Monday, June 30, 2008
I’ve heard about, but never physically been to, makeshift housing areas like 3arab Abo Regeila – although these areas visit their more well-to-do counterparts regularly, on donkey carts, collecting rubbish.
3arab Abo Regeila is a collection of shacks built on either side of the Suez – Cairo railway track. A contact having stood me up, I went by taxi and initially couldn’t find it. The taxi driver asked people in the neighbourhood where 3arab Abo Regeila was and they’d never heard of it – despite the fact that they were standing 50 metres away from it. Extreme poverty equals invisibility.
But then perhaps an area like this doesn’t deserve a name, doesn’t deserve to be recognised. It is a long strip of huts, and shacks, and one-storey brick rooms surrounded by rubbish and pools of evil-looking stagnant water and piles of cardboard. All of this is quite literally next to the railway tracks – some of the shacks are barely a metre away from them. Residents say that when trains go past, everything shakes like an earthquake is happening.
When I went this morning the heat was almost unbearable, and there was just no shade in Abo Regeila apart from inside the shacks, which themselves have no air. One room I entered had such an overpowering smell of urine that I nearly vomited. This same room had a poster of a rural scene on the wall, perhaps to replace the absent window.
There is no running water of course, although there is running sewage, pumped from God knows where into a festering pool. Inhabitants complain of constant torment by flies and mosquitoes, feeding on the animal, and perhaps human, excrement which dots the heaps of rubbish amongst which the goats and the children play.
There is a proper amusement park behind Abo Regeila. It is called Hadiqet El-Badr, Badr Gardens, and has a big wheel, swings, clean open spaces…The army owns it. I forgot to ask whether it admits its barefoot neighbours.
These people, hundreds of families, have been issued an eviction order. Nobody knows exactly why the army suddenly wants its land back after ignoring these people for twenty years, but there we are. When a group of journalists and lawyers went today (the eviction order was meant to be carried out today, though usually surprise evictions are carried out, for least resistance) Abo Regeila’s inhabitants were furious, and scared and suspicious, particularly of the motivations of the foreign journalist ‘with the yellow hair’, and I regretted – as I often do – the barrier that foreignness imposes.
FAMILIES IN ABO REGEILA FACE EVICTION AS ARMY PREPARES TO MOVE IN
CAIRO: Hundreds of families who have lived in makeshift housing next to a railway track for over twenty years are facing the threat of eviction.
The families, who live in Arab Abo Regeila in the El-Salam district of northern Cairo, have not been offered alternative housing.
“These families have lived in Abo Regeila for years without anyone troubling them,” Mohamed Abdel Azim of the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights (ECHR) told Daily News Egypt.
“They were told that the army would be evicting them on the 30th June but have not been offered alternative housing. The reason why they are being evicted isn’t clear – nobody knows exactly what the plans are for this land,” Abdel Azim continued.
While the legal status of the land is unclear, it is surrounded by land owned by the Egyptian army, including an amusement park, Hadiqet El-Badr, also owned by the army.
There are unconfirmed rumours that the army wants to evict the families in order to expand the amusement park.
Living conditions in Arab Abo Regeila are desperate. Families live in either shacks or basic one-storey brick houses constructed on the banks of the Cairo-Suez railway line.
There is no running water – one inhabitant told Daily News Egypt that she collects water from a neighbouring factory – and pools of lurid green stagnant water attract flies and mosquitoes.
Daily News Egypt also saw an exposed swamp of water into which live sewage was being pumped, located in between houses.
Residents said that small children have fallen into the swamp.
“Of course I’d leave if I had the chance – why would anyone choose to stay here living in this filth? But where can I go? I can only leave if me and my children are given somewhere else to live where we can earn a living,” one woman told Daily News Egypt.
Many of Arab Abo Regeila’s residents earn a living by collecting and selling cardboard – which is stacked up almost everywhere in Arab Abo Regeila.
One woman said that the cardboard she sells every 15 days earns her around LE 150.
