MEDIA ROUND-UP ON THE CITY – DECEMBER 2014 AND JANUARY 2015
Beginning of the year 2015, like Les Carnets du CEDEJ, many media outlets looked back at 2014 and presented a retrospective of last year urban and regional issues. Among them we can recommend the ones realized by Jadaliyya and Cairo Observer.
The question of public space
The “citizen-informant” phenomenon spreads a climate of fear with regards of criticizing Egyptian authorities in public
Middle East Eye focus on the climate of fear with regards to criticizing Egyptian authorities in public as “a band of loyal « citizen informants » [is] ready to pounce on any critic” and reports many cases of confrontation in coffee shops, public transport or in the street. For instance leftist activist Abdel Rahman witnessed in September 2014 a woman criticizing Sisi in a minibus who encouraged another passenger to say what he thought. As soon as the passenger began expressing a critical view, she called the police to arrest the man. « We were able to meet in public gardens » states Karim Taha of the April 6 movement, « Now it’s just impossible. » Activists’ advice is now to not talk politics in public and meet only at trusted places.
In November 2014, a woman shouted at journalists Sara Khorshidand Alain Gresh, “you’re ruining the country” while they were discussing Egypt’s political situation in a café. Later Sara Khorshid was interrogated by the police for nearly two hours. On December 13, 2014 two British Egyptians and their Egyptian cousin were stopped at El-Marg Metro station and briefly detained after another passenger reported to the police that they were speaking in English about potential sabotage on the anniversary of January 25. L’Orient le Jour also looks back on those events and underlines how the “citizen-informant” phenomenon is abetted by the media.
Street art: the end of an era?
In its in-depth article Is Cairene graffiti losing momentum?, Jadaliyya notes that Cairene graffiti has lost momentum during this year and questions if the death of the nineteen-year-old graffiti artist Hisham Rizq in late june 2014 marks the end of an era for Cairo street art as, to the exception of of the recent portrait of Rizq drawn by Ammar Abu Bakr, the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street have hardly changed since last November 2013. Despite the official version announcing that Rizq drown in the Nile, Jaddallya claims this version to be hardly believable and his death signals the current danger of street politics under military rule.
Crackdown for “debauchery” on bathhouse and on an “Atheists café”
On the night of December 7, 2014, a bathhouse in the neighborhood of Ramsis was raided and at least 33 people arrested for “practicing debauchery” said the head of Cairo’s security directorate. On December 14, 2014 was also announced that security forces raided and closed an “atheists’ café” the previous month on November 10, in Falaky street, in the Abdeen neighborhood of downtown Cairo. Gamal Mohie, chief of the Abdeen district told Mada Masr that the coffee shop in question was “unauthorized, unlicensed, and also because drugs were found inside” adding that the place “was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances”.
This erosion of public sphere on “moral” and religious grounds, is also noticeable in the ruling of the Alexandria Administrative Court of December 29, 2014 that ban the annual Abu Hasira Jewish festival that commemorates since 1979 the birthday of the 19th-century leading Moroccan rabbi and was due to happen on January 9 and 10, 2015. The ruling states that the festival “violates public order and morals and contradicts with the sanctity of religious rituals”. The Abu Hasira celebration was also banned by a court in 2001 and 2004, however this decision marks its first ‘permanent’ ban.
Challenging sexual harassment and cultural norms in Egyptian streets:
A 19-year-old girl fell into the Nile in Cairo and drowned on December 8, 2015. The Forensic Medicine Authority stated that the girl jumped off the bridge “because she was facing personal hardships” but according to Fathi Farid, spokesperson for the campaigning group “Shoft Taharosh” (“I saw harassment),three eyewitnesses confirmed that she did not tried to commit suicide but accidently fell in the Nile while fleeing from a manwho followed and sexually harassed her for 30 minutes. Sexual harassment is a recurrent problem in Egypt, as a United Nations study, conducted in 2013, reveals that 99% of Egyptian women have subjected to either verbal or physical abuse.
