MEDIA ROUND-UP ON THE CITY – NOVEMBER 2014

Mobility and Transport:

Trucks banned in cities and harsher penalties for violations of traffic law after series of deadly road accidents.

On 5 November 2014 a cabinet decree   banning freight trucks inside cities during the day (from 6 a.m to 11 p.m) was issued. The decree came into force 15 November 2014 and excludes trucks transporting food commodities and petroleum products as well as trucks delivering newspapers.

That decision came after an increase of deadly road accidents few weeks before the event like the school bus crashed on an agricultural road in Beheria leaving 18 dead. Although most road accidents occur on highways, there will be no restrictions either on them or on desert and agricultural roads nor the “ring road”.

On 5 November 2014 amendments to the traffic law in order to introduce harsher penalties for wrong-way driving, driving under influence of drink/ drugs or exceeding the speed limit were also issued. In October 2014 a traffic control campaign across Egypt run by the traffic department in affiliation with the Ministry of Interior, found that « most traffic violations are speeding, driving against traffic, driving without a license and under the influence of drugs« . The implementation of these new amendments started on 24 November 2014.

 

40 % of Egyptian bridges at risk of collapse and 75% of roads needing maintenance:

Low maintenance of roads is also one of the main reasons for the high rate of traffic accidents. On November 26, 2014, Saad El-Goyushi, head of the General Authority For Roads, Bridges & Land Transport, said that nearly 700 bridges out of the 1706 bridges (almost 40%) in Egypt have exceeded their maintenance limit and are at risk of collapse and that 75% of the roads need maintenance. He also underlined some of the authorities’ efforts to repair roads and bridges thanks to their increase in revenues through the control of advertising on roads and an agreement with the Ministry of Planning to divert funds allocated to building new roads and bridges towards maintaining existing ones.

 

Women in the city:

Al-Shohada metro station: a « sexual harassment chaos »

Since Saddat metro station (under Tahrir Square) closed in August 2013 due to « security concerns », Al-Shohada metro station has become the only connecting station between lines 1 and 2 for Cairo’s 3.5 million daily ridership. Al-Ahram Online focuses on the « Sexual harassment chaos » that then occurs there especially during rush hours when harassers are hard to identify. The anti-sexual harassment initiative Shoft Taharosh stated to the journal that reports of sexual harassment in the metro have « risen dramatically » since the closure of Sadat Station.

 

80% of Egyptian women have been victims of sexual harassment in Cairo

The subject of sexual harassment in an urban environment is also dealt with this month in the press following a study from the American University stating that 80% of Egyptian women have been victims of verbal sexual harassment in Cairo. According to the study, run in three Cairo districts (Haggana, Manshiyat Nasser and Imbaba), both male and female respondents attributed this phenomenon to causes like unemployment, religious ignorance and women clothing.

In contrast to those superficial explanations, “The Chronikler” tries to give genuine analysis of the phenomenon that is “so widespread that anti-harassment NGOs are now classifying the situation as an out-and-out epidemic”. In its article “Sexual Harassment and the Medina” it lists many explanatory factors including the patriarchal social order and the strong gender-role expectations present in the Egyptian society that, in addition to oppress women, also oppress men who cannot live up to the expectation of a “real man”. In reaction to this,  they redirect their sentiment of impotence and frustration towards women. As Egyptian journalist and blogger Khaled Diab observes, “when anger and resentment begin to flourish within a society, it is often the most vulnerable who end up paying the highest price –whether they be women, children or minorities”.

 

Governance and local power

Mobilization against Egypt new administrative map in the Red Sea governorate:

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb formed on 2 July 2014 a committee tasked with reviewing the presidential decree regarding the modification of governorate borders and proposing a new demarcation. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi initially announced this administrative redrawing in May 2014 during his presidential campaign. His proposal included a new division of governorates that would allow access to both desert and sea as, according to the president, access to the western desert would give all the governorates the opportunity of creating housing, mining and agriculture to the west of the Nile, while access to the sea would improve agriculture, tourism and other industries. The main changes to the new demarcation involved are the increase in size of some governorates at the expense of others, as well as the addition of 3 new governorates (one in central Sinai, one in the North Coast region of al-Alameen and a third combining the Western Sahara oases of Farafra and Bahariya).

To view Map of Egypt including the three new governorates according to the electoral platform of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi click here. In November 2014, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reviewed the final plan for demarcating future administrative borders of the governorates, therefore a new law shall be expected soon.

In particular, the new administrative map will reduce the current Red Sea governorate since Upper Egypt governorates will stretch toward the sea. According to Mohamed El-Raafei, one of the leading figures in the « No To Splitting up the Red Sea Governorate » campaign, the current governorate will be decreased by 8 percent and divided into 3 different governorates: Ras Gharib city will be part of the Minya governorate, Marsa Alam will be part of the Luxor governorate, and the Halaib triangle along with Shalateen will be part of the Aswan governorate.