She said that she uses this money to visit her son, who has been imprisoned for violating the terms of his military service – she says because the family could not afford to lose his source of income.
Another woman told Daily News Egypt that she sells a kilo of cardboard for ten piastres.
While some of their children attend school, economic circumstances have forced many of the families to send their children to work on the donkey carts used to collect cardboard.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, ECHR lawyer Mohamed El-Helw explained that as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Egypt is obliged to provide compensation to people forced to leave their homes and to resettle them, and said that evictions should not involve physical violence.
Egypt has been repeatedly criticised by rights groups for both its failure to provide affordable, acceptable housing for the low-income members of its population and the manner in which the authorities evictions are carried out.
In a statement issued during the press conference ECHR places Arab Abo Regeila within the context of continuing violations of housing rights.
“What is happening at the moment in Abo Regeila is not an isolated incident,” the statement reads.
“Rather, it is a systematic state policy…Despite the passing of a bundle of laws by the government in the People’s Assembly it continues to violate both these laws, and international treaties ratified by the state under which it has obligations towards its citizens including the obligation not to evict people except after consultation with them, and providing them with suitable alternative housing,” the statement continues.
In 2000 the United Nations Committee on Economic and Social Rights criticised Egypt’s policy of forced-evictions, and failure to provide compensation to those evicted.
In March 2007 the Egyptian authorities were strongly criticised after security forces violently attacked residents of Qalat El-Kabsh, Cairo, and used tear gas bombs in an effort to make them leave their homes.
A number of people were injured during the attack.
Over 350 homes in Qalat El-Kabsh had been destroyed by fire but, not having been provided with alternative shelter or compensation, the residents were forced to sleep on the remains of their homes, or in the street.
I recently spent four days in Dahab, where I saw a goat jump off a hotel balcony.
Our party included two windsurfing enthusiasts, and much time was spent at a resort called Gannet Sina which offers high winds and large numbers of British people. Being in their chattering midst was like standing at a bus stop in Croydon during a gale, but only hotter. While
Nasal British windsurfing instructor wants to tell a group of people to meet at the windsurfing boards area at their earliest convenience.
“Yo chaps and chapettes [sniggers, pause for laughter which never comes]. If you’re ready to get going it would be great if you could mosey on down [pause for laughter which never comes] to the boards so we can rock and roll [claps hands together. Gives thumbs up sign. Someone coughs uncomfortably].
Is it the influence of American culture?
While in the cafe I also saw two British people struggling out with their windsurfing paraphernalia. One asked the other ‘ready?’ to which the other – rather than saying ‘yes’ - replied ‘let’s do it’, but with the intonation of a man from Surrey asking for a rawl plug. He then knocked a bin over with his sail.
While sustaining third degree burns I watched novice windsurfers attempt to do beach starts, which, in theory, is when windsurfers step onto the back of their board gracefully while clutching their sails and wait for the wind to propel them away. Alas in practice I was reminded of cattle being herded onto the back of lorries.
My own attempt at windsurfing was also reminiscent of bovine animals being herded through shallow rivers and is best not dwelt on. It involved bruised knees and a near miss with a Russian who looked like a member of Tatu. ‘Don’t worry. I was beginner, too’ she told me breathily as she cruised past and I fell in.
This was the peak of the holiday’s excitement, apart from the kamikaze goat (which jumped because it was startled but seemed quite unaffected by its sudden plummet 20 metres earthwards. Unlike me).
This holiday was about switching off, and while not recumbent on a beach with the entire expatriate community of Surrey reading the autobiography of Slash out of cycling short legends Guns n Roses, I lay recumbent in one of Dahab’s many beachfront joints stroking cats. While these outfits are all much of a muchness, we frequently dined in the irritatingly-named ‘Funny Mummy’ because it offers good food. I am given to understand that its owner, ‘Jimmy’, is something of a Dahab legend, or is in the process of attempting to carve out this role for himself. He constantly sports a white cowboy hat and seems to want to appear like a cheerful cad. While I was paying the bill one evening I overheard him and three associates talking to two Eton-types with turned up polo neck collars and plummy accents. Jimmy was going on about ‘his third leg’in an odd Delta/Cockney accent.