Egyptian women have started taking the matter into their own hands using social media and a number of hashtags like #Idon’tFeelSafeOnTheStreet, #AntiHarassment and #ExposeHarasser, to speak up about the daily sexual harassment they experience and in an effort to expose harassers and break the silence surrounding those behaviors. Following the recent popularity of the video ’10 Hours of Walking in New York City as a Woman’ and a the Egyptian video ”Creepers on the Bridge”, Dot Masr launch another initiative, and produced “Four Hours of Walking in Cairo, Egypt as a Woman”. According to the video, within the 4 hours walk the woman filmed encountered 80 instances of verbal harassment, 3 instances of physical harassment and numerous stalking, gazing and catcalling.
On the same issue, CairoScene shares a photography project by Hossam Atef that shows women, in a series of situations considered unusual in conservative Egyptian society and therefore testing cultural norms and gender role. Among them one occurs in an “ahwa” (popular coffee shop in Egypt) which, as the Global Post notes, is for the most part a men’s space where; although in some places women presence is routine (in Downtown’s Boursa for instance), women might be denied shisha.
Inauguration of re-designed downtown passageway
On January 17, 2015 CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research) with DEDI (the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute) and CKU (the Centre for Culture and Development in Copenhagen) inaugurated their passageway redevelopment project called “Cairo Downtown Passages” in the Kodak and Phillips Passageways of downtown Cairo. The aim of the project is to develop a pilot urban design and art project emerged from a design workshop held in April 2014 and seeks to promote “a more diverse, inclusive, and accessible public space in these downtown passages”. For more details see Mada Masr in-deep article.
Security in post-revolution city
Egypt’s civilian infrastructure under military jurisdiction: the aftermath
In our Media Round-up from September/October 2014 we reported on the fear of many Human Rights activists that President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s decree putting civilian infrastructure (power stations, train stations, roads, bridges, etc.) under military jurisdiction will make it easier to jail protesters, student activists or other forms of opposition. It seems that their fears are confirmed since Human Rights Watch states that prosecutors used the law to retroactively send civilians to military tribunals if they were already under investigation for criminal charges or facing trial in civilian courts. At least 820 civilians have been referred to military trial since the approval of the decree inOctober 2014, among them many supporters, or alleged supporter, of the Muslim Brotherhood and former president Mohammed Morsi.
On the matter, Open Democracy takes stock of the use of military trials on civilians between the years 2011 and 2014 and contextualizes it within “the post-revolutionary climate of widespread human rights violations from numerous state actors and successive post-revolutionary regimes, and the continued central role of the military in political life”.
Over twenty killed in the days surrounding the fourth anniversary of the Revolution:
In the days leading up to the four year anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 uprising, at least two protesters were killed, among them activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh who died from “birdshot’ injuries” while attending a 25 people and 2 minutes-long peaceful march to commemorate the hundreds of demonstrators killed during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011. The death toll spiked on the anniversary itself, with over twenty killed and close to 100 injured, including 18 individuals from Matariya, in north-eastern Cairo, also called the “Land of Fear” by some residents and which was the most volatile district in all of Cairo during the anniversary commemorations. According to Mada Masr, over the last four years, no less than 500 residents were killed in clashes with security forces and the area now stands as place where the authorities have struggle to contain protests and as “one of the only areas capable of defying the severe crackdown on street politics”. Egypt Source compiles in its article the rundown of the violence Egypt witnessed over the January 25 weekend while Aswat Masriya proposes a data visualization of the tolls of deaths, injuries and arrests from the past uprising anniversary.
The “battlefields” of Egyptian universities
In a context of generalized repression, law against demonstrations and other forms of restrictions against freedom of expression, Orient XXI notes that universities remain one of the few places where mobilization is still possible despite violence. Due to escalating violence and protests during the 2013–14-school year following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Morsi, the Ministry of Higher Education’s contracted with Falcon Group International (also in charges of the security of el-Sisi electoral campaign) on behalf of several Egyptian universities. Sada blog’s article form 2013 details these first confrontations.
