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'We are in Egypt, not Gaza': Port Said residents protest against forced evictions, demolitions

Port Said mayor prepares to sell land to investors, sparking outrage among residents
Security forces stand in front of a demolition site in el-Gameel neighbourhood in Port Said, 4 February 2024 (Facebook)
Security forces stand in front of a demolition site in el-Gameel neighbourhood in Port Said, 4 February 2024 (Facebook)

Residents of El-Gameel neighbourhood in Egypt's Port Said have taken to social media in recent days to appeal to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to stop the demolition of their neighbourhood as part of an investment project.

Videos and photos of bulldozers demolishing houses and apartment buildings in the area have gone viral in Egypt, as disgruntled men, women and children stand front of their homes calling on authorities to stop the demolitions. 

"We are in Egypt, not Gaza," dozens of children and parents can be heard chanting in one video filmed by a resident in front of the rubble of one home. "We want our homes, Sisi."

The videos show bulldozers carrying out the demolition, with riot police surrounding them and residents watching.

"Every second, we are sitting in our homes, threatened with demolition (without any official decisions), and indeed, houses have been demolished, not to mention the water and electricity being cut off without official decisions or warnings," one resident, Ghazal Hassan, wrote on Facebook.

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"Why is all this happening? Because the land has become attractive in the eyes of the governor and the investor. But we will not abandon our homes because #OurHomesAreOurLives; we will die in them," he added.

"There is media and journalistic silence on the matter in a strange way, simply because #PortSaidGovernorIsAboveTheLaw."

'We are the women of Egypt. We will not leave our homes'

- resident of El-Gameel

In another video, women are seen screaming as they claim "thugs have stormed our homes" to evict them forcibly. 

A third video shows a gathering of women, with many of them directing messages at Sisi.

"We are the women of Egypt. We will not leave our homes," one woman says. "Mr President, we, women, children and men, have no other homes.

"Why is the mayor terrorising us and allowing thugs to enter our homes?" she added.

The Port Said resident said that the demolitions were illegal, and that they have been offered no alternatives.

"If bulldozers attempt to demolish our homes, we will stand in their way," another said. 

Water supply cut off

The demolitions in the Mediterranean city started on Saturday, according to four residents cited by independent Egyptian media outlet Matsada2sh.

The residents said that they were surprised by the arrival of several bulldozers and excavators to the suburb last weekend. Subsequently, the water supply to the entire suburb was cut off.

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On Sunday and Monday, the bulldozers, under the protection of security forces, demolished around 17 houses, according to resident Yahya Bassiouni.

According to the residents, all the demolished houses were unoccupied. Badran mentioned that the director of security in Port Said governorate informed them that "no one came near your houses," and that the targeted buildings were vacant.

They added that after the demolition of some houses on Sunday, the bulldozers remained while the security forces left. At that point, the suburb was attacked by "thieves and thugs" to loot the contents of the demolished homes.

This prompted the residents to form a group to protect their properties.

According to Bassiouni, he complained to the security director of Port Said about theft incidents on Sunday that continued until Monday morning and also targeted the homes of residents. Security forces responded by setting up ambushes at the entrances of the suburb to protect it, he said.

Despite this, Bassiouni and another resident told Matsada2sh that late on Monday and early Tuesday morning, a group of "thugs" attacked vacant units within the suburb to steal from them before the bulldozers came to demolish the units.

Investment project

The el-Gameel neighbourhood was built in 1978, when the governorate of Port Said allocated 317 pieces of land located directly on the Mediterranean coast, 10km from the city of Port Said, to alleviate pressure on other overpopulated parts of the governorate, according to the El-Gameel Environmental Protection and Development Association.

The residents built their homes on the land with their own funds, with permits from the governorate, under a usufruct arrangement. They also collaborated to introduce facilities at their own expense without government support, according to sources who spoke to Matsada2sh.

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Usufruct is the legal right to use property temporarily and to keep any profit made from it, widely used in some developing countries.

The situation remained stable for about four decades, until 2019, when the governorate of Port Said announced the end of the land lease on its part and refused to receive annual payments from the residents for the units, saying it was too low.

In September 2019, the official Facebook page of Port Said governorate posted a video of a dialogue between General Adel el-Ghadban, the governor of Port Said, and one of the residents of the suburb.

"The citizen will not be harmed; we will not harm a citizen," said Ghadban.

"However, I can't accept that a house in el-Gameel is in exchange for an annual usufruct of 600 pounds [$20] that is not paid, meaning 50 pounds per month."

The citizen responded: "But I'm the one who built it ... take from me an additional usufruct, make it mine."

The governor replied: "But you benefited from it ... and it can't be owned because it is a natural reserve, and that's why we want to develop this area," referring to the location of the suburb within the Ashtom el-Ghameel and Tinnis Island reserve.

Less than a month after this conversation, the government issued a decision to adjust the coordinates of the nature reserve, deducting almost 25 hectares from its lands for use in establishing a new urban community (West Port Said).

'There is no harm; we are working to attract investment for our country and people. I am Egyptian and patriotic'

Adel El-Ghadban, the governor of Port Said

The decision led to the exclusion of el-Gameel suburb from the reserve. In December 2020, the Supreme Council for Urban Planning and Development approved the declaration of el-Gameel neighbourhood in Port Said as a "replanning area”.

According to Article 47 of Urban Planning Law No. 3 of 1982, this means that properties in that area can be demolished for development and public benefit purposes with compensation for their owners and rights holders.

Lawyer Nasser Amin pointed out in statements to Matsada2sh that if the residents' usufruct contract is valid and has not expired, they deserve compensation if there is a need to evacuate their unit in replanning areas.

In March 2022, the governorate sent final warnings to some residents demanding they evacuate their homes in the area. However, the residents refused to evacuate, insisting that they would not leave their homes for which they have no alternatives.

Then in March 2023, the House of Representatives discussed a request for briefing submitted by the Port Said MP Ahmed Farghali regarding the governorate of Port Said sending warnings to the residents to evacuate. Farghali emphasised that some residents are willing to buy those lands at their real prices.

Ghadban responded, saying: "There is no harm; we are working to attract investment for our country and people. I am Egyptian and patriotic."

Despite the local administration committee's request from the House of Representatives for Port Said to provide it with the investment plan for the area, no details have been announced about this plan so far.

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