Like every beach town I have ever been to (Brighton, Blackpool) there is something a bit sinister and sad about Dahab and I was glad to escape to the paradisiacal shores of Beer Sweer, about an hour away from Dahab and its insistent waiters.
Beer Sweer is Bedouin country, and we were received by a Bedouin man wearing silver cufflinks in his galabeyya and wraparound black sunglasses. Needless to say, he looked pretty fly. About 30 seconds after we arrived he offered us Hashish, beer, co-ed (wink wink) rooms and lunch, in that order. We partook of the lunch, which was excellent but so loaded with samna balady that it ensured immediate unconsciousness.
Before we passed out Bedouin man told us a little about his life, and began his monologue with “while I was on the run from the army” for which I envied him greatly. Rather than endure the purgatory of the Egyptian army for a year he had apparently gone AWOL until he was 30 and then had his dad pay a fine and that was that.
Warming to his theme he then told us about the good old days when smuggling in stuff from
We asked him whether he’d been affected by the some 3,000 incidents of arbitrary detention which had occurred during the authorities “investigation” of the bombings. He clammed up a bit, before telling us that no he hadn’t, and that the Sinai tribes had helped find the perpetrators…etc.
He had his own reasons to lament the bombings: they have driven away his main customer base – Israelis. All the signs in the camp are in Hebrew – not Hebrew and Arabic, or Hebrew and English, just Hebrew – and the Sudanese and Bedouin staff in the camp all spoke Hebrew to the only other guest there, an Israeli. It was slightly unnerving.
We then asked him how life as a Bedouin in Sinai was different under Egyptian rule compared to the Israeli occupation. Influenced perhaps by his audience, he made sure to underline his love for Egyptians, before preceding to point out the major differences between the two regimes. Apparently, the Israelis treated Sinai dwellers fairly, as long as they didn’t involve themselves in politics - and that things got nasty if they did. Egyptian policing he says consists of giving anyone arrested a ‘7atet deen 3al2a’ [one hell of a smack] until the unfortunate individual confesses to a crime which both he and the police know he is not responsible for. Fancy that!
Business seems to be going well for Bedouin man and his cufflinks despite the drop in Israeli tourism. He told us that he is in the process of building a new camp. Construction is progressing well, and bathrooms were the first thing he made sure got finished first because, he told us, he understands the importance of a toilet. This gave me hope for the conveniences in the camp we were in since an abdominal evacuation had suddenly imposed itself on the agenda.
Alas I discovered that in keeping with the general theme of the place even the toilets were keeping it real with what is delicately and euphemistically known as a ‘7ammam balady’ - in other words a hole in the ground full of other people’s shit. Which, incidentally, is how I like to describe Croydon to the uninitiated.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
A declaration of love is scrawled in paint on the wall above A’s head ‘A + A, the dream of my life.’
Below it A is recumbent on a bed lined with children’s cartoon character bed linen. The images do little to cheer the oppressive starkness of the room’s grey, unfinished walls, its murky lighting and lack of air.
Nineteen year-old A’s doctor has told her to have 25 days of bed-rest after her leg was broken by a police officer, who also beat her on the back with a rock.
Sitting next to her Dr Mona Hamed from the
“I’ve always cried, just by myself, for no reason. God made me like that,” she replies.
Before we went to see A in her room other woman in the village of Ezbet el Baroudi, (located in the Delta governorate of Beheira) told us that A had been most disturbed by the ‘incident’ one morning last week when the police descended on the village.
A’s sadness is palpable. Hamed asks her whether, when she is mobile again, she would be able to come to El Nadeem for counselling.
“I’ve never been to
Outside hoards of barefoot children bowl about Ezbet el Baroudi’s one lane, excited by the visitors. One girl has drawn a watch on her wrist. Another stands next to an El Nadeem doctor staring at him intently as a woman gives her account of what happened.