Since the beginning of the academic year, in October 2014, universities have become « battlefields” between the “Students against the coup” (members or supporters of the Muslim Broterhood) and the political authorities through the security forces. Orient XXI also highlights the role of universities’ administration in this repression since they are the ones that, for instance, encourage denunciation and asked, in 2013-2104, the anti-riot forces to be admitted on campus. It is also interesting to note that since June 2013, universities’ presidents are once again nominated by the President of the Republic.
Mobility and Transport:
Do you dare to drive in Cairo?
In our media round-up of November 2014 we highlighted the implementation, after series of deadly road accidents, of new amendments to the traffic laws to introduced harsher penalties for traffic infractions, driving under the influence or exceeding the speed limit. Al-Monitor critically looks back at the issue and interviews Samy Mokhtar, head of the Egyptian Association for the Care of Road Accident Victims and Their Families, who contends that the amendments should have had also targeted driving without a license. Mokhtar also points out that most accidents occur on the Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural Road. Indeed, due to urban sprawl, the highway is surrounded by buildings, and people crossing it are often run over. Your Middle East also returns to the matter in its article Do you dare to drive in Cairo? underling that Egypt is “one of the most dangerous countries in the world for driving”. The article quotes a government study that found that between 2008 and 2012, approximately 100,000 car accidents took place in the country, as well as a World Health Organization reports that state that at least 12,000 people are killed every year in accidents (traffic fatality rate of 42 deaths per 100,000 people) and that 75% of the respondents did not understand the importance of wearing seatbelts. Lawless traffic was also the theme of Cairo Drive, a documentary shot between 2009 and 2012 and screened at art-house cinema Zawya on January 8, 2015. In the film “Cairo is the star and traffic is the main event”. According to Mada Masr’s critic, it succeeds in representing the city’s chaotic nature in all aspects through looking at its traffic.
Low maintenance of roads is also one of the main reasons pointed for the high rate of traffic accidents. Transportation Minister Hany Dahy, announced that a delegation from the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) arrived on January 19, 2015 ahead of a development project to reconstruct and expand roads in the Marsa Matrouh, Siwa and Mostorod areas (24,000 km of infrastructure). This contract was signed during el-Sisi’s visit to China in December 2014, where he also exhorted the country to invest in the Suez Canal development
Rumors of metro fare hike
Many Egyptian media outlets reported on that on December 14, 2014, announced that the Metro fare would increase, according to the distance traveled by passengers. Some announced an increase up to EGP 25 or 8 while Mada Masr states that a source within the ministry told them that, starting in January 2015, the ticket fares would be divided into three types, according to the number of stops traveled (EGP 1, EGP 1.50 and EGP 2) in order to cover maintenance costs. The transport Minister denied in a statement these fare hikes, and described these allegations as “rumours that target the country’s stability”. The announce resulted in “public backlash” like the launch of a campaign called, “The Uprising of the Poor’s Metro” on December, 30, 2014 that called for a peaceful sit-in to be held on the same day the state announces the rise of metro ticket prices and propose indoor advertising screens as an alternative source of income.
The financial balance of the national metro company is a sensitive issue that has yet to be addressed, as stated Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb during a meeting with Cairo University students on December 15, 2014 the Metro losses reached 135 million Egyptian pounds in 2013-2014. Al-Monitor explores that problematic mobilizing economic expert Farag Abdel Fattah. He calculates that according to the metro’s losses and this year passenger’s statistic, the increased should be around 40 piasters.
Egypt’s State Council recommends reopening Tahrir Square Metro station
On their report on January 21, 2015, commissioners at the State Council have recommended issuing a ruling from the administrative court to oblige the government to reopen Sadat metro station in Square. They said there were no « realistic or legal » justifications for the continued closure of the station since August 2013 and that the closure « increases the suffering of metro passengers”. (see Al-Shohada metro station: a “sexual harassment chaos” in November 2014 Media Round-up).
