Who is going to build “The One Million Housing Units” Project announced by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi? Who are the beneficiaries? Will it solve the housing crisis for those who cannot afford it, or it is “not for low-income,” as the Minister of Housing stated?
Who should be legally and politically held accountable for the rainwater flood in Alexandria? The sewage company? The city council? The governor? Or perhaps all of them? What are the authorities and the mandates of each? How does the law organize the relationship between the former, current, or future governor and the local and central bodies that plan and implement infrastructure projects in his governorate?
What will happen to the residents of the Maspero Triangle neighborhood, who were promised they would not be evicted to an “upscale neighborhood” after development? What rights does Egyptian law provide, and what specific mechanisms are in place to guarantee these rights?
Each of these questions represents a thorny urban issue that many people in Egypt are currently debating. These issues are just a sample of what citizens in Egypt see and experience daily. Urbanism has always sparked broader political debates, on both a professional and a public level. Both state-owned and private media regularly cover urban issues due to their importance and impact on the daily lives of Egyptians. Housing crises, informal settlements, localities, real estate taxes, building permits, and other issues have always caused concern. The laws themselves contribute to the complexities and problems of urbanism. Instead of providing solutions and organizing matters, bills often reflect political biases and interests, a view that sees urbanism merely as a moneymaker.
Parliament has the power to pass legislation (Article 101 of the Egyptian Constitution). It also enacts the state’s policy, economic, and social development plans, as well as the budget of the state. Additionally, it supervises government work and has the mandate to question its members and hold them accountable. Addressing urban issues, therefore, is one of the mandates of parliament.
Additionally, the next parliament is expected to face an exceptional and unprecedented task: to discuss and endorse all previously issued laws. In January 2014, a new constitution was enacted after two years with no parliament. The parliament was tasked with discussing and approving all laws that Chancellor Adly Mansour (interim president 2013-2014) and the current president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, passed during those intervening years. Unless parliament approves them, those laws will be abolished, along with any retroactive applications (Article 156 of Egypt Constitution).
The most fundamental law related to urbanism that Mansour issued in 2014 was the law regulating social housing projects. President Al-Sisi published various rules governing urbanism in Egypt through 2014 and 2015, including:
Amending the Real Estate Finance Law
Amending the Real Estate Tax Law1
Amending some provisions of the Expropriation for Public Purposes Law
Amending the Social Housing Law
Amending some provisions of the Unified Building Law
New Electricity Law
Amending the Traffic Law
President Al-Sisi also issued legislation that directly impacts urbanism, despite having a different focus. Laws meant to stimulate investment before the Sharm El-Sheikh Economic Conference in 2015 impacted housing projects that were carried out according to contracts with local and foreign real estate companies.
Amendments of provisions of the Protecting Competition and Preventing Monopolistic Practices Law also had unintentional consequences for urbanism. Egyptians can recall that Ahmed Ezz had a monopoly on the rebar industry for years, leading to higher housing prices. Al-Sisi also issued an amendment to some provisions of the “Law of the Authority for the Development and Use of New and Renewable Energy” to allow for the implementation of new and renewable energy projects, both standalone endeavors and as part of mega-projects, to increase the capacity of the electric grid in Egypt. He issued the Microfinancing Law which impacted housing finance projects for low-income residences. These projects are usually run by non-governmental organizations and private financial institutions, and the law aims to grant concessional microloans to improve housing.
Parliament is also expected to discuss several bills prepared by government ministries; the final form those bills take depends on the orientation of the next parliament and the alliances within it. One of the most important laws is the Local Administration Law, which was drafted by the Ministry of Local Development (MLD). Tadel Labib, Minister of the MLD, publicly praised the new law, saying that it gives more power to governors and contains mechanisms to combat corruption. The State Council said that this bill establishes centralization and does not represent the provisions of the constitution related to local administration. Some parties have demanded the postponement of the law2 until the new parliament is in place.
