CAIRO: In 2003, the Housing Ministry, under the auspices of the First Lady, launched a campaign to provide housing for some of the poorest Cairo residents.
Five years later and white apartment blocks, Suzanne Mubarak’s ‘gift’ to the poor, pepper the landscape. But it is the slum housing, thickly crammed up the mountains of Manshiat Nasr, that dominate.
Tabbet Pharo’un, is a slum settlement of some 250 families, built into the steepest slopes of the Duweiqa rocky hills. Its ramshackle huts, which cling to the hillside are crude one-room shelters, that provide little protection to is residents.
But in the center of the slum lies a state of the art water storage tank, built especially for the new Suzanne Mubarak apartments, which are mainly empty.
“They started building the water tank two years ago, Atif Mohamed, a resident told Daily News Egypt.
“When they came, they brought state security with them to guard the site.
The new apartments had already been there for a few years, and were still empty. They are built for us, and people around us, but the security presence prevent people from voicing demands. It was sheer intimidation.
The water storage tank was completed last year. Since then the government proceeded to build pipes connecting the tank and the new buildings.
Residents claim that the building work has rocked their shacks’ foundations and upturned the ground bringing a plague of insects.
Ghada Abdel Moneim, 33, who lives directly opposite the tank with her husband and three children, was bitten by a scorpion as she was preparing dinner on a gas burner.
“I was taken to hospital immediately, and received the antidote, but others here, especially small children haven’t been so lucky, she says.
Pointing to the rubble and rubbish next to her house, she explains that this area used to be belong to her neighbors.
“They stood in the way of the government when they came to build the pipes that connect the tank to the new buildings. They’ve only been here four years, but because they live right opposite the tank, they struck up a deal, and were given new housing, but we haven’t been moved.
Climbing up a steep alley, one comes to the house of Suraya Abdel Qader Ali. Like many of the families, Ali came to Cairo from Upper Egypt in the 1980s. Finding nowhere else to live, she made her home in Duweiqa. But hanging precariously above her shack is a huge rock. Parts of it have already destroyed the roof of the neighbor’s room.
“The rock was secure when we first came here. But with the water and wind, it’s slowly eroding. We have complained to the local municipality, and the governorate office in Abdeen, but to no avail. An inspector came in his car, but didn’t even bother to get out. He looked out his window, and drove off, said Suraya.
Reaching breaking point, the families staged a demonstration outside the Cairo governorate. On the week of June 15 they also demonstrated outside the local municipality, where security arrested four residents and held them for three days, then released without charge.
With recent hikes in inflation compounded with unemployment, conditions have become unbearable for slum families.
“Life was tolerable a few years back, said Ayman Ali, 35, whose leg was broken six months ago by a falling rock.
Rubble from building work was left as it is, and the families are paying the price. “I have six nails and a splint in my leg, and still walk with crutches. Work of course, is impossible.
Without running water, and with rubble hindering access to roads, families pay up to LE 2 for a jerry can of tap water from the government buildings below. “Water is a scarcity, and sometimes we find insects in the cans and cockroaches. But hygiene here is not a priority, said resident Hanan Mohamed Abu Hassan.
Walking back through the settlement, residents pointed out blue numbers painted on several of the houses.
“These were all registered and numbered over five years ago, to be knocked down and their residents given Suzanne Mubarak homes.
For many living in the Duweiqa, the prevalent belief is that the dual scourge of incompetence and corruption have blighted the project from day one.
Rumors that government apartments, which should be free, are sold off for profit, are rife, and residents claim that house-seekers come from outside Cairo to buy the flats officially allocated for them.
However, within the Ministry of Housing, officials claim work is currently in progress to ensure families of slum houses are moved to the new government flats.
The rehousing process will begin officially next month, at the beginning of Ramadan, Mahmoud Maghawary Mohamed, director at the Housing Ministry, told Daily News Egypt. New ownership contracts will be drawn up for those who have had their houses removed in Duweiqa. Others will be assessed and will receive apartments in due course.
The concept of free housing for Duweiqa residents, whether from Tabbet Pharo’un or other settlements in the vast sea of slum areas, has become something of a myth, making it unlikely for Mohamed’s words to placate the families of Duweiqa.