Riding Cairo on two wheels:
The new start-up “El-Makana Taxi”, using scooters as taxis (female driver option available) though an application awaits for the permission of the Ministry of Transport. As notes Hussein, one of the founders, “the scooters have to be licensed as rentable [vehicles] while law states that they can only be licensed as privately owned ones”. The scooter taxis concept will start the pilot phase in the Zamalek, Maadi and Al-Agouza neighbourhoods.
Saving-time is one of the main arguments behind the project, as Cairo congestion is a severe problem. Biking is also view by some as a solution to avoid daily traffic jams, but as notes L’Express, although authorizes have deemed to have an interest in the bike as a means of transportation (President el-Sisi organized a ride in Cairo with his ministers) there have been no genuine policies to encourage it (no creation of bike paths for instance). Thus, the bike stays a negligible means of transportation only used by a small segment of the laboring class. For women, harassment and disapproving stares are pinpointed as additional factors which hold back their use of the bike.
Housing and construction:
Rockslide, forced evacuation in a quarter of Manshiyet Nasser, and a building collapse in Alexandria:
A rockslide occurred in a quarter of the huge informal settlement of Manshiyet Nasser (near the Mokattam hill in Cairo) on January 3, 2015. According to Khaled Mostafa, a spokesperson for the Cairo Governorate “there were no injuries because we had completed evacuating the area on the previous night,” The evacuation process mentioned, was officially passed on March 2014, due to a report confirming threats posed by a potential rockslide on the hill, began in April 2014. Over 70 families have been relocated in Mokattam and economy housing units of Cairo suburbs of Badr City and 6th of October City. After the evacuation their houses have been demolished so that they do not “consider returning” said the Cairo Governorate in a press statement. However, according to NGOs like the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights (ECESR) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), most of the inhabitants returned to their houses after rejecting the new settlement area.
It has also been reported that on January 11, 2015, a woman was killed and one other injured in a partial collapse of the last floor of a three-story building located in Gherbal district, near the city center of Alexandria. (See November 2015 Media Round-up on the shoddy construction problem that Egypt faces).
A plan to upgrade slums in downtown Cairo Maspero Triangle and additional funding for el-Sis’si 1 million-housing project:
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab held on December 19, 2014 a ministerial meeting for discussing a plan to develop “slums” of the downtown Cairo area known as Maspero Triangle (74 feddans of land overlooking the Nile Corniche in central Cairo and home to at least 18,000 residents. To see the map of the territory click here.). Minister of Urban Development Laila Iskander asserted there will not be « a forced eviction » for any resident and that the upgrading will be through collaboration between the government and residents.
Egypt’s cabinet has also agreed, on January 26, 2015 to allocate EGP1 billion from the budget savings to the Ministry of Housing in order to continue the national social housing project of 1 million residential units lauched by el-Sisi (see details in the Media Round-up of November 2014) and to adhere to the dates of handing the units to citizen (only 57 units have been handed to citizens instead of 13 000 as the first phase of the project). Construction was projected to last five years, from fiscal year 2012/13 to Fiscal year 2016/17, with an average of 200,000 units expected to be constructed per year.
Poverty and exclusion
Crackdown on faith-based charities: the poorest population as collaterals
Foreign Policy takes a look at how Egypt’s faith-based charities have become victims of the current government “crackdown” on political Islam (during Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood built a massive network of supporters through its anti-poverty work) and how the poorest people end up as collateral. The journal takes the example of El Gameya El Shareya which has worked in rural Egypt as well as in popular quarter of Cairo and Alexandria. Founded by “well-known religious leaders”, association (along with thousand others) got its funds frozen by the Central Bank froze on September 2013, a month after former president Morsi’s ouster, for having Brotherhood ties. The organization appealed the court decision and won but as a result, it is now operating at about a third of its former capacity.
