The Urban Constitution Document Group closely observed the discussions and statements of the members of the Committee of the Fifty regarding the articles of the proposed 2014 constitution. The group also reviewed and evaluated the articles in detail, particularly articles related to the right to housing, security of tenure, urban development, and raising the standard of living. In the light of its observations and analysis, the group stated that although the new constitution explicitly stipulates some of these rights, it has not been formulated according to real standards that address the housing and urban problems faced by Egyptian society. The constitution also lacks the full guarantee that these rights can be achieved in a fair and binding manner.
One of the important articles that should have been dealt with accurately and in detail was Article 35, which concerns the protection of property and the conditions to expropriate it for “the public benefit.” The text leaves cases of expropriation open to interpretation by not specifying its definition. It also does not stipulate that a final judicial ruling is necessary for expropriation to take place to ensure that those subject to expropriation receive remedies. This is important mainly because the State, with its central nature, always has advantages over the individual.
Although the article related to the security of tenure (63) explicitly prohibits “arbitrary forced displacement,” the term, however, is narrower than the broader “forced eviction.” The latter term is more appropriate since the former excludes many cases that could be considered “displacement.” Under the text of this article, it would be possible to forcibly evict residents from their houses as long as you do not force them out of their neighborhoods because that would be considered “displacement.” International human rights documents utilize the term forced eviction because “displacement” restricts the scope of protection of this right. This is especially important in light of the State’s known practices in informal areas and slums. Additionally, the broad term “arbitrary” makes it difficult for affected individuals to prove the arbitrariness of the process of displacement. Article 63 should have used “forced eviction” instead.
Article 78 of the proposed constitution, which stipulates the right to adequate housing for citizens to achieve social justice, uses the phrase “the State guarantees,” which puts no real legal obligation on the State. Other articles in the same constitution, such as those related to health and education, explicitly stipulate that the State “commits” to applying those rights. The right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right. The State must recognize, protect, and enforce that right, but Article 78 does not stipulate that it will. The current housing conditions in Egypt, as well as the relationship between the individual and the State with regard to the enforcement of adequate housing rights, make us more inclined to use international standards when detailing the aspects of these rights. These standards, as defined in the Urban Constitution Document, should be stipulated explicitly in the provisions of the constitution.
Article 78 also does not provide a clear definition of the term “slums.” The term does not appear in any Egyptian legislation, has no legal definition, and state officials refrain from using it because of its negative connotation. Moreover, the term “re-planning” does not clarify whether demolitions and evictions will accompany it or not. It would be preferable to use terms such as “upgrading.” This article also should have recognized the efforts of citizens to develop “informal” urban areas. The State should have dealt with them from a social standpoint because they are self-efforts from vulnerable groups, which have grown in the State’s absence and its failure to commit to providing the basic necessities of life for these citizens.
There are, on the other hand, many other positive elements in the proposed constitution that are directly related to urban development. For example, Article 29 stipulates the state’s commitment to developing the countryside and raising the standard of living for its residents. Article 236 provides for the development and implementation of a comprehensive economic and urban development plan for border and disadvantaged areas. The constitution also mentions the right to clean water (Article 79) and commits to the protection of the Nile,“not wasting its water or polluting it” (Article 44).
Another observation is that the new constitution removed an important principle that had been embedded in all Egyptian constitutions for six decades (from the 1954 constitution to 2012 one): “the social function of property.” “The social function of property” defines and regulates private real estate ownership in a framework that preserves social justice and the public interest. If enforced, this principle actively curbs many of the phenomena that have negatively affected urbanization for many years such as “freezing” land (buying land and leaving it unused, waiting for higher prices); the closure of nearly 30 percent of the housing units in our major cities without use despite the urgent need of citizens; or demolishing heritage buildings without regard to the value of these buildings to society as a whole. The abolition of this vital principle makes us very concerned, especially as the state adopts privatization policies which infringe upon collective rights to an adequate and appropriate life.
Based on all of the above, the Urban Constitution Document Group acknowledges that the 2014 proposed constitution does explicitly state some economic and social rights related to land, housing, and urbanization as a whole. However, the formulation of those rights and the elimination of the basic criteria international standards use as benchmarks show society must undertake massive efforts to monitor and evaluate the realization of these rights on the ground. We should all strive towards amending and developing these articles so that they are truly effective, whether in the form of laws or regulations that govern urbanization in a manner that guarantees the promotion and protection of those rights.
 The term “re-planning” is utilized in the Arabic-language version of the Egyptian constitution. Although there is no official translation of the 2014 Constitution, the most widely cited translation is from the Constitute project, which uses the term “planning.”
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