Magazine article New Internationalist

Squatter Citizens: CAIRO, EGYPT

Magazine article New Internationalist

Squatter Citizens: CAIRO, EGYPT

Article excerpt

Nasra Ismail: 'These people won't leave here, and won't let you finish your project.'

With a local Cleopatra cigarette dangling between decaying teeth, Nasra Ismail paces in front of a lone stone hovel in knock-off Fendi sneakers. She raises her voice over the roar of dump trucks and diggers belching diesel nearby.

'Rise up and you'll get what's yours,' the grizzled 45-year-old exhorts a half-dozen have-nots who have refused to abandon their homes in the Cairo shantytown of Al Duwaiqa. The once densely populated settlement is now a massive construction site. All but a handful of the residents have long since left, and the scrap metal and stone shelters they inhabited have been demolished. Al Duwaiqa is just one corner of a sprawling 500,000-person slum on the eastern edge of Cairo. Here the Government is demolishing thousands of makeshift one-room shelters, and building in their place modern five-storey apartment blocks. For the first time this neighbourhood will have a school, a post office, plumbing and electricity.

It is a showcase project meant to tout the Government's commitment to providing adequate housing for the estimated 16 million Egyptians now living in illegal slums.

But lsmail is among just a handful of former slum-dwellers who secured one of the newly constructed Government-subsidized flats. The majority of her former neighbours, she says, are now homeless. The new units, meanwhile, are being snatched up by police officers, government officials and other well-connected types.

When the Government tossed lsmail on to the streets with her three children, she decided to put up a fight. …

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