In the early hours of Tuesday 4th June, four of Ezbet el Baroudi’s male residents were arrested, while other men fled. Some of the village’s women sought sanctuary in the fields surrounding their homes until police officers – who were already in the village ahead of the land eviction planned for Tuesday – fired gunshots in the air and frightened them away.
The women returned to their homes where they stayed until 7 a.m. the next morning when they went back to the fields and were attacked by men wearing civilian clothing (who they say were both civilians and from the police) who broke into their homes – a traumatising invasion of privacy in a conservative rural society such as this.
The women showed us damage to two doors they say was caused when the police stormed houses.
A said that the women were violently attacked at random, and that it was a frenzied assault.
She told Hamed that the police officer who attacked her was attempting to drag her by her hair out of a house she had fled to when she fell over, and that he hit her on her back with a rock while she lay on the ground.
Another woman, S, had just arrived home with her mother from the fields when she was attacked.
“Four police officers hit me while people standing around swore at me,
“They took me to the police station and released me at 2 a.m.”
S’s 45 year-old mother was hit with a thick stick during the assault and she showed us a huge, rectangular purple bruise which runs the width of her lower back. Her arm was broken when she raised it in order to protect her head from the blows.
The struggle over Ezbet el Baroudy’s land began in the late 1990s but it is part of a saga which began in 1952, when Agricultural Land Reform Law 178 was enacted.
According to Bashir Saqr of the Organisation for Solidarity with Egyptian Farmers, at the time Law 178 was passed one third of Egypt’s 2.5 million squared hectares of cultivable land was owned by 11,000 estate holders – 0.4% of landowners – whose domination enabled them to charge tenant farmers rent equivalent to 75% of their income.
Under Law 178 land owners were allowed to keep a maximum of 200 feddans (subsequently reduced to 100 feddans in 1961), which they could pass on to their children. Any land over this amount had to be sold on the open market within seven years.
Land belonging to the family of Mohamed Ashraf El Baroudi was seized in this way.
This ‘excess’ land was distributed to farmers and rented to them by the Agricultural Reform Body.
In 1974 a law returned the ‘excess’ land to its original owners. While farmers were not immediately forced to leave the land, they now paid rent to the original owners rather than the State.
In 1986 Saqr alleges, Zeinat El Baroudi, a relative of Mohamed El Baroudi, managed – through bribery – to have the status of the land sequestered in the 1950s changed from agricultural reform land (to which she had no claim) to ‘excess’, in order to allow her to claim ownership of it.
“She gradually sold off portions of the land,” Saqr told Daily News
“But when one of the buyers went to the registry office to register the land he was told that El Baroudy in fact had no right to the land nor to sell it.”
Saqr told Daily News
The court accepted Khattab’s claim and issued an eviction order.
The men who attacked Ezbet el Baroudy’s women last week were, according to the testimony of one woman who spoke to El Nadeem, both farmers who stand to benefit from their eviction, and members of the police, acting in concert.
She said that as she was being attacked by police officers, men who had bought the land from Zeinat el Baroudy said to her, “what have you benefited from [resisting the eviction] except scandalising yourselves in newspapers?” (A reference to an article published in Egyptian daily El Badeel which listed the names of those injured and detained during last week’s assault).
An anonymous comment on the electronic version of the El Badeel article suggests that the Ezbet el Baroudy land was bought legitimately by Khottab in 1999 and that on the day of the evictions villagers “threw stones at the police causing serious injuries.”
Saqr dismisses this, saying it is “highly unlikely”.
This is not the first time that the police use violence to intimidate women in connection with land disputes.
In March 2005 police laid siege to the
According to Human Rights Watch, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Ammar oversaw a raid on Sarando at 4 a.m. on March 5th during which seven men were arrested, and houses broken into.
El Nadeem told Daily News
Fayyad told Daily News
“This is a multifaceted problem – political, economic, social. Solving it requires a government with the vision and courage to put in place a comprehensive, equitable remedy which realises justice for all parties involved,” Fayyad said.