During the National Housing Day Conference, Dr. Sherif El-Gohary, a representative of the Ministry of State for Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements (MSURIS), said that there is another bill under revision, aiming to legalize the conditions of informal settlements established on state-owned lands. The State Council formed a committee to revise this bill. The media reported that the Building Inspection Agency (BIA) at the Ministry of Housing (MoH) is currently studying a proposal to maintain “illegal” properties, provided that they are built on private land and structurally sound with no life-threatening conditions. The state then will collect fines from the owners in exchange for recognizing the buildings, ensuring their safety, and providing utilities to them legally and officially. It is worth noting that the BIA is responsible for enumerating informal settlements on state-owned lands (estimated at 316,000 units according to a 2013 inventory). The law will significantly impact residents of informal areas and their relationship to the state, whose local offices sometimes overlooked these violations in the past. The MoH has also announced the formation of a committee to amend the very critical Unified Building Law, specifically chapters related to the preservation of real estate. “Strict” procedures, according to the MoH, were added regarding the maintenance of buildings to ensure resident protection. The next parliament is supposed to review all these amendments.
Parliament also has a mandate to approve the state budget. Over the last five years, several budgets were enacted in the absence of oversight from either parliament or Local Popular Councils (LPCs). The budgets that were issued are as follows:
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces –Two budgets
The Shura Council – One Budget
The Interim President Adly Mansour – One Budget
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi – One Budget (2015-2016).
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the 2015-2016 budget allocated some funds for investing in urbanization but “did not reflect the priorities of urbanization.” A large sum of money went to the subway, which operates only in Greater Cairo. The budget also allocated funds for social housing projects (targeted mainly at the middle class) at the expense of developing informal settlements.
Will the budget for the next five years be any different? Will the next parliament, if it is not dissolved like the previous two, make a difference? Will it witness any controversy regarding proposed urban legislation? Will this cause an outrage among the public? Will the parliament amend already-issued legislation, or will it pass them without discussion?
The parliament consists of the following seats:
448 seats elected through the Single-Member Constituency (SMC) System (also known as “Single-Winner Voting”)
120 seats elected through the Plurality-at-Large Voting (PLV) System (also known as the block vote).
28 seats appointed directly by the President of Egypt
Parties and independents can run in both the SMC and PLV systems3. According to the Higher Committee for Elections, most independent candidates are likely to compete through the SMC system, making any attempt to predict their political views difficult. Monitoring the ideology of parties competing through the PLV system is more manageable and can be done by reviewing their programs and allies. Some parties prefer to run through SMC rather than PLV. Many who do run through PLV create a 2-party alliance with no specific electoral program. Some parties stated that they formed with no program or political agenda. The PLV lists include differing and even conflicting schools of political thought. The candidates depend on popularity among constituents and tribal connections rather than political platforms to secure votes.
Listed below are the programs of some parties competing for the next election, whether via SMC or PLV, related to housing and urban issues. It is worth noting that locating these programs was not an easy task. For example, the well-known Nation’s Future Party (NFP), which is expected to have significant representation in the parliament with the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), crafted its program using the president’s speech when he announced the names of candidates who will run for the parliament. Urbanization issues were not mentioned in its program, not even remotely.
Free Egyptians Party (FEP): A liberal-oriented party with the most candidates competing via SMC, and in PLV (via “For the Love of Egypt” List, the most noted list in Egypt.) The FEP program mentioned the housing issue briefly (one section). The program acknowledged informal housing and the value of these informal areas, which the FEP estimated at LE 1,600 billion). It considers them “unexploited capital” due to the lack of tenures–a term reminiscent of the theory of “frozen capital” by Hernando De Soto.4 The program stated that the FEP would reform real estate property laws, allowing residents of informal housing to obtain tenures to buy, sell and get loans.
The FEP’s program described this step as “reviving these untapped resources, which in turn will open the door to comprehensive development and a final resolution to all informal settlements. It will also give the marginalized and the low-income better opportunities to thrive.” The party blamed the expansion and increase in informal settlements to the government’s slow-paced efforts that did not meet the increasing demand for housing, as well as the lack of effective oversight and planning entities. It pointed out the importance of reforming laws regulating ownership, sale, leasing, mortgages, and real estate financing.
