Egypt Pulse

Demolition contractors defy unemployment in Upper Egypt

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Article Summary
Since the 1950s, the majority of the residents of the Egyptian village of Naza Qarar have been working in the demolition of buildings and sale of rubble, but the government’s recent decisions of liberalizing the dollar exchange rate and raising fuel prices has deteriorated their financial situation.

ASYUT, Egypt — In the small village of Naza Qarar, in Upper Egypt’s governorate of Asyut, most residents work as demolition contractors and construction rubble dealers. The village is the main center that supplies the towns of Upper Egypt with restored building materials to suit different segments of society, especially after the recent economic decisions by the Egyptian government to float the pound and liberalize the dollar exchange rate, which has led to a price increase for building materials.

Like most Egyptian youth, Abdel Nasser Yassin, who graduated in 1999 with a degree in physical education, has not found a job in his field. For 14 years now, he has been working — like most of the residents of Naza Qarar — as a demolition contractor and construction rubble dealer.

He told Al-Monitor that he buys buildings from owners who want to demolish them after the evacuation of their inhabitants. He then disassembles them and sorts through the rubble looking for rebar, bricks, doors, windows and sanitary ware. He said that he transports rebar to his own workshop for restoration and sells the other materials directly to construction rubble dealers.

He noted that the contractors get their projects through tenders or direct contacts with property owners anywhere in Egypt. He said, “Sometimes we are offered buildings with furniture, furnishings and electrical appliances, such as hotels in Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh.”

Yassin added, “Some construction rubble dealers sell only the dismantled rebar, others end up selling everything including doors, window frames, wooden items and so on, and others specialize in the sale of one specific construction material. Some of the residents have their own restoration workshops, while others have to resort to workshops.”

In regard to the history of the profession in Naza Qarar, he said, “In the 1950s and before the construction of the Aswan High Dam, Upper Egypt suffered from extreme poverty, pushing a substantial part of its population to move to Cairo. Most of them settled in el-Sharabiya district whose residents are known for being demolition contractors. This is how the displaced from Upper Egypt learned this profession. Indeed, they found it to be profitable and passed it on to their families back home. Since that time, most of the residents of Naza Qarar have been working in this field.”

Yassin and other contractors and dealers complain about the narrow and winding road leading to the village. The village witnesses a continuous loading and unloading of trucks heading to and from about 500-600 warehouses scattered on both sides of the road, causing daily traffic jams. This results in contractors not making their delivery deadlines. Moreover, truck drivers often get tickets and fines of a minimum of 200 Egyptian pounds ($11) for disrupting traffic.

Atef Amer, who taught his brothers the profession and entrusted them to manage the family shop, decided to drive his own truck. He told Al-Monitor, “Customers come from all over Upper Egypt, especially Asyut, Minya and Sohag. Most of my deliveries are for these regions in addition to New Valley, Fayoum and Qena.”

He said that the majority of buildings in Upper Egypt are made of materials that were recycled in Naza Qarar due to the deteriorating economic situation of the citizens.

He added, “Naza Qarar’s market offers all types of used building materials at different prices and conditions. Some rubble dealers now have their own workshops for the manufacture of new building supplies such as steel doors and timber.”

Approaching the village of Naza Qarar, one notices the workshops and warehouses located on both sides of the road. Here, Al-Monitor met with Ali Abu al-Alaa, a used rebar dealer, who has been working in this field for seven years. He said that he buys used rebar from demolition contractors only if it is already repaired because rebar restoration is expensive, including the workers’ wages.

He said, “This is becoming very difficult due to the high value of the dollar, which has increased the prices of all goods and pushed workers to demand higher wages."

Abu al-Alaa pointed out that a ton of used rebar is sold at half the price of a ton of new rebar. He said, “The increase of the price of newly made rebar automatically increases the price of used rebar, which is used in the construction of a building of not more than two to four floors maximum.”

Ahmad Toghian is a doors and windows dealer who followed in the footsteps of his father who owns a warehouse and has been working in this field since the 1950s. He told Al-Monitor that the workers he hires to dismantle the doors and windows get paid more now.

“Transportation costs have increased significantly, especially after the [government] decision to raise fuel prices, float the Egyptian pound and increase the value of the US dollar, which affected the price of all goods and materials,” he said.

Toghian noted that he buys all the doors and windows from the buildings that are about to be demolished, in agreement with the contractor entrusted with the demolition works, and then transports them to his shop.

“Prices range between 100 Egyptian pounds [$5.50] and 3,500 pounds [$193] per piece, depending on repair and restoration work needed. Sometimes we get pieces from palaces and ancient buildings, which are sold at high prices, reaching as high as 250,000 pounds [$13,800]. But this is rare. Most customers prefer old materials because of their quality and good raw materials used,” he said.

He added, “Naza Qarar market is the best market, especially for low-income people. But the village has been reeling under recession against the backdrop of the January 25 Revolution. The situation has further deteriorated recently.”

Rabee Mahmadin, the head of the Naza Qarar local administrative unit, told Al-Monitor, “Unlike other villages of Upper Egypt dealing with major social issues such as revenge cases, the people of Naza Qarar have no time for such problems. Everyone is busy working.”

He added, “This is a quiet village. The inhabitants are skilled workers; they inherited this profession that provides several job opportunities — such as truck drivers who bought their own trucks,” noting that this profession has significantly curbed the unemployment rate among the youths of the village compared to other villages.

Found in: upper egypt, reconstruction, poverty, exchange rates, employment, egyptian youth, egyptian society, construction

Nada Ali is a freelance reporter based in Egypt.

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