Serving thousands of children and families in one of Cairo’s most impoverished and forgotten areas, Manshiyat Nasser, the young and successful Nebny Foundation NGO, established by a group of 25 January revolutionaries who chose the route of humanitarian development, is faced with an official order of eviction.
“When I came here and I was in the third grade. I could not read or write. But now, after coming to Nebny, I know how to read and write,” 10-year-old Fatimah, a student in a public school in Manshiyat Nasser, told Ahram Online at Nebny Foundation's headquarters in Manshiyat Nasser.
“I originally come here not to learn how to read and write, but to paint and play with my friends and relatives,” Fatimah added. She already has brought her cousins with her and tells her neighbours about the place where they can learn and read for free, as well play and paint in a friendly environment .
“I do not want Nebny to leave,” she said.
Now Fatimah and other kids, as well families Nebny served, are facing the possibility that the 400 young volunteer-strong NGO may close because of orders issued by Cairo governorate last week.
Manshiyat Nasser: One of Cairo's poorest slums
Founded after the 1967 Six Days War as a place of refuge for Egyptians from Suez Canal cities fleeing the war, Manshiyat Nasser is among the poorest and most crowded slums in Cairo.
With a population over 200,000, the district, known as the “garbage collectors area”, suffers from endemic poverty and a lack of infrastructure and basic services.
Thousands of children are illiterate in Manshiyat Nasser.
Working mainly in collecting, sorting and recycling garbage, many of the families in the district do not send their children to schools, forcing them to work from an early age.
Even the children who go to schools suffer illiteracy in the fourth and fifth grade due to the lack of proper educational services in public schools in poor areas in Egypt.
Aiming to address this problem, Nebny launched the "Educate a Student" initiative in August 2013 in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
Students from public schools come after school and in holidays to take reading, writing and math classes for free. The initiative also include courses for teachers in public schools, aimed at improving educational services. Over 1,200 students are part of the initiative.
Despite having an official agreement with the Ministry of Education, Nebny is facing an eviction order that would shut down its operations in Manshiyat Nasser.
The saga started early March when suddenly Cairo governorate issue a decision to the NGO to end its activities and leave its headquarters.
“Our headquarters was actually the office of Cairo’s governor in Manshiyat Nasser and in 2012 the then governor of Cairo issued an order to host us in these headquarters,” Maged Abdel Azim, co-head of coordination in Nebny Foundation, told Ahram Online at the disputed HQ.
Abdel Azim added that in 2013, now ex-Cairo governor Osama Kamel renewed that order to host the NGO at Manshiyet Nasser's entrance at Azbat Bekheet, East Cairo. The HQ of Nebny is a small two-storey building with a few small rooms and one larger hall.
Most of the rooms are used as workshops and classrooms. In the past, the building was deserted — despite being officially the governor’s office in the area — and surrounded with garbage dumpsters.
“Now the current head of the district, Gamal Mohi El-Din, claims that we do not own the HQ and that there are no papers regarding our activities, ordering us to evacuate the place immediately,” Abdel Azim said.
“The head of the district assigned our HQ to the Egypt Postal Authority, despite the fact that it has an office serving the area a couple of metres from here,” said Abdel Azim, adding that the Egypt Postal Authority declined the offer as soon as it learned about Nebny and its activities.
Head of district reacts
From his part, Mohi-El Din denied that he assigned the building to the Egypt Postal Authority. “This is a lie. I did not assign this building owned by the governorate to anyone,” Mohi El-Din told Ahram Online.
Still, he did not deny that an eviction order has been issued to the NGO, adding that in his view Nebny did nothing in the past three years.
“They do not own the HQ. They are being hosted in the governorate’s properties, and they should leave now,” he said.
“There is no single activity for this foundation on the ground at all. They do not do anything at all. They just sit in our building doing nothing, and this information is according to the Ministry of Social Solidarity," Mohi El-Din told Ahram Online.
Yet while Mohi El-Din claims that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has said the NGO has no activities, Ahram Online was able to learn that the foundation received authorisation from the same ministry to accept donations only two weeks ago.
Nebny is also registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, as NGO No 3914 and in accordance with Egyptian law, dating 16 June 2011.
In a surprise visit last week, Ahram Online also witnessed the activities of Nebny Foundation in the disputed building.
Tens of children were engaged in free drawing classes while a group of teachers from Khaled Ibn Al-Waleed public school, under the Ministry of Education, were taking a course on how to deal with illiterate students as part of the Educate a Student initiative.
This past weekend the NGO also launched a medical convey to treat sick locals in Manshiyet Nasser for free.
Why the eviction order?
Since 2011, Nebny has been active in Manshiyat Nasser, whether in education or employment opportunites or health, or just improving the simple living conditions in the area by painting buildings in the area and holding exhibits for handmade products made by unemployed teenagers and giving micro-loans to families for creative projects.
“The current head of the district, Mr Mohi El-Din, says we do nothing despite the fact that in September 2013 he attended the graduation of our ُEducate a Student class, along officials from the Ministry of Interior,” Jawad Nabulsi, founder of Nebny, told Ahram Online.
Photos and video showing Mohi El-Din attending the graduation of the students are available on the foundation's Facebook page and its YouTube channel, first published in September 2013.
Nabulsi is considered among the more famous faces of Egypt's January 25 Revolution. He lost an eye on 28 January 2011. The young entrepreneur decided to engage in humanitarian work, instead of political work, focusing on empowering the people, especially the poor and children in areas like Manshiyat Nasser.
“Already our funding sources are well known to everybody. We published our financial statement in 2012 online on our website, and I think the government knows we are not affiliated to any political group as they closed over 1,100 NGOs in recent past months and did not include us,” he added.
Major General Ayman Abdel Tawab, vice governor of Cairo for the eastern zone, stated last week the NGO could continue its work if it revealed its sources of funding.
“Nebny was fought in the time of the Muslim Brotherhood rule. They believed that we were competing with them socially in areas like Manshiyat Nasser. Now we are being fought by the state itself,” Nabulsi told Ahram Online.
“It is 100 percent a political thing, when I see the persistence of the head of the district (Mr Gamal Mohi El-Din), claiming that we do not have any activity and we have to leave, when he attended one of our activities a couple of months ago, when we have an official agreement with the Ministry of Education to give students and teachers courses, and are officially registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity,” Nabulsi said.
Trying to reach resolution
Currently, Nebny NGO is still trying to reach a resolution with Cairo governorate officials, including the head of Manshiyat Nasser district, Mr Mohi El-Din, though the latter refuses to meet or talk with members of the NGO.
Meanwhile, public figures have joined the fray, supporting Nebny against Cairo governorate.
Renowned TV satirist and host Bassem Youssef tweeted that it was a deliberate war against the youth in Egypt who were trying to make a positive change in the country.
Filmmaker and activist Mohamed Diab wondered also if it was coincidence that the Nebny Foundation, which is considered among the few 25 January Revolution inspired initiatives that chose to work on the ground, instead of in politics, is facing the eviction order.
The saga continues between Nebny Foundation and Manshiyat Nasser district. Nevertheless, the foundation is continuing in its services to the people of the slum area.
“If Nebny is closed in Manshiyat Nasser, many families will be angry there, and I do not think that the current regime wants this now,” said Nabulsi.
No one knows how things will end. Nabulsi made it clear that their stand is legal and his foundation won’t pay bribes to end this drama.
‘I do not understand why the government would want to close us down. We are trying to help the people here. Is this not what government wants NGOs to do?” said Abdel Azim.