The euphoria of the revolutionary moment is wondrous — drawing out from despondency and delivering from despair, young and old, city dweller and peasant, all uniting in a collective that suddenly realizes its power.
In January, the world watched the Egyptian masses stare down the Mubarak regime, millions of ordinary Egyptians transformed into the extraordinary by their numbers and their valiant spirit. In these last days of August, the world is witnessing another valiant rout, as Libyan rebel fighters’ inch closer and closer to deposing a despot who has ruled them for decades.
In the magic of momentous change, it is difficult to spare a moment for the mundane miseries that persist after the crowds have left the squares, and the slogans hang silent. It is the plight of these people that is highlighted in “We are not dirt”, Amnesty International’s report focusing on slum dwellers in Cairo, the pulsing city that is at the heart of the Arab spring.
The result of two years of research and field work conducted by Amnesty International delegates in the Cairene slums of Manshiyet, Nasser, Estabi Antar, Ezbet Khayrallah, Al Sawah and Ezbet Abu Qarn, the report focuses on forced evictions, unsanitary and dangerous conditions and routine sidelining of slum dwellers in planning and development agendas. Of particular concern is Cairo’s latest development plan Cairo 2050, which requires the elimination of many of the informal settlements with no stipulation as to where the millions living in them will go.
Interviews with slum dwellers, which number approximately 12 million in Greater Cairo, reveal the precarious existence of life in the slums at the margins of revolution. On September 8, 2008 a rockslide from Al Muqattam Hills into Al Duwayqa, an informal settlement killed 119 people and injured 55 others. No action was taken to prevent future such incidents from occurring.
Further dangers are added by institutions and development plans that are being implemented without any concern for either providing alternatives or process to people living these areas for generations. The Cairo 2050 plan foresees the creation of smaller cities with a population of 1 million which would redistribute the outer populations from Cairo and Giza. The plan is problematic in that it does not address the issue of forced evictions where those living in slums would be required to relocate, their belongings and living arrangements bulldozed, their lives and livelihoods summarily extinguished.
The slum report seeks to highlight the human rights violations that accompany poverty. As Egyptians and other parts of the Arab world move toward a new order, attention must be focused on those who are disenfranchised because their voices and their rights are considered simply too poor, too insignificant to be respected. The twelve million living in the slums around Cairo, and the many million more passing their days in similar abjection in other parts of the world must not be left out of the revolutionary moments that are redefining their countries.
A truly egalitarian system that respects human rights would insure that development and progress go and in hand with lifting up those languishing in poverty and insuring that their voices are a part of a new Egypt, a new Arab world. The young people at the helm of the change in Egypt, in Libya and Syria must insure that the new order that is ushered in breaks down not only the oppression of dictatorship but also the crushing silence imposed on the poor.