The redrawing of governorates’ administrative borders led to escalating protest in the Red Sea governorate, mostly in its two largest cities Al-Qusair and Ras Gharib, since the announcement in August 2014. It resulted in a boycott of public schools, and daily rallies and protests during the last week of November 2014.  Concerns are economics as well as administrative. Locals doubt the effectiveness of economic development that have been promised and criticize the implications of administrative problems for residents and business: “Now citizens may drive hundreds of miles each day from Ras Gharib to the city of Minya on a daily basis to complete government paperwork. Oil companies throughout the Red Sea will have to deal with different governorates instead of a single one.”

 

Egypt local power: land of the Generals?

Middle East Eye investigates military power in Egypt’s regime and underlines that presence of military figures in political position has expanded nationwide in the aftermath of former Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in July 2013. For instance since August 2014, 19 out of 27 of the country’s governorates are now « led by a man with the rank of “liwa” (major-general) » and in every one of the eight provinces led by a civilian (Cairo, Giza, Beni Suef, Kafr el-Sheikh, Qalyubiya, Fayoum, Sharqiya, and Menoufia) a high-ranking general serves as a « deputy-governor » or « secretary-general » next to the governor.

 

Planning and national project

Egypt under “developmental hubris”

Mada Masr discusses in its article “Too big to fail?” the size and timeline of national projects and questions if their ambitious scale are a problem for their success.

In August 2014 president el-Sisi announced his new project for the Suez Canal (see Media Round Up of September-October 2014) and surprised the Canal authority by bringing forward the deadline from 3 years to 1 year. The economic rationale – already being questioned by some experts – is undermined by this new timeline that will drive up construction costs. In addition, the one-year deadline makes it impossible for the construction to be done by Egyptian companies and the military only, as originally promised by el-Sisi. Egypt is thus paying over $2 billion to two foreign consortiums to assist with the dredging and is reported to be negotiating with a German firm to bore tunnels under the canal.

Quoting urban planner David Sims, the article predicts that many lower profile projects may end with the same fate due to “developmental hubris” of the current Government such as the plan to reclaim four million feddans of land or the transformation of Damietta Port into a global hub of grain trade.

 

Housing and Construction

El-Sisi one –million-housing project for low-income Egyptians faces financing and delay issues

Mada Masr’s article “Too big to fail?” previously mentioned in this media roundup, also looks back at the million homes project el-Sisi launched when still Minister of Defense in March 2014. Its memorandum of understanding signed between Egypt’s Ministry of Defense and Arabtec aimed to develop a million homes for low income Egyptians on a 160 million square meters of land on the outskirts of Cairo) provided free of charge by the military.

Valued at the time at US$40 billion (around LE280 billion), the article estimates that the housing built would be for middle-income housing rather than low income (each house would cost around LE200,000). The later changes in the financing terms tend to confirm that those targeted will not be able to afford living in such housing. As a matter of fact, although the memorandum of understanding between Egyptian authorities and Arabtec stated that the project will be finance thanks to “Egyptian and foreign banks”, early October 2014 Arabtec was made responsible for seeking its own funding. As well, instead of donating the land, Egyptian authorities finally decided to sell it to the company, via the Ministry of Housing. According to Yahia Shawkat, architect and housing researcher who runs the blog Shadow Ministry of Housing, the alteration of the financing scheme “will drive up prices, some say perhaps by 25 percent”.  These changes also delayed the construction process, since reaching a deal with the government has required “intensive negotiations and meetings” (Arabtec officials).

Mada Masr underlines that problems with developmental project funding and delay are no longer surprising in Egypt, and this is only an example among many, such as the million unit housing project launched in 2011 by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (that ran the country after 25 January) which promised to deliver 50,000 units by June 2014. As of October, only 57 flats are reported to have been delivered.

 

Apartment building collapse in Matariya district: at least 19 killed

An apartment building in Cairo, in the eastern Matariya district, collapsed on 25 November 2014 killing at least 19 people. The collapse highlighted the long-term problem of shoddy construction across Egypt: a preliminary inspection of the site by prosecutors showed that two extra floors have been added to the building without planning permission.

In June 2014, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights launched an interactive website which analyses and visualizes data on residential building collapses. Its preliminary findings highlight the lax enforcement by authorities of existing laws meant to regulate construction and building maintenance is the main reason of the high occurrence of building collapse (responsible for 52% of them). The second main reason found was the lack of proper planning and development:  “rising ground water in quickly urbanizing villages that lack proper waste water infrastructure or acts of nature such as flash floods in areas unprepared for this seasonal phenomena, have been responsible for 46% of collapses and 10% of deaths”.