The FEP also explained its plan to develop major Egyptian cities through two pillars: the complete reform of the infrastructure of informal settlements, and the creation of new towns and suburbs paired with the creation of job opportunities. The program also proposed a few detailed steps to obtain funds to finance this ambitious plan. The plan included relocating government institutions away from downtown, using the proceeds of the real estate sale to finance the infrastructure and urban projects in low-income areas, investing in areas outside big cities, and encouraging private sector investment in low-income regions by creating “incentive packages.” The FEP also proposed a policy to promote the establishment of a private real estate investment fund.This fund was mentioned in the Capital Market Act; however, it has not been established due to difficult procedures and unclear taxation. This fund aims to provide small plots to individuals rather than selling massive lands to large investors to create a monopoly. The FEP added that previous measures did not meet the high demand for housing at an adequate level.
Al-Wafd Party (AWP):5 A party expected to have many seats in the upcoming parliament. The AWP has many candidates running through SMC and through PLV in its “For the Love of Egypt” List. Its program included dedicated sections for informal settlements, roads, transportation, and infrastructure. The program announced that the party’s policies aim to “eliminate informal settlements and relocate their residents to modern cities to ensure an integrated human life.” The AWP proposed clear financing mechanisms by “allocating 50% of the value of selling state lands for 3 years to finance the development of informal settlements, and the participation of the SMEs from the private sector in providing rent-controlled housing units for workers in industrial areas and cities.”
The program did not specify how to re-plan high-density areas, nor how they will incentivize residents of Greater Cairo to move to these modern cities. The section dedicated to infrastructure focused on the countryside and the provision of essential utilities for deprived areas.
Reform and Development Party (RDP): One of the parties participating in the “For the Love of Egypt” List, with few candidates running through SMC. Its program devoted a section to Local Administration, promising to encourage financial and administrative decentralization and people’s participation. It also stressed the necessity of adopting policies which would activate the role of localities and rehabilitate local leaders to provide technical cadres for local development. In addition, it proposed developing the structure of administrative division, restructuring, mandates, and powers of LPCs to be effective and motivate the private sector to contribute to the development of local communities.
The program does not contain sections related to housing or informal settlements, unlike its two allies. In our interview with the RDP’s deputy leader, Abdullah Hilmi, he said that the program is a general one and does not go into detail. He emphasized that their policies consider housing a right, and that the state should not consider land a “money maker” nor act as a “land dealer.” He summarized the party’s vision for housing in several points, the most important ones being: inviting real estate developers from the private sectors to invest and encouraging small investors and housing cooperatives; amending the building codes to allow the use of building materials available in different Egyptian environments such as bricks; and ceasing the State’s housing projects while and asking banks to work on them under a “rent-to-own” system. The RDP does not support the forced eviction of slum dwellers, rather it advocates for developing the area while keeping the residents. The party believes that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution and that each city is unique and should be addressed differently.
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP): Most of this party’s candidates are running through SMC. The party is not running through PLV. The ESDP’s housing and utility program is the most detailed. It has a section that was written based on the “Towards a Fair and Sustainable Urban Communities” Initiative by urban researcher Yahya Shawkat. The party’s vision is “to provide and enable the citizen to have adequate housing by bridging the gap between housing prices and incomes, and to play the role of an observer on the market to curb price inflation.”
The program focused on the issue of state-subsidized social housing and details significant problems including inadequate forms of tenure, unit prices, terms imposed on low-income applicants for social housing projects, and the absence of adequate studies of geography-based demand. It also mentioned the problem of the multitude of government agencies using state funds and grants to build subsidized without coordination or a plan. In addition, the program mentioned that more than 285,000 are facing danger just by living in hazardous houses.
The program proposed some policies and projects. Among these include changing social housing project units to rental instead of ownership, providing different sized units for different sized families, and dedicating a small percentage of houses to people with disabilities, thereby adjusting them to the needs of the residents. It also proposed removing obstacles that lead to the marginalization of low-income citizens, such as those working in the informal sector, ensuring a fair geographic distribution of housing projects to match the population and growth of each region. The ESDP proposed specific mechanisms to ensure that support goes to those who are in need and compensate those living in hazardous housing.
