station serves as the only access to the shantytown, where a row of small houses has been built from wood or tin. Some have two floors.
 
Pieces of furniture are scattered on the ground in front of the lodgings. They reflect the rural origins of many slum residents; ovens, wagons and scrap metal are on show.
 
In the small corridor children play and women chat to their neighbours next to donkeys, horses and goats. Everyone is talking about what happened on Tuesday 25 August.
 
That day the municipal services arrived with bulldozers and a police force set on clearing out the slum. The residents refused to leave and clashes burst out between them and the security agents. The latter used force and teargas to evacuate the slum.
 
"They threw our furniture in the street and destroyed our houses," says resident Hagga Fatma bitterly. "I'm staying here in the open with what's left of my furniture. They destroyed my little house with its one room. I don't have anywhere to go. What am I going to do?" exclaims the tearful Fatma, a widow with four children.
 
Although the municipality has built accommodation to rehouse the residents of the shantytown on Sudan Street itself and not far from the slum, not everyone will be welcome.
 
"They told me I don't have the right to an apartment because I don't have an ID card. When I asked for an apartment for me and my kids they told us we were thugs. The officer even told me to go to hell. We are not terrorists, we are human beings," says Hagga Fatma.
 
She's not the only one. There are many dozens of people – men, women and the old – who do not know where to go. El-Sayed El-Tayeb El-Dardiri, a 60-year-old man, leans on the wall contemplating what remains of his room. He carries papers in his hands.
 
"I have lived here for 50 years after leaving my native Sohag to seek work. My wife died four years ago, and I live alone now," recounts El-Dardiri, who has not been allocated an apartment either.
 
The old man, who lives thanks to the help of his neighbours, continues, "The officials refused to give me an apartment because I don’t have an ID card, and when my neighbors tried to help me get one, the officials told me I didn’t have an address!"
 
The governorate of Giza launched a redevelopment plan for slums in 2013 in cooperation with the Undeveloped Areas Progress Fund. It entails rehousing slum residents in new accommodation built in the same places. But many residents refuse to give up their homes.
 
"How can we live in an apartment of 45 square metres? Where am I going to put my oven?" responds Sabah, a mother of four. She adds, "I am well aware the government made an effort to build these apartments, but it is impossible for five people to live in 45 square metres."
 
212 families, 900 people
 
Some residents have successfully used their homes for commercial ends – workshops or rudimentary ovens – to make a living. For them, leaving the slum means losing their livelihood.
 
This is the case for Ramdan Khalil, who sells ancient artifacts.
 
"I have eight kids, five girls and three boys, in addition to my wife. We are ten people. How can we live in a 45 metre-square apartment? I had a shanty of two floors with a shop on the ground floor that allowed me to make a living. But now they have demolished everything," Khalil says.
 
The same rings true for Laila, a 50-year-old woman and mother of three, who had a kiosk where she used to sell bread. "My son recently got out of prison and he's unemployed. I was born here and I wanted to die here. I implore President El-Sisi to help us," she says.
 
The forceful intervention of security forces to evacuate the slum triggered the indignation of NGOs. The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights submitted a complaint to the prosecutor-general, asking for an investigation into the incident.
 
"The security forces evicted the residents in a brutal fashion and without warning. Many residents, notably children and old people, suffered breathing problems due the teargas," announced the centre in a statement.
 
According to Giza governorate, some 900 people - 212 families - used to live in the Sudan Street slum in 252 shanty homes.
 
"The government aims to provide a decent life to the residents," declares Mohamed El-Sheikh, secretary-general of the governorate.
 
Responding to the complaints of citizens who haven’t been allocated accommodation, the former general insists, "The allocation of accommodation is governed by very specific rules designed to be fair."
 
The events at the Sudan Street slum throw up anew the thorny issue of how to deal with undeveloped areas. The problem dates back to the 1960s and 70s and the rural exodus. Fleeing poverty and a low quality of life, millions of Egyptians left Upper Egypt to settle in Cairo's outskirts, and over the years the problem has worsened.
 
The destiny of the Sudan Street slum's residents remains unclear, especially for those who refuse to leave.
 
 
*This article was first published by Ahram Hebdo, Al-Ahram's French-language weekly newspaper.
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