Our Beautiful Gilded Cage

In recent years the government’s plans to move informal settlements dwellers to government constructed projects has been hailed by many in the media as a respectable move that should have a positive impact on people’s lives. In reality all the move actually accomplishes is to make the city appear to be nicer by destroying some of the ugly red-brick buildings that are home to around 60% of the population of Cairo, but besides that it achieves very little else.

While many of these new home owners have filed a myriad of complaints against their new adobes, from high rent rates to difficulty in obtaining food and gas resources to issues with unit ownership, the government has yet to address the concerns of these new home owners, and chucks most of their complaints as unreasonable, and therefore fails to correct the problems perceived by the new settlers.

The key success factor in any development project has been regarded by many international development agencies as stakeholder participation, because after all, who can better describe their needs and assess the validity of intervention methods that the beneficiaries themselves. Despite this trend the government has yet to consider the demands of the residents of the newly established cities, and as such they leave a time bomb of concerns waiting to erupt at any moment.

The problem is that despite the government’s best intentions, such initiatives fails to address the root cause of the problem of informal settlements, which is chronic poverty. Moving people from informal settlements to the newly constructed government buildings is similar to taking a bird with tattered feathers and a broken wing and putting it in a gilded cage; its all show and no subsistence.

Therefore, it is unsurprising to find people complain of a 300 LE rent, which seems to any onlooker as a meager amount that is well below the actual maintenance cost of such residential units. However, when you compare the needed rent in proportion to monthly income (reported by some to be between 300 – 1000 LE) and the historic rent prices such residents are used to (which could vary between nothing for those who owned their apartments to around 20 LE), the amount in the eyes of the new resident’s borders on impossible.

Therefore, the only method that could assist in resolving this bottleneck in the project’s lifespan is the introduction of income generating schemes that would help the residents increase their income sources and therefore contribute more fully towards the maintenance of the project. An urban resettlement project that is devoid of such schemes will run the risk of failure as it simply becomes nothing but a beautiful shell devoid of the means to sustain itself.

Officials were often cited as saying that some of the resident’s concerns have already been met, for example, food stores have opened in the neighborhood with cheap prices, transportation has been made available, and schools do exist, with attempts to overcome any difficulties they might face in acquiring teachers. As for the rent issue, some have been deemed exempt such as widows and divorcee’s and people with disabilities, with NGO’s vowing to help others who are deemed unable to pay, a move while admirable, still fails to address the root cause of the problem and therefore will most likely prove unsustainable in the future.

Yet between official statements and resident’s reports there seem to exist two pictures that do not quite match. In Egypt, this a normal occurrence, but it leaves one wondering on how can we judge the truth when its seems so elusive, and how can one contribute positively to the discussion of the issue when all the facts are prone to multiple interpretations.

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