S, the villager who was attacked with her mother, was the most visibly angry of the Ezbet el Baroudy villagers who spoke to the El Nadeem doctors.
She told them, “What are you doing here? What do you want?
“If you really want to help go and stop them carrying out the eviction order in the village next to us [Ezbet Moharram]
“You’ve come here too late.”
Originally published in the Daily News Egypt
Sunday, June 08, 2008
It feels like strange times at the moment in
Everything just seems a little tenser than usual, or maybe it’s just me reacting to the heat which has arrived and which as usual feels like someone has put a paper bag over my head while painting me with warm, sticky syrup. I spent yesterday morning sitting in my own sweat outside a courthouse when the security guards decided that journalists wouldn’t be allowed in to attend the four editors (Ibrahim Eissa et al) trial. A beefy-looking bloke in too-tight jeans and pointed shoes who looked like he’d headed straight to work from a Sa3d el Soghayyar video shoot refused to let us in. He was polite, for once. Another, older, bloke took his job so seriously that he prevented an eight year old boy carrying a backpack from entering the courthouse. The boy came back with his father – who had that unusual burgundy skin colouring – and they again attempted to enter. ‘Ta3limaat’ [instructions] the bloke barked at them, shooing them away. The father stared at the security man with his mouth open before looking down at his son – who was staring intensely up at him – and then conceded defeat.
The saddest thing about these divisions is that they deflect attention from the fact that religion is mostly immaterial when it comes to getting stepped on and screwed over in
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
This is a letter sent from prison by Mohamed Maree, the translator who was arrested with James Buck in Mahalla. It was given to me by a lawyer.
This is my very rough, very quick, translation.
This is a letter from the liberal Egyptian blogger Mohamed Saleh Ahmed Maree, currently detained in the Borg El-Arab prison in connection with his involvement in the events of 6 April in Mahalla.
It is hoped that this letter will be published in order that everyone is made aware of the humiliation, abuse of humanity and indignity this detainee is facing inside this prison at the hands of the prison’s administration. This treatment violates all laws and human rights principles protecting his dignity and humanity.
I would like to first make clear some important points. I was detained in connection with my involvement in the events of 6 April in Mahalla. I am being held in Wing 23, Borg El-Arab prison, and am being held in criminal detention. I am being held with people accused of selling drugs, possession of illegal weapons and of illegal migration despite the fact that the charges against me are political. The charges against me are interviewing the relatives of those involved in riots in Mahalla el Kobra and taking photographs in places which were destroyed during the events of 6 April.
When I started a hunger strike in protest at the mistreatment inside the prison, and in order to demand my transfer to a political detainees’ wing, my demand was refused and all I could do was accept the reality in front of me and wait until this treatment ended.
What happened to me afterwards was treatment worse than anyone can accept and give into. On the night of Tuesday 20th May I was verbally and physically humiliated in numerous ways by individuals from state security investigations, in the presence of an officer during their search of our room. When I protested to the officer the policeman’s lack of respect for my humanity and base abuse of my dignity, the officer said that these are the prison’s rules, and they apply to everyone without exception. I informed him that there is no law allowing a person to be humiliated, and that what this policeman had done was disgraceful and that it is difficult to ignore or stay silent about it.
This is the first time that I am detained in my life. I had believed that
We are currently strangers in our own country. Why are we being detained here? Why was I taken to prison merely because of my belief in the idea of liberal thought – which they previously tried to apply and which failed on both the economic and social levels.
Everything happening in
- There “exists” a fair judicial system in
- There “exists” in
- 80 million people live in
We live a counterfeit life. We live in a state of economic, social and political corruption, and face this bitter reality without a giving a damn. The truth of this corruption is not exposed - a direct result of the falsifying of reality and false claims that
What then is the solution? This is the question the answer to which must be found.
Signed: the Egyptian liberal blogger, Mohamed Saleh Ahmed Maree, a student of the faculty of veterinary medicine,