For the state’s administrative structure, the party proposed the establishment of a non-executive government agency to organize the subsidized housing program, lay out its plans, and monitor its implementation. This agency would report to the Prime Minister. It also stated that the Ministry of Housing should not deal with lands and real estate. The program’s proposed legislative amendments are particular and precise, and are essentially bills ready to be implemented First, the program would amend the definition of “low-income people” in the Mortgage Law to reflect only the two lowest income groups, provided that the thresholds are adjusted each year according to statistics and research of income, spending, and consumption. Second, it would conduct field visits to each subsidized housing applicant to verify income and ensure they qualify under the “low-income” category–similar to what the Ministry of Social Security does now. This will ensure the broadest segment of citizens benefit from the program.
Socialist People’s Alliance Party (SPAP): The party is running through SMC only and did not form alliances. Its program6 devoted a section to housing issues, marked by a clear human rights tone. The program explicitly used the term “the right to adequate housing” and pledged to guarantee this to all citizens, especially the low-income and disadvantaged ones. It also mentioned the right to obtain vital utilities (clean water, sanitation, electricity, and natural gas) “with public oversight and the participation of citizens in managing all public facilities.”
Concerning financing housing projects, the party recognized two models: direct state financing and cooperative housing. The party rejected bank funding due to high interest rates. It also proposed ceasing foreign ownership of land and real estate and repealing all laws that would allow it to continue. The party also had a definite position on the strategic plan for Greater Cairo, known as Cairo 2050, where it pledged to “immediately halt” the project and the forced evictions of informal settlements. It links its approval to a legislative amendment that includes building laws and rents to ensure that the interests of the urban and rural low-income classes are met. Regarding informal areas, the SPAP’s program put forward the development of informal settlements, re-planning them and providing them with essential services, while engaging residents in the development process.
National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP): This party also competes through SMC. Its program has a section entitled “Housing Development” in which the party focuses on the social role of the State in providing housing. Its first proposed steps are to review laws and policies that support the rich rather than low-income citizens. It calls for implementing a new policy backed by the expansion of public and economical housing. The program also proposed the establishment of a Social Housing Fund and rehabilitating housing cooperatives. It proposed setting a fair system for the distribution of housing units constructed by the government and plans to build popular state-owned housing compounds to be distributed among young graduates and low-income families, using a simple rental system appropriate to their income. The program also indicated the necessity of setting controls to stop the bidding war on land and the state’s intervention to prevent rising building material prices, especially those of rebar and cement.
In our review of the legislative and political agenda of urban issues among different parties, we can see the diversity and variation in visions and trends even among allies. This means that they do not necessarily agree on all issues, as some believed. Parties, as we saw, focused mostly on housing projects, provided either by the state or the private sector, and the issue of informal areas or slums.
By observing the results of the first phase of the elections, parties with liberal and capitalist economic visions are expected to prevail over the ones who have more opportunity to change the legislation. Those parties do not care much about state-supported social housing projects and their programs nor promoting them, unlike the parties closest to the left which consider this the core of the housing issue. There is no indication, however, that these parties will undermine social housing programs. We do not believe that it can be done since the state is already promoting The One Million Housing Units Project as a method to gain legitimacy and the involvement of the armed forces and the Ministry of Housing in the implementation of many social housing projects.
Nevertheless, the most critical points expected to be raised and debated in the new parliament are the conditions for obtaining subsidized housing units, setting controls and limitations for the work of various governmental bodies on these projects, and the Social Housing Law and its amendment. The ESDP and its allies may succeed in raising these cases and pushing the parliament to pass legislative amendments to the Social Housing Law that would ensure that social housing apartments reach the eligible citizens.
Regarding informal areas, each party has its own perspective. The FEP and the AWP, two allied parties which are both expected to win many seats, for example, have two completely contradictory policies in this regard. The FEP sees informal settlements as untapped assets; in other words, they view informal settlements as buildings where occupants spend their money, but without real participation in the formal economy – i.e., they cannot get mortgages or loans by using their houses as collateral since they do not possess tenures proving their legal rights. Therefore, the solution to these problems, according to the FEP, is to legalize those areas.
