Ramlet Boulaq residents say they reject government proposals to relocate them for the development of the area and called for an end to what they say is an ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests and police brutality.
In a Sunday press conference held by the Ramlet Boulaq Shacks Popular Committee and several human rights organisations the residents spoke of a nine-month long police campaign against them, demanding the release of over 50 detainees as well as an end to government attempts to evict them.
The former governor of Cairo governorate issued a land seizure order in June 2012 and the residents, with the help of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), have appealed the decision with the Administrative Judiciary Court. The case is still ongoing.
“The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) newspaper claims there is a new government program where they will build four towers here and temporarily relocate us for two years as they build them, eventually giving us apartments in the towers,” said popular committee member Gaber Younes.
The paper also claims this project will serve the 190 families of the area and that the government has consulted with them. However, Younes says, there are 2,000 families in the area, and no one from the government or the FJP has conducted any kind of discussions or negotiations with those families who will be affected.
“Furthermore, we refuse this proposal because we have no guarantees they will let us come back after the two years or if they will give us any apartments. We do not want to leave our homes and demand we be allowed to develop this area and continue to live in it,” he said.
Another resident, Samir Abdel Aziz, said Cairo governorate officials told him that residents must leave the land but would be compensated: EGP 20,000 per square metre for those without deeds of ownership and EGP 40,000 for those in possession of proof of ownership.
The residents said in a statement that while the governor’s land seizure decision is still being reviewed by the court, the governorate is trying to circumvent the case by issuing temporary confiscation orders under the guise of developing the land.
They also announced they met on 12 March to discuss the proposal published in the FJP newspaper and decided to reject it, preferring to develop the area themselves.
The residents demand an official population census of the area be carried out by a joint committee from the Cairo governorate and the residents themselves, an end to attempts by the government to seize their land, full disclosure of any development plans, their involvement in any such plans, and most importantly a guarantee of their right to live on their lands safely and securely.
Residents also called for an end to police brutality and violence. At the conference, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) lawyer Mohamed Bakeer described alleged police misconduct in the case of Ramlet Boulaq resident Amr El-Bunni.
On 2 August 2012 police officer Yasser Ali shot and killed El-Bunni in Cairo’s Fairmont hotel, leading to clashes between enraged residents and police in front of the tower. Police arrested 51 people in the aftermath and charged them with rioting and vandalising the hotel.
“The public prosecution has not shown itself to be neutral at all in its handling of this case. Video and photographic evidence proves El-Bunni was unarmed, refuting the police officer Ali’s claims of self defence,” said Bakeer.
The prosecution cleared Ali of all charges and cancelled the case.
The locals complain of arbitrary police raids on their houses, with police sometimes seizing their money or possessions. The prosecution investigated those claims but charged no police officers.
EIPR, ECESR, the Living in Name Only campaign and the popular committee all condemned the prosecution’s actions and called on the Supreme Council of the Judiciary to intervene and ensure justice in the case.
Bakeer gave an update on the trial of the 51 residents arrested, which he said resumes on 23 March. Residents such as Karima Soliman, whose brother and nephew are detained and whose children are currently on the run, complain of bad treatment of detainees by police.
“Our relatives are being tortured. They won’t let us visit them and refuse to give them the food we send them. My nephew is very sick and the police won’t transfer him to a hospital for treatment,” she said.