Initiative acts as link between residents and local councils

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CAIRO: During the transition to democracy, and away from the fierce competition between political forces, a group of activists found it important for Egyptians to know their rights with regards to their respective local councils.

A campaign, aptly titled “Know Your Right,” launched by the People’s Committees initiative is starting with the garbage problem in Imbaba, Boulaq El-Dakror, Meet Okba and Omraneyah.

"We talk about our rights as citizens and how local councils’ practices should be monitored," said Ehab Aly, one of the founders and coordinator of the people’s committee in Imbaba.

The idea, Aly explained, is to pick an indisputable issue that poses a problem to people of different ages and social classes. Activists engage in discussions and collect residents’ signatures to take their demands to the governor and the head of local council.

The Egyptian Cabinet recently announced on its official Facebook page that Cairo and Giza governorates will carry an urgent comprehensive cleaning campaign, under the governors’ supervision, to lift the accumulated piles of garbage in 72 hours in the main streets and squares.

The Cabinet’s Information & Decision Support Center (IDSC) is to monitor the progress and report to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

This comes after two months of community activism by the People’s Committees campaign as they embarked on the "Know Your Right" campaign.

However, some members of the campaign complain that government officials aren’t veru receptive, which triggered other ideas as a solution to the garbage problem.

"If we did our obligation and paid the cleaning fees, we expect to receive a good service or else we won’t pay for it," Ehab said.

Consequently, the “Know Your Right” campaign launched a poll on their Facebook page, surveying people on whether they should abstain from paying cleaning fees added to the electricity fees paid each month or refuse to pay the whole invoice as a way to pressure local councils and governorates to meet their obligations.

Some activists were told by their local council officials that the garbage problem is a result of not paying the cleaning companies their complete financial benefits.

Only earlier this month, Cairo’s Governor Abdel Kawy Khalifa held talks with the finance minister in which the latter agreed to pay cleaning companies LE 85.86 million from their delayed payments from last December.

But it doesn’t stop here.

Next October, the People’s Committees are set to launch a campaign targeting education by holding meetings with teachers and visiting schools to compile all the problems that public schools suffer from and provide solutions by experts.

Discussions are also underway with the Independent Teachers’ Syndicate.

"We do not impose our own solutions on any party but we try to make experts come up with solutions so that we decision makers may find them helpful. What’s important to us is that problems get solved no matter who solves it," Aly noted.

Other fields on the People’s Committees’ agenda include cultivating mutual respect between the people and the police, abiding by traffic laws, providing good health care, suitable housing and transportation.

The committees are also considering founding a union for the unemployed as well as lobbying for electing governors and heads of local councils.

The People’s Committees are also holding discussions about the elections with people on the streets highlighting the importance of voting and measures of choosing the candidates and holding them accountable to their promises.

Political talks don’t take place in the usual platforms such as lectures and public discussions, but rather at coffee shops, dubbing it "Hewarat El-Ahawy" or Coffee Shops Dialogues. Aly said that traditional political events will only attract those who are already into politics and not ordinary people.

"People from different political trends are joining us but we do not accept funds from any individual or party to preserve our credibility," Aly said.

The People’s Committees’ meetings are held in the Center for Socialist Studies, yet according to Aly, the committees include socialists, liberals, other political backgrounds, as well as a few apolitical members.

Committees are scattered in many parts of Egypt from Cairo, Suez, Beni Sueif to Alexandria, Fayoum and Ismailiya.

The People’s Committees were inspired by the neighborhood watch group that were formed during the 18-day uprising in January, according to Aly, when the police left the streets to provide security. They held an official founding conference last April.

"It is not very important to have a leader to the revolution but it’s important to have the revolution’s body in the popular areas," said Ahmed Ezzat, general coordinator of the People’s Committees.

Over time, these committees started working individually on the local problems of their respective residential areas through holding discussions and distributing flyers raising awareness. Committees also coordinate in big protests such as the one held on July 8 and September 9.

Aly explained that protecting the revolution can be done in several forms and this is what the People’s Committees are after.


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