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News and Resources

Working for Housing Rights in Egypt

News and Resources
By: Maria Cristina Harris
Rooftops Canada Intern (seen here on the far left, Nick Volk, Rooftops Canada and HIC Board member is beside her.)
Rooftops Canada has been a member of the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) for over 20 years. HIC is a large global coalition of civil society groups working together to make sure that everyone has secure housing rights. Rooftops Canada works closely with HIC’s Housing and Land Rights Network based in Cairo.
The HIC Board recently met in Cairo and discovered that the 20,000 inhabitants of the Gazirat al-Dhahab Island in the Nile River where it runs through Cairo are under threat. The government is pressuring people to leave their homes to promote development projects that it says will serve the "public good". The people want to remain on the land their families occupied for more than a hundred years.
This is as classic struggle that will be very familiar to the residents of the Toronto islands. Under Cairo's urban master plan for 2050, the government is aiming to create new green spaces and make Cairo more appealing on the world stage. The island is ambiguously earmarked for "better use." One option under consideration is selling the island to a non-Egyptian Arab investor to build tourism facilities. The government has declared the island a “protected area” so buildings and houses cannot be constructed or repaired and the government has no obligation to provide water supply and sanitation services. Families end up in overcrowded households or illegally built homes threatened by insecure tenure.
Urban governments should value all of their citizens' needs and desires, including access to water and housing. As seen in Toronto, there are solutions that could satisfy both sides if the government engaged in a dialogue. This could include only using a portion of the land for a public park, while designating another as residential land.
HIC and the Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights met with government officials to discuss the plan and the resident’s rights. A letter was sent to President Mubarak expressing concern and urging the government to change its destructive, unjust policies. Nick Volk signed the letter on behalf of Rooftops Canada.