Following the rockfall, Egyptian slum dwellers have little more than hope
A deadly rock slide last fall left many survivors unable to reclaim even the most meager of livelihoods.
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"The government plan to remove the slums has been almost as random and haphazard as the slums themselves," he says, noting that most resettled Duweiqa residents lived on the streets in the days after the disaster.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Helw says the socialist regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and '60s saw housing as a right owed to all Egyptians. Today, he says, "the government sees housing as a sellable commodity."
"The way the resettlement process is done is extremely chaotic and the municipality employees who inspect houses to see if residents are eligible for resettlement have no criteria to work by," he says. "They make their decisions totally arbitrarily."
Awaiting safe shelter
Some have not been able to secure resettlement at all, but are caught in web of corrupt local officials, confusing land-holding practices, and callous landlords, say housing advocates and residents.
The Egyptian Center for Housing Rights has filed a raft of lawsuits on behalf of Duweiqa residents, including one that demands resettlement for 85 families who remain homeless months after the slide.
Radi Badry lost his home in the landslide and was not resettled. He continues to live in small rooms made from plywood, mud brick, cardboard, and scrap metal that sits less than 30 yards from the rock face, part of which fell last fall.
Like many of his neighbors, his walls cracked in the slide. Unable to afford proper repairs he has stuffed them with garbage from the landfill next door. In a child's bedroom, a tree branch holds up the ceiling. "What else can I do?" He says. "If I don't do anything the house will fall in on us."
Local officials say the street has not been resettled because they are overworked. Eventually, they say, Tayaran Street will be cleared, too. "Resettlement will happen, there is no way around it," says Adel Abbas, the secretary general of the municipality of Mansheyet Nasr.
But Helw says that in some areas of Duweiqa, like Tayaran Street, people with wasta – connections to the local government or police – claimed large swaths of public land and have rented out homes on them. Now residents want to leave, but their landlords do not want to let them go.
"These landowners have a lot of influence with the municipality and the police because they have paid a lot of money," says Helw. "You can see that in how the home demolitions stop very abruptly in their area, because they are known to have a lot of wasta."
Abbas, the municipal official, denies that landlords are involved in resettlement. He insists that everyone whose home was damaged is eligible for resettlement.
Under Egyptian law any impoverished person can move to the Suzanne Mubarak Residences for $178. In response to pressure over the slow pace of resettlement, Helw says the municipality is recording the backlog of resettlements as people from outside the neighborhood.
Last winter, while walking on Tayaran Street one day, Mohsen Sabry Bayoumi climbed over piles of rubble under the cliff where his neighbors homes once stood. He does not understand why the government will not move them. "We all live under one mountain, so why is the government treating us differently?" He asks. "If one part of it has collapsed, it is only a matter of time before the rest of it collapses, too. God save us. What are we supposed to do?"