Egypt

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Rob Ray
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Feb 14 2007 21:30
Egypt

So, what do folks know about it? Couple of interesting things I picked up which I didn't know before, Cairo is the most densly populated city of its kind (ie. the very, very large kind) in the world, so much so that the famous 'cities of the dead' have been colonised by the poor because they are, well, cheap and good quality, as long as you don't mind the company. Apparently the tomb tablets are good as dining tables.

The egyption government and tourist board are trying to sound magnanimous about the whole thing, saying the poor are 'tolerated' there, but somehow I'm sceptical. Clearly this is a society with some major housing problems, maybe even worse than London, and I was wondering what people know about organised stuff in the area. Apart from strike waves, is the presence and potential gutsiness of the poor enough to be scaring co-operation out of the government?

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Khawaga
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Feb 16 2007 04:28

I live in Cairo and can confirm that the housing situation is pretty messed up (and the traffic is even worse). There's between 17 and 22 million people living in Cairo, millions living in informal settlements (ashwaiyat). The City of the Dead is one of them (a millions lives there), and is actually called that because people live in the tombs in graveyards (i.e that is what they are famous for). And they're not that good quality at all; no running water, sewage or electricity there (well a few have it). But the government is actually tolerating them there. There has been no attempts at convictions as far as I know, at least for 15-20 years.

The agricultural land has been consumed by illegal/informal settlements, another huge problem. Cairo/Egypt is loosing a lot of arable land to urban informal growth. The problem is that state owned desert land is impossible to buy due to red tape and the price. Agricultural land is privately owned, can change hand easier and is relatively cheaper.

I did some research on the housing situation here and from what I could gather there is about 750.000 to 1 million families living in inadequate housing (meaning no utilities, or no proper titles to land or tenant agreement). There is roughly the same number of vacant housing units in Cairo, but those are priced so only the rich can buy/rent one. What construction goes on is done for the upper class (they have they satellite cities outside Cairo, away from the pollution, noise and traffic). For rural migrants or Egyptians establishing a new family it is nearly impossible to get affordable and good quality housing. People living in informal settlements are most of the time unemployed or earn their living from informal activities (informal economy is huge in Egypt).

There is very little organising on the housing issue. There's a few rights organizations, but no grassroots movement at all. However, the urban poor do take action through something that has been dubbed 'quiet encroachment'. A lot of the urban poor encroach on the state and the rich through illegally hooking up to the electricity grid, sewage and water system, even DSL, if they do not have it (when the municipality goes to disconnect ppl they do it in the tens of thousands in single nights). They actively go for municipal grids or rich people, rather than stealing it directly from their neighbour. But this encroachment is not collective of any kind.

There's also lots of squatting of empty apartments and building sites. And what is interesting is that the government does not evict a lot of families, it does happen, but is very rare. The government knows it can do very little

In short the housing situation is in a mess, and is fucking bad if you're working class.

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Steven.
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Feb 16 2007 09:52

atlemk - fucking interesting post, cheers!

magnifico
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Feb 17 2007 00:25

Yeah thanks, interesting about the 'encroachment', I've heard about similar things being done in South Africa and with collective opposition to disconnections.

atlemk wrote:
I live in Cairo and can confirm that the housing situation is pretty messed up (and the traffic is even worse).

I went to Cairo a few years ago and if you waited till it was safe to cross the road you'd be there all day. You just have to walk out into wide roads full of cars with no proper lane markings and just try and dodge the cars. After a few days you don't even think about it, just do it while you're chatting and shit. cool

rebelworker
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Feb 17 2007 02:43

Sounds like the jaywalking situation here in Montreal smile

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Khawaga
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Feb 17 2007 16:01
Quote:
Yeah thanks, interesting about the 'encroachment', I've heard about similar things being done in South Africa and with collective opposition to disconnections.

I've read a bit about encroachment in South Africa, but it does seem more collective and organized there, which is much better than the atomized actions of the Cairene poor. The other city where quiet encroachment is big is Tehran, very close to the Egyptian experience.

Try to get a hold of Asef Bayat's Street Politics if you're interested in the topic. It's a pretty good overview of urban poor, encroachment, Cairo and Tehran.

Quote:
You just have to walk out into wide roads full of cars with no proper lane markings and just try and dodge the cars. After a few days you don't even think about it, just do it while you're chatting and shit.

yep, that's exactly how it is. the trick is to cross one "lane" (they don't really exist, they're just suggestions here) at a time. If you try to cross the road in one go you will get run over.

petey
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Joined: 13-10-05
Feb 17 2007 22:11
magnifico wrote:
You just have to walk out into wide roads full of cars with no proper lane markings and just try and dodge the cars.

the same in rome
yes atlem, very informative post.