Cairo and other Egyptian governorates are currently witnessing an unprecedented razing campaign and displacement of residents, as the government uses its brutal power to pursue citizens and prompt them to choose between payment of heavy fines or demolishing their homes, under the pretext of violating building laws, or expanding roads and building new avenues!
The victims of these tough measures are estimated at millions across the country. However, the strange thing is that this campaign comes at a time of distress and hardship, in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of working to alleviate the suffering of citizens and deterioration of their economic situation, the Egyptian government imposes more taxes and fines, turning people’s lives into hell.
All of a sudden, the government has decided to implement Law No. 17 of 2019 regarding the so-called “reconciliation in some building violations and legalizing them”, where and the government allowed owners of real estate and housing units that violate building regulations to reconcile with the state and pay exorbitant sums ranging from LE50 to LE2000 per square meter, otherwise, they would face razing and demolition of their homes.
The government announced that it would demolish all properties built after 2017, regardless of its status, and that it would accept reconciliation of violations retroactively until 2008, when the Unified Building Law No. 119 was issued. The government announced that it would also look into violations before this date, that is, indefinitely.
The government set the end of September 2020 as a deadline for submitting requests for reconciliation and payment of exorbitant fees for the required papers, documents and engineering reports, as authorities considered that all residents who own housing units are defendants, not only the companies and contractors that built those properties!
The law applies to a large percentage of population in most districts of Greater Cairo (Cairo, Giza, and Qalyubiyah) as well as other governorates. It is well known that when the State failed to build housing units at the end of Hosni Mubarak’s era, contractors, the private sector and citizens expanded construction based on unwritten agreements with municipalities and city councils.
The civil urbanization movement expanded everywhere due to the rising population and the state’s abandonment of its role. The real estate builders were able to overcome the government’s refusal to issue construction licenses, by obtaining approvals from various state agencies to maintain building, and install all facilities and services.
Targeting the private real estate sector
The government considers most of the towers in Cairo’s districts violating building regulations, as the contractors used to first obtain licenses to build three or four floors, and then build more than ten floors through relationships with district employees, where the task of government employees in most cases was to ensure the safety of the building without showing any objection to the building violations.
The same thing happened in other governorates, where the urbanization movement within cities and villages expanded vertically, that is by increasing the number of floors to face the rising population and the absence of the government and its failure to plan new cities on the desert hinterland and provide them with facilities.
In the countryside and villages, citizens built houses for their children in which they spent all their savings, even though most of them were below the poverty line due to the unfair measures of successive governments, and because of the lifting of farmer subsidies and the high cost of agriculture. This population expansion, which has crept onto part of the agricultural lands, was a natural result of the fixed spatial boundaries of construction and the absence of government.
Today, when the government moves against millions of Egyptians, this move is not based on ensuring the safety of buildings, as it used to be; preventing encroachment on state lands or agricultural land diversions, but it really aims at only collection of money without any consideration for the human dimension, in light of the economic decline and the suffering of citizens.
What is more strange than the above is the government initiation of procedures for demolishing finished buildings, some of which are actually inhabited; thus, wasting billions of pounds of the wealth of Egyptians, without presenting any other scenarios.
The exaggeration in criminalizing the building violations, as it is currently being applied, is unconstitutional, as it is assumed that the law should be applied since coming into force, not to be applied retroactively. Dealing with the owners of real estate and housing units as having committed felonies is an unfair act against the truth, as those citizen have bought housing units according to a valid contract, and dealt with various state agencies for decades – and this situation turned the whole matter into an established custom and fait accompli. Therefore, it is not fair to force the citizen to pay the price of the housing unit once more to avoid its demolition over his head!
Also, contractors and real estate owners cannot be accused of violating laws alone. In fact, state employees and even ministers are partners in all these violations. Responsibility for these violations is not limited to municipality personnel only, as all ministries turned a blinded eye on these violations and thus accepted this prevailing custom during the last period. Even the current prime minister, Dr. Mostafa Madbouly, who was minister of housing and utilities, was involved in all actions that are criminalized today.
Although some of those who are can afford have a chance to survive the razing of their homes and displacement, a large percentage of Egyptians cannot pay these fines, and then all facilities and utilities of their homes will be cut off and then demolished, as the government threatens.
However, it seems that the regime’s appetite has increased in brutality and loss of the human sense; as most recently they also invented other pretexts for carrying out displacement of citizens, such as allegations of developing roads, as many of the properties that obstruct bridges and traffic avenues have been demolished. But the most dangerous of these projects is the expansion of the Ring Road, which will be more severe in removing real estate in large areas on both sides of the road in Cairo, Giza and Qalyubiyah.
Expanding the Ring Road
Although the ring road that surrounds Cairo does not have traffic problems other than the fact that some exits are narrow, which causes traffic congestion at peak times and need to be expanded, the Minister of Transport, Lt. General Kamel al-Wazir, announced development of the ring road, which is 106 km long, and expanding it by double!
