Egypt's slums: a ticking time bomb

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Article Summary
An estimated 16 million Egyptians live in slums, and these settlements could pose a serious threat to the country's road map if not addressed properly.

According to new reports, “Egypt’s prime minister witnessed on Tuesday, Nov. 5, the launching of the slums’ development campaign.” However, this is not just a piece of news. It is rather a matter that will determine the success or failure of Egypt’s road map, and represents the tragedy of the country’s polarization and the risks of its explosion.

On Nov. 5, Egypt witnessed another one of these “official” and chronic events that aim at deepening an already inherent crack, developing the country’s imminent catastrophe, tightening the leash on its streets and cities and further detonating that time bomb that has been exploding since the January Revolution.       

The revolution that the splinters have weighed down and caused to mourn is almost three years old now. Youth, disoriented children and adults have been living for decades on the margin of time and reality and in the slums of a country. Yet the years have transported them, with the culture they had accumulated, into the heart of the revolution. Thus, these slum residents became a crucial part in flaring up the situation sometimes and calming it down at other times, while threatening it constantly.

The slums of Egypt have become a real menace. This is no longer a matter of recommendations in studies, theories in analysis pieces or mere threats. It is a flagrant reality among polarized forces in parliamentary elections, enthusiastic masses in presidential elections and armed groups in legitimate marches. Between those, the political Islam crowds, the people fluctuating between mercenaries and polarized youth, ambulant merchants and unemployed people waiting to lose their mind, everybody is on the verge of blowing up at any second.

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Every now and then, an erratic mine blasts in the face of Egyptians, but they delay the solution. They claim that the revolution is more pressing and that the troubled security situation and the deteriorating economic condition are priorities. Yet, reality asserts that any delay will exacerbate the catastrophe.  

Figures are enough to show the magnitude of this worsening disaster. A massive 16 million Egyptians live in the 1,221 slums that have developed in the absence of law. Moreover, 35 of these regions are under the risk of collapsing completely, while 281 are qualified as “indecent regions.”

The “indecency” of the slums affects the surrounding middle-class and high-end neighborhoods. This “indecency” went beyond the limits of erratic outbursts of a culture, way of life and behavioral rules that broke the fear barrier after the January Revolution and the subsequent defeat of the army and collapse of the regime that allowed acts breaking the law, as long as they were out of sight and out of the frame of life in the capital’s main streets. The inhabitants of slums reached a point where they imposed the principle of “survival of the strongest” outside the border of their slums. In this part of Egypt, it was easy to mobilize, borrow, sell and buy massive human forces to support electoral stances, favor political Islam or intimidate protesters.

The expansion of slums, which the country still cannot accurately pin down, is no longer a mere threat for internal displacement from the suburbs to the city. With the number of slum inhabitants varying between 7.5 million Egyptians, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), and 12 million according to the People’s Assembly of the disbanded parliament, this expansion has exceeded the absence of facilities and the spread of crime.

Moreover, there are no election laws, democratic foundations and road maps that provide for any clear texts about slum dwellers, who — numerically — constitute an electoral force that is able to determine the political, economic, social and security course of Egypt. Hence, slum dwellers play a vital role in defining the course of Egypt “toward democracy” and changing the direction of the Arab Spring’s winds. “Decent living, freedom, social justice,” “Oil, sugar, electoral rights,” “Legal legitimacy,” and sometimes “Islamic revolution,” were among the slogans they used to shout.

Yesterday, Nov. 5, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi launched the slums’ development campaign, entitled “Our You Can Do it.” He said that the campaign aims at improving the citizens’ circumstances, courting the people with the same old promises to dispose of garbage, pave the roads, finish lighting and plant the streets. Yet, while the government has been innocently courting the public, the groups of political Islam have been openly playing on people’s emotions. According to the group’s critics, the Muslim Brotherhood made sure to play the [beneficence card] before the election date. The Islamists groups made sure to distribute food baskets, made efforts to deliver gas canisters, pay stipends for families and provided the sick with free medicine. “Feed them to control them” — a good strategy to tighten the iron grip on Egypt and Egyptians.

The reality is that in the streets of Cairo — where 40% of the population live in slums — people continue to be hungry and uncontrolled. The crisis has expanded. There is total chaos under the poorly established law.

The culture of slum dwellers’ has dug its heels into the Egyptian street for four decades now. Indeed, minibus drivers, who number 10,000 in Cairo alone, have imposed their own rules, terrorizing everyone and spreading chaos. This is not to mention street vendors (whose number is estimated at 5 million), who have occupied sidewalks, streets and squares by force of arms, muscles and abuse. What’s worse is the millions of young people who are always ready to participate in rallies to support lawfulness, only to denounce it in other marches.

While Beblawi is going through with the slums’ development campaign events, the National Council for Human Rights is preparing its report on the workshop titled “Cairo’s slums: a ticking time bomb.” And while Egypt’s intellectuals are preparing a seminar on Khaled Youssef’s movies on slums, conservatives claim that such films expose Egypt to criticism and highlight its flaws.

For their part, hardline sheikhs are mobilizing efforts to reorganize religious classes in the slums about “the nation of martyrdom. The importance of a martyr who died to uphold the word of Islam in the face of infidels, and the intensification of punishment for those who do not answer the call of jihad!”

On the other hand, the Committee of 50 charged with drafting the constitution has answered the “call of Jihad” in its own way. It added an article binding the state to a national comprehensive plan to face the problem of slums, including providing basic facilities, improving the quality of life and public health, as well as providing the necessary resources for implementation within a specific period of time.

There is nothing left to do but wait for the state to answer the call and heed the ticking time bomb of the slums, away from the governments’ innocent courtship and the Muslim Brotherhood’s open wooing.

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Found in: unemployment, poverty, housing crisis, egyptian revolution, cairo
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