Egyptian Government Needs to Guarantee Citizens’ Rightsto Adequate Housing Before Removing their Current Homes
On the morning of Monday, April 7, 2014, Cairo governorate started demolishing the homes on al-Razzaz street in Dweiqa, between al-Ma’zoun and Mohamed Thabet neighborhoods, as per Removal Decision No.16 of 2014, issued by the president of the Manshiet Nasser on March 9 of the same year. This occurred in the presence of Cairo Governor Dr. Galal Said, his deputy for the western district, the head of Manshiet Nasser, and several security officers and the orders of the Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab.
The undersigned organizations condemn the inadequate guarantees related to the right of citizens to adequate housing and their subjection to forced eviction and displacement. Neighborhood security forces began to demolish and remove the property prior to the finalization of eviction and relocation procedures. The operations were undertaken without a safety cordon and in the presence of several citizens, including children, threatening their well-being and lives.
The removal operations represent a case of forced eviction under unfair conditions imposed on the residents and which lacks the guarantee of adequate alternative housing to all those affected. The arbitrary measures forced several families into the streets without a shelter and a greater number is still threatened with the same fate.
The undersigned organizations also condemn the policies adopted by politicians, who began negotiations with the residents during the demolition, in a manner that puts pressure on them and does not allow them a fair chance to guarantee their rights. The residents are forced into a negotiation on a basic rights, interlinked with other basic rights related work, health, and education. This means they are forced to negotiate their fate, which should not be underestimated or subject to ill-considered decisions.
Hajj “Ramadan,” owner of a property consisting of rented residential apartments and workshops, described the attitude of officials the day of the eviction. “I will not leave my home without deed papers, according to the agreement with the prime minister,” he explained. “I called the governor and told I will not leave my home without papers guaranteeing my rights. He told me: I will come and demolish your house over your head.” Another witness, “Rabih Mohammed,” who owns and lives in another threatened property could lose his workshop and only source of income. “I demand that my home and my workshop are not demolished and that my right is guaranteed. But the governor told me: we will demolish no matter what. Why does he speak with sticks and fire? Don’t we have rights in this country,” Mohammed asked.
As for alternative housing, the Cairo governor spoke to various media organizations, saying that his governorate is providing 102 apartments, in principle, to those residents and will not proceed with the demolitions before providing alternative housing. However, the undersigned organizations observed that some residents were shown the new units without giving them enough time to examine them (less than 24 hours). Other residents were provided with the alternative units during the demolition operation. This occurred without indication of their duties or those of the state as two parties of a contract.
Furthermore, none of those affected so far received any official papers guaranteeing tenure and ensuring that they will not be evicted from the alternative housing in the future. They were also surprised to be asked to make advance payments for the apartments, which were not part of the deal, in addition to other amounts, paid monthly for an undetermined period and without an official contract.
Similar testimonies were given by tenants who were sent to collect housing units in the Sixth of October City on Sunday evening, the day before the demolition. They said they faced security issues when collecting the apartments. They were ambushed by masked and armed men who controlled the government housing and asked to pay money to collect the apartments. This is not to mention to what they paid to the housing staff in the neighborhood.
“Yesterday, cars came and took us with our furniture to [Sixth of] October [City],” A.H., a citizen from Dwaiq says in her testimony. “There, we received the apartment keys after giving 404 Egyptian Pounds to a neighborhood employee as an advance payment. We were told we will pay LE55 as monthly rent. After that, we went to the housing, which is near al-Wahat Road. We arrived after dusk, but the electricity was out in the whole area. As the first vehicle arrived to unload the furniture, we were jumped by masked men. They had weapons and told us they wanted LE300 for the furniture to be unloaded and 300 for the key for the chain. When we refused to pay, they started shooting at us. We started to run and some people were hurt during the flee. The government employee accompanying us kept calling the police station, until we were met by an officer far away from the housing units. We asked him what we should do. He said: the only solution was to give them something to be able to get in. I returned without my furniture. The place is not safe. I am pregnant and there is no hospital there, or market, or anything. This is not to mention that those people could attack you at any time, take protection money, and no one is there to protect us.”
Similar circumstances were repeated with property owners sent to collect alternative housing units in al-Mokattam neighborhood and found them to be unfit for residence. They lacked basic facilities, such as water and electricity, and had no doors or windows, which would their threaten the peace, safety, and stability of their livelihood. According to one of the witnesses: “First they told us that this place is dangerous and we will move you to apartments in Mokattam, which you would own. My husband agreed and told me: as long as we will be recompensated then it is fine. Neighborhood garbage trucks arrived and took our furniture to Mokattam. We went there and found it to be a wasteland. The apartments are basically one bedroom and one sitting room, whose walls were not finished and the ground was gravel and sand. There was no water, no electricity, no sewage, no windows, and no doors. We did not know if it is for rental or ownership. My children, my husband, and I came back. Thank God, they had not demolished our home yet.”
“We had a two-storey house. The ground floor was made up of two car workshops. We live on the top floor,” another witness explains. “They told us: you will be compensated with two apartments and one workshop. We went there and did not find the workshop. It was one very small unfinished apartment, without doors, windows, electricity, sewage, or water. I was frustrated and came back without the furniture. I saw they had demolished a chunk of the top floor and were about to knock down the bottom floor over my husband’s machines. But the people stopped them from doing so. The workshops are our only source of income and we would not eat without them. The agreement was that anyone with a shop or workshop would be compensated with something similar.”
A third witness says: “They told us: we will take you to Mokattam to apartments you could own because here it is dangerous. The trucks came and took us and our belongings to the Sobhi Hussein residences in Mokattam. There, I found an apartment with one bedroom and one living room. Here I have three rooms. The apartment there was unfinished and the floor was brick and sand. The bathroom was not installed and it did not have electricity, water, sanitation, or anything. I brought my furniture and came back to find that my home had been half demolished. Here, see my belongings all over the place and in the street. I have been sitting next to them with my children since yesterday.”
