Egypt: Proactive participation

Nesmahar Sayed , Friday 2 Apr 2021

Zamalek residents are handling the fate of their district through social dialogue

Proactive participation
Proactive participation

Zamalek residents and non-governmental organisations met parliament members to discuss their concerns about the historical district, including the neighbourhood’s most recent controversial attraction.

The meeting, organised by the Zamalek Association for Services Development, founded in 1991 to play an active role in improving the quality of life on the island, tackled some of the district’s pressing issues, most recently the Cairo Eye Ferris Wheel at the entrance of Zamalek. Critics, who include residents, MPs, public officials, community groups and urban planners, said they were concerned about the effect the project would have on traffic, the environment and the site’s heritage.

“I can tell you now that the project won’t take place in this area,” MP Ashraf Hatem told the meeting’s audience.

The meeting was an opportunity for residents to sit down with chief of the west district Mohamed Osman, chief of the National Organisation for Urban Harmony Mohamed Abu Seada, and members of parliament Hatem and Sahar Attia.

Holding a dialogue with Zamalek residents is healthy, a Zamalek Association member told Al-Ahram Weekly. “This experience should be implemented in all the country’s cities and districts.”

Nahla Bakri, a nutrition specialist and Zamalek resident, told the Weekly that new projects should be decided according to people’s needs and demands. The problem, Bakri said, was that new projects are implemented in their district without prior discussion with residents. “Community-based participatory research [CBPR] should be taken into consideration before decision-making for mega-projects in the districts,” Bakri said.

Bakri launched the Clean Zamalek initiative two years ago. “The plan depended on the participation of Zamalek residents in cleaning up Zamalek every Friday morning. She said it succeeded in achieving its goals for a clean neighbourhood.  

“People are always the target of economic, social, and political development. When officials together with residents and civil society participate in the development process the goals are achieved faster and more smoothly,” Shaimaa Marei, a sociology professor in Helwan University, said. Marei said surveys should be conducted to find out peoples’ needs. “Social surveys provide information that helps during political or economic planning in order not to lose investments or face rejection,” she said.

Social dialogue should be held before implementing projects, Bakri said.

According to Amr Al-Chobaki, a political expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, social dialogue creates a feeling of satisfaction among people by letting them participate in the decision-making process. It decreases the number of complaints and creates a culture of democracy in the decision-making process, Al-Chobaki added.

Social dialogue, brainstorming and holding meetings with decision-makers should take place in every district, according to Safia Al-Kabani, chairman of the Plastic Artists Syndicate. Al-Kabani told the Weekly that she participated with the Zamalek Association when she was deputy of social service at the Faculty of Fine Arts Helwan University. “Different opinions help create mass approval for projects. We want to put Zamalek on the heritage map of Egypt,” she said.

To reinstate the beauty of Egyptian streets, Al-Kabani said the National Organisation for Urban Harmony should not only play an advisory role but should have executive authority to implement its opinion. In addition, Al-Kabani said, in implementing projects the governorate should rely on specialised opinions from the Fine Arts Syndicate, the Ministry of Culture, and the Architects Associations, not just its employees.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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