Egypt’s government is going ahead full speed with an ambitious project to solve Cairo’s notorious traffic problem, through building new roads inside and around the capital and interconnecting them to form a huge road network. The state of the art network is designed to accommodate rapidly increasing traffic in Cairo’s numerous districts and connect them to the outer road networks of ring and regional roads, to ensure traffic fluidity in and around Cairo. The momentous project has benefitted countless drivers who are happy to use the new roads which save them precious time, effort and stress compared to the old, inadequate, congested roads.
Not everyone, however, is happy. The road building projects jeopardise the lives of people who find they have to lose homes, property, or work to the new roads. This occurs when traffic axes have to cross densely populated, vibrant urban areas. The paths planned for such axes more often than not require infringement on land and property, public or private. Such action is endorsed and safeguarded by the Constitution and the Law. The State is entitled to reclaim any areas of land, whether or not they include buildings, for the sake of public benefit, in which case the government should issue seizure decrees, and duly compensate the owners justly according to the market value of the property in question and to the nature of the activity it hosts.
I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of a just, fair compensation which the State must offer the owners or beneficiaries of the expropriated property. The compensation should take into account all elements related to the expropriation. This means that the compensation should go beyond the monetary value of the property seized, and should include provisions for relocation and resettlement of those who lose property, each according to the nature of their loss. Admittedly, the most sensitive case of lost property is that of homes, since it is a grave loss that disrupts the lives of every one of the inmates. The government should realise that in such cases its responsibly goes beyond mere financial compensation, and extends to ensuring that families are relocated in houses on par with those they had previously occupied, in terms of location and area, since this directly relates to their work, schools, and services they can access.
We need to comprehend how gruelling, shocking and dismaying the forced loss of a home is, to realise that all measures must be taken to ensure that alternative homes should preserve the dignity of the inmates.
I broach this topic as I witness firsthand the suffering of a Watani reporter who, together with her family, was shaken off balance by a notification two months ago from the local authorities informing that they had to evacuate the apartment they were renting in a building in the northeast Cairo district of Matariya. The evacuation decree was based on the Prime Minister’s decision 779 for 2021 issued on 13 April stipulating that the execution of the Mostorod Axis in Matariya is a public benefit project, and detailing its route. The second article of the PM’s decision stipulated that lands and buildings needed for the project would be directly seized. The location, boundaries and names of the owners of these lands and buildings were listed on the attached memo, plan and lists.
The evacuation notice issued by Matariya district included a call on all owners and tenants of expropriated houses, businesses and lands to head to the district administration to complete their files and provide the numbers of their bank accounts to which their due compensation would be deposited. The notice determined the compensation as follows: EGP3,300 per sq.m in case of residential units; EGP10,000 per sq.m for commercial stores; and EGP10,600 per sq.m for lands.
I hope that this estimate is fair for the owners of the expropriated units. I repeat that it is imperative to form an official committee affiliated to the authority responsible for the execution of the PM’s decision, to follow up on the fair and safe relocation of all citizens harmed by the decision, especially occupants of housing units. In this context, I am open to receiving complaints from anyone in a similar situation, and pledge to refer their complaints to the relevant authorities. It is of paramount importance to put these authorities before their responsibility of not only ensuring the legitimacy of the seizure of property and the payment of due compensation, but also minding the fate of the Egyptians who could be cast on the streets.
18 June 2021