CAIRO: A neighborhood advocacy group won a partial victory on Tuesday as an administrative court ruled that authorities should present details of a controversial development project for northern Giza.
Local residents welcomed the ruling, while criticizing the government s handling of the issue.
According to the ruling issued on Tuesday, the governorate of Giza and the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development is to present all existing maps and other relevant documents concerning the planned development of northern Giza, in court on March 24, 