 

Sinai development issue:

No-mans-land and “war on tunnel” in the Egypt-Gaza border result in razing many villages

The lack of jobs and opportunities in the area drove many locals into “the tunnel smuggling trade” with Gaza. As part of a strategy to further secure the Sinai and bring stability to the area, Egyptian authorities have intensified end of October-beginning of November 2014 the closing process of these tunnels.

In the process, during the first few days, more than 200 houses had been bulldozed, revealing 117 passages. Most of the large tunnels have already been destroyed, so smaller tunnels that have, until now, avoided detection are now targeted. The final aim is to create a 500 meters-long no-mans-land along the border which resulted, and will results, in razing many villages and cities like Rafah. The governor of the region is reported to have said that this 500-metre zone was only the beginning and that security forces would expand the demolitions further from the border.

Sinai’s forgotten development?

But as Mona Barhoum, a political activist who lives in the border town of Rafah, notes « destroying homes will not resolve the tunnel problem” as any long-term stability would depend on engaging local people. As emphasized in an opinion article in Al-Ahram Online the problem is ” that for the sake of security measures” Sinai development is forgotten due to “a lack of political will, confusion and indecision”. The author argues that development and population resettlement are the most effective lines of defense and that it shall not be disrupt by security considerations as it would be counterproductive.

Waste management:

Food for garbage?

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, quoting Domestic Trade and Food Supply Minister Khaled Hanafy, the ministry is looking, in coordination with Environment Ministry, into a project that would give citizens free goods in return for garbage by adding a financial return on the smart ration cards. More details should come within the next two months.

 

Cairo streets vendors:

After their eviction from downtown Cairo in August 2014, street vendors, who were allegedly causing traffic jams, have been relocated to Torgoman parking complex, pending a more permanent location in Abdel Moneim Riyad Square. At the time, media such Mada Masr reported many complaints from the vendors, stating that even for the few months, the Turgoman was not suitable for their needs since it was too far from pedestrians and too small or complaining of favoritism in the place allocation.
The subject of street vendors’ eviction is also, among other things, dealt with in the Guardian article “Why the battle for control of downtown Cairo is a fight for the future of Egypt” discussing the issue in relation to the state’s attempts to restore its own authority – as Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb himself admitted – at the expense of Downtown Cairo streets vendors.
Some vendors have consequently returned to the streets and, in the past month, several have been arrested in Qasr el-Nil, Azbakeya and Boulaq and were fined (between 1,000 and 5,000 EGP). In reaction, Ahmed Hussein head of the Street Vendors’ Independent Syndicate, criticized authorities « exaggerated punishment for little offences » but at the same time he asked vendors to be patient as the new mall for street vendors is under construction.

 

Revolution and the city

 

City planning as a means of social control:

Middle East Eye focuses on how, in the aftermath of the 2013 Morsi’s ouster, urban planning has been  used as a means of exercising social control over the population and ensuring the state’s authority.

Demonstrations and sit-ins in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution marked the gradual opening of public spaces in Egypt and their transformation into both ”epicenter and symbol of freedom of expression”. But in the following years, the city has been the scene of reconfigurations, segmenting and isolating open spaces in order to control civil society. For May al-Ibrashy, founder of Megawra, a hub for young architects in Cairo, this intimidation of the population though urban planning can thus be seen as a reaction to its own fear of the people.

This way of acting is more subtle yet insidious than the various laws that cripple freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate in the country: such as the construction of concrete walls or gates across some streets, closure of roads, increasing presence of barbed wire and police/military forces. The most striking characteristic of such barriers is their normalization over time. They are no longer used temporarily for a specific reason, but they are fixed and have become part of every Cairene’s daily life.

According to Hajer Awatta, a researcher at Taqween, an urban development research centre in Cairo quoted by the article, this state’s encroachment on public space appears more and more normal over time and it results in creating lower expectations for people’s rights. As he explains, “people felt they had gained ownership of public space (…). Now the increasing presence of police, military police, and army in front of the population strips away their sense of ownership – especially with Tahrir.”

 

Symbolism of places of protests: Mohamed Mahmoud street and Tahrir Square

This development of a form of securitarian urbanism (see R. Stadnicki’s note on the issue for Les Cafés Géographiques) has to be put in relation with the high political meaning and power of mobilization that some streets and squares in Cairo convey due to the revolution. Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street for instance, because of their status during the revolution, have been the theater of political mobilization this month of November 2014.

Since its violent clashes between protesters, demanding the stepping-down of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and security forces between 19 and 24 November 2011, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off  Tahrir Square, has become an iconic place of the revolution (the street is also famous for its street art) and commemorations of the event are held there every year. Therefore, on 19 November, 2014, for the third anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud, dozens of protesters were arrested by police forces in downtown Cairo. Later in the month on 29 November, 2014 after all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak were drop in his trial for responsibility in the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolution, Tahrir Square was closed preventing  the risk of protests rejecting the verdict. Despites the closure, around 5000 people were  reported to have gathered  in Tahrir Square the same evening.


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