The ring road currently consists of 4 lanes in each direction; and after the government’s ill-considered decision, contracting companies began to implement by adding 4 new lanes in each direction, raising the road lanes to 16, which means removing and demolishing thousands of buildings on both sides.
It is noteworthy that Kamel al-Wazir stated in a TV interview that part of the LE1.8 billion for the expansion process is a donation from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), the National Bank of Egypt (NBE) and Banque Misr (BM). This adds a new risk, that is wasting the savings of Egyptians in these unfeasible projects, as the CBE, the NBE, and the BM are not donors.
There is no economic necessity to expand the Ring Road, and there is no priority for spending on it at the present time. Moreover, such a project that entails the demolition of homes and displacement of people must be put up for community discussion before implementation, not rushing so quickly to implement it as a fait accompli.
This acceleration in razing buildings and housing units and dealing with residential blocks as a piece of cheese that is cut and peeled with a government knife, raises questions about the government’s emboldened razing campaign: is it preparing Egyptian society for coming displacement steps, that are likely to be the most destructive and the most devastating ever, most notably and dangerously the so-called “Khufu Avenue”?!
Leaks about the “Khufu Avenue”
During the last four months, there have been leaks about the so-called Khufu Avenue that the government intends to construct, which is planned to extend from Sphinx Square in Mohandessin to the Giza Pyramids, which means demolition of tens of thousands of properties in the most densely populated areas!
The Khufu Avenue plan was mentioned in the Cairo 2050 development project and the future plan project for Giza 2030, both of which are from the Urban Planning Authority in partnership with the UN Human Settlements Program. The two projects were supervised by the current Prime Minister, Dr. Mustafa Madbouly, when he was head of the Urban Planning Authority before assuming the Ministry of Housing and then becoming prime minister, as it seems that his rise was linked to implementation of these projects that lack any human dimension.
Recent leaks around this avenue indicate modifications that lead to an increase in the volume of razing of properties in the area extending from Mohandessin and Bulaq Al Dakrour to Saft el-Laban and King Faisal St. to build what is called ‘the largest street in the world’, 600-meter wide and 12-kilometer long, starting from Sphinx Square up to the Khufu Pyramid.
The initial planning of the Khufu Avenue had stated that the street was 100 meters wide, with the establishment of a holding company that would sell the lands taken away from owners to foreign investors. But it seems that the mind that is haunted by the “Guinness Book” phobia saw expansion of the avenue’s width 6 times the previously planned width to be the largest street in the world!
The project’s construction drawings refer to the expropriation of lands on both sides of the avenue to build towers, skyscrapers, an industrial lake and green areas, and turning the road from the Pyramids to the Nile to a closed tourist area that reaches Al-Warraq Island, whose residents are currently being displaced.
The Khufu Avenue project is linked to evacuation of the center of the capital, where the government has gone a long way, by eviction of residents in the Maspero Triangle, and the procedures for evacuation of the Khedivial Cairo, in light of the ongoing arrangements for the transfer of government headquarters to the new Administrative Capital, and preparations to sell its current headquarters and assets to investors.
Just thinking about implementing the Khufu Avenue is a leap of madness, as the government will clash with the residents of the popular areas targeted for razing and displacement, who will not surrender easily, similarly to the residents of Al-Warraq Island, that the authorities have so far been unable to expel and displace due to their cohesion and steadfastness.
A foreign, not a national agenda
All the displacement projects that are being implemented in Egypt now are stated in plans drawn up by foreign bodies. They do not have any national justifications, and they are not also in people’s interest. The eviction of people and razing of houses in Rafah, Sheikh Zuweid and East Sinai are taking place in the interest of “Israel”; and without going into details of the ongoing “war against terrorism”, as the government claims, the ultimate result is scorching the land and displacement of its inhabitants.
The eviction of the Maspero Triangle, the plans to displace the residents of Ras Al-Hikma on the northern coast, and the “besieged” Island of Warraq are all for the benefit of foreign investors and companies, not for the public interest or for the benefit of the citizens of the region.
Moreover, the law of reconciliations in building violations and the start of expanding the ring road hit the national real estate market in favor of government real estate investment that offers exaggerated prices, as well as foreign real estate companies and their agents and local partners.
Unfortunately, the Egyptian government is indifferent to human beings and boldly tramples on human values. After confiscation of the media and the banning of political action, there is no longer any scrutiny, accountability, or any popular force that can stop or obstruct this rush in projects that drain the capabilities of the state, squander its assets, and prejudice the people who are no longer able to withstand the economic collapse, whose effects appear on all aspects of life in Egypt.
The widening of the range of displacement indicates absence of reason in management of the state. No development or renaissance can take place through crushing human beings and injustice to man and confiscating his right to live with dignity. What is left for Egyptians after the privatization of education, the denial of medical treatment, the dismantling and sale of factories and companies, the removal of subsidies and intentional impoverishment, other than their homes that the government wants to demolish them over their heads?