This proposition assumes that the only obstacle for residents of informal areas to access formal credit systems is their lack of tenure. In reality, these systems systematically exclude low-income citizens and informal sector workers. Only a comprehensive legal and institutional reform will support them, and reforms must do more than just grant them tenures. In many countries, practical experiments show that legalizing tenure conditions does not necessarily lead to facilitating informal urban access for credit services. Moreover, this proposal turns a blind eye to several other groups living in these areas, such as tenants and non-owners, who may be affected by similar policies which increase in the value of the real estate and thus increase their rent prices. Although this proposal recognizes the residents’ tenures and provides them with the path to own their housing, it does not propose solutions to their most pressing problems: the lack of services and public utilities and the fact that their condition is so weak that it threatens their health and the quality of life in their areas.
The AWP’s proposal is quite the opposite. It promotes the transfer of residents from informal settlements to new areas. This policy was previously applied in several regions and rejected by the residents each time. It is still being promoted by several institutions such as Together for Slum Development. This policy does not propose a mechanism to prevent the expansion of informal areas or the emergence of new ones, and it has not proven any success in providing a real alternative to the current regions due to the inability of the state and parties to build new areas for all informal/unplanned regions, considering that those areas represent ~75% of Egypt’s urban total areas.7
The proposal also ignores the actual cost of relocation itself. It sacrifices and destroys the assets owned by the people, which the FEP estimated at billions. It ignores the fact that the cost of relocating residents to a new area includes not only providing housing units for them but also facilities and services such as health, education, and employment which are already available to them in their current locations. It sacrifices the stability and security of tenure that the FEP sought to legalize. It threatens residents with forced displacement without including them in the conversation or seeking their approval. Therefore, any legislation issued to organize a similar process must deal with these challenges in a way that guarantees the fundamental rights of citizens and does not cost the State budget more than it unnecessarily incurs.
Ultimately, the main goal of this discussion of the programs of each party expected to have seats in the next parliament is to observe their perspective regarding urbanization issues and see the impact each has on various aspects of the lives of citizens in different Egyptian communities. Answering the question of how urbanism in Egypt will be affected by the next parliament will fundamentally depend on how parties will raise housing and urbanization issues as underlying issues on the parliament’s agenda and their ability to implement their stated goals for these programs.
This relates to the ability of each party to promote its proposal within and outside parliament and to gather support from independents and other parties, all of which may have different opinions. It will also be affected by the extent to which MPs respond to government visions presented in the form of draft laws formulated by individual government ministries, given the marginalization of civil society institutions and the complete absence of government decentralization in preparing for draft laws that genuinely reflect the local needs of each region. Therefore, the only hope for presenting these local needs is for MPs from different areas to adopt the issues of their constituents and put it on the parliament’s table.
If we have a role, it will be helpful to launch a dialogue on urban affairs with those individuals, parties, and institutions who did not have the presence or representation in the parliament. Raising public awareness of the importance of these issues and their impact on the citizens’ daily life is helpful, as well as encouraging public debate in both state-owned and private media about the different policies, solutions, and challenges, and highlighting intensively the social function that urbanism is supposed to play. The most important of all is the affirmation of the right of the stakeholders of citizens who touch these issues on their personal lives to participate and express an opinion on any legislation issued regarding their homes and areas in which they have invested and carried their dreams and aspirations for stability, safety, and cover.
Image Credit: Daily News Egypt
2 Read Tadmun’s comment on the new local administration bill: “The new local administration bill strengthens the hand of the central government and governorates rather than local authorities and elected councils.”
3 Article (1) of the Parliament Law, Resolution No. 46 of 2014, as amended by Resolution No. 92 of 2015.
4 Read a detailed explanation of De Soto’s theories, arguments for, and against them in Tadamun’s article.
5 Al-Wafd Party’s program has been published on its website since the 2011 elections. However, it has not been updated. There is no electronic version of a more recent program for this current election.
6 A hard copy is available at the party headquarters and distributed through electoral advertisements on the street.
7 According to the Informal settlements Development Fund.
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