Street children in Egypt: battle of figures
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly announced on January 18, 2015 that the number of street children nationwide stands at 20,000. As UNICEF had estimated a total of one million street children in Egypt in 2005 and the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) that there are 1.5 million child workers in Egypt, this number was deemed by children’s rights organizations as far from reality. They highlight concerns about the methodology of the study, notably regarding the definition of a street child.
In an opinion article, Your Middle East emphasizes the Sexual violence against Egypt’s street children and the lack of awareness and media coverage of the issue while Cairo Observer details Stop Signal, a street children rehabilitation project proposed by five undergraduates from Cairo University.
Tourism and Culture
Tourism: promotional campaign to boost domestic tourism in Luxor and Aswan
Since the Revolution, Luxor and Aswan have suffer from the deterioration of its tourist flow so, as Ahmed Moustafa, manager of the Egyptian Tourism Authority’s Red Sea office explains, that is why the government launched a promotional campaign called “Egypt in our hearts” and coinciding with schools’ midterm vacation in order to boost domestic tourism to Luxor and Aswan. According to Ahmed Moustafa, the campaign raised the domestic trips to Luxor and Aswan to 80% but according to Aakry Abdel Gelil, head of the Bazaar Owners Association, the Egyptian visits this year did not exceed the normal rate of 30%.
City in the art:
On January 2015, has circulated on the Egyptian internet, on Egyptian Chronicles or Scoop Empire for instance, a sort film by a group of students from Egypt’s Cinema Institute which proposes to see Cairo through the eyes of a street dog, while Kafein, a café in downtown Cairo, held from 21 December until 31 January an exhibition called “Cairo Past Futures” which exhibits twenty-four photographs of contemporary Cairo combine with headlines extracted from the Egyptian press of the 1950s and 60s. You can see the pictures on Cairo Observer which also shares pictures of the mobile photographic project “Which Remains Project” that comes out of Port. More details here.
The new Suez Canal project
Context of the project: a fierce competition with Panama ?
La Tribune looks back at the new Suez Canal project, the “unrealistic” shrinking of its deadline from 3 years to 1 year (according to el-Sisi’s announcement the canal is to become operational in summer 2015) and its “mega project rhetoric”, framework within which el-Sisi inscribed his mandate since he took power in June 2013 (see September/October 2014 and November 2014 media Round-up). The article places back the government’s haste to inaugurate the canal in its context of fierce competition with the Panama Canal which plans to build a second path within the end of 2016. According to the Suez Authority Canal, thanks to the construction the canal will have the capacity to ship 90 vessels a day compared with about forty today. Therefore it will be possible to reach the East coast of the United-States from Shanghai in a bit less than 26 days while it would take 28 days through the Panama Canal. However, Michael Storgaard, from the compagny Maersk (one of the largest container ship operator in the world), has reservations about the length of the announced expansion of the traffic. While Amr Adly, researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Institute, questions the impossibility to have access to the project’s feasible studies.
Wintry weather conditions led to the closure of Red Sea ports as well as minimal destruction and flooding in Alexandria
Beginning January 2015, harsh wintry weather conditions have led to the closure of at least five Red Sea ports and in Alexandria while high winds led to minimal destruction in Alexandria: part of a minaret of Ibn Khaldoun mosque was blown off, and a sea-vessel crashed into a dock of a local port. Later in the month, city streets were flooded after a pumping station in El-Montazah area broke down due to an electricity-cut that occurred after days of heavy rainfall on January 12, 2015. Consequently the streets were filled with sewage and rainwater and thousands of citizens were stranded in their homes.
Despite pictures and videos showing Egyptian youth enjoying the floods by riding jet skis, and fishing boats, Egyptian Streets denounces, in its article “The Fall of Alexandria: Trashed And Neglected”, that the flooded and contaminated streets of Alexandria have become “a serious health and safety risk” due to the neglect of Alexandria’s local government. It also points out other failures such as the garbage piles along the corniche, graffiti on local landmarks or illegal parking.