Thus, the majority of those affected by the decision, tenants and landlords, started returning to Dweiqa in the past two days [8-9 April], staying in their original homes. But this meant the displacement of households whose homes have been already demolished, who remain without shelter under the nose of the governor of Cairo.
The undersigned organizations emphasize the need for government agencies to conclude the negotiations with the residents, finalize procedures related to providing adequate housing for all those impacted by the eviction, allow full access to information related to the evictions, implement the resettlement sufficiently in advance, and transport the residents and their belongings to the alternative units prior to the initiation of the current residences. This would avoid the displacement of many families made up of young children and those with special health needs, such as the sick, the elderly, and pregnant women. This disregard of the right to health is similar to the violation of the right of the child to security and stability, at a crucial time close to final examinations.
Through observing and monitoring the actions of the government since issuing the removal decision up until the day of implementation, it is clear that the residents were involved in a real negotiations process, according to internationally recognized rules for guaranteeing protection from forced eviction. The governorate did not allow them the right to discuss alternatives voluntarily. It was forced into such negotiations after the residents’ resistance to the evictions and the pressure to impose a negotiations process, through a series of appeals to the Public Prosecutor to suspend the decision. This issue was described by deputy governor for the western district Major General Mohammed Ayman Abdul-Tawwab” as “intransigence on the part of citizens,” not that they were demanding their rights. This gives a clear picture of local authorities’ neglect of constitutional rights of citizens and unwillingness to comply by them.
The issue was confirmed after backtracking on the written agreement, signed by neighborhood officials, in the minutes of the meeting attended by some property owners at the governorate headquarters on March 18, 2014 and presided by deputy governor Abdul-Tawwab. The agreement entailed the removal of only one property, the Ma’zoun house in al-Ma’zoun neighborhood, “allowing equipment to enter and go around the buildings to facilitate rehabilitation works and removal of hazards.” The homes were supposed to be vacated temporarily and “the evicted residents shall be allowed to return after the completion of engineering works by the implementing firm and when the scientific committee validates the elimination of danger and the end of the works,” according to Article 4 of the agreement.
Negotiations were not limited to local authorities, such as Manshiet Nasser or Cairo governorate and involved prime minister Mahlab and Minister of Local Development Major General Adel Labib. However, the escalation of officials concerned with the negotiations only led to further violations of the rights of residents. Some of those who attended that meeting said it was to intimidate them, by not providing them with guarantees to protect their rights if they “refuse the cabinet’s instructions” – in their words, which is, in turn, a violation of the documented agreement between the governorate and the residents. They were asked to leave their homes permanently and irrevocable and promised to be compensated with apartments to own in al-Asmarat residential project in Mokattam. However, which turned out to be still under construction.
Responsible authorities in the governorate keep refusing to provide the residents with official papers guaranteeing their access to the apartments after completion and continue to ask those who were affected to accept verbal promises. According to one of the residents who attended the meeting, when he asked for the meeting minutes documenting the agreement, he was replied by the prime minister’s media consultant, who said, “is the prime minister going to lie to you. Shame on you for asking for a piece of paper.”
Neighborhood authorities also refused to provide a legal deed for the temporary host unists in Sobhi Saleh in Mokattam, where those whose homes are demolished would be resettled. This does not guarantee their right to be protected from eviction from those units or becoming displaced suddenly. Additionally, it does not ensure that the apartments are adequately equipped with basic facilities and fit for living.
Those who were more clearly excluded from the negotiations process and faced more evident forced eviction were the most vulnerable segments of the affected community, such as tenants and women property owners. Local and governorate officials, as well as the office of the prime minister, acted in complete disregard of the rights of the largest segment of the affected populations, leaseholders. They were denied participation in the negotiations process, even by representatives. They were forcefully evicted and their livelihood transferred to apartments in Sixth of October City, which are no more than 30 square meters. The location of their work or children’s schools were not taken into consideration. This type of compensation is unfair and inadequate. Only the property owners were included in the negotiations. This is in addition to the media blackout imposed by local officials and their refusal to provide complete information to all those affected. The situation was exploited to complete the operation without the approval of a large number of residents.
Two properties belonging to two women were also monitored. They are inhabited by around 30 families, including leaseholders and the two owners and their children. All residents rejected the alternatives proposed by the governorate and were not mentioned in the negotiations process or included in the survey lists prepared by neighborhood committees charged with registering families entitled to alternative units. By doing this, residents of the two properties believe that they guaranteed that their homes will not be demolished or evicted. However, authorities on the ground would not confirm or deny the information, which could threaten all those families with the loss of their homes during the implementation of the neighborhood decision, without having access to alternative accommodation.
The undersigned organizations call on the Prime Minister, the Governor of Cairo, and the Chair of Manshiet Nasser neighborhood to refrain from circumventing constitutionally guaranteed citizens’ rights. They should intervene immediately to solve the crisis by providing adequate and safe alternative housing to the residents, after getting the residents’ approval and in advance of the demolition and removal of their current homes, as well as ensuring the provision of certified official documents legally guaranteeing residents’ rights to security and stability of tenure.
The undersigned also call for the immediate release of clear information on the fate of citizens who completely refuse to abide by the eviction order and who refused to be part of the census, who should be part of a negotiations process very soon. This is in addition to calling to put an end to laxity in such as urgent and critical matter for citizens, which threatens to violate many of their rights at any moment. The signatory organizations also express their deep concern about the use of force by security forces carrying out the evictions against families who refuse to be evicted and forced evictions before reaching a satisfactory agreement.
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
- Egyptian Center for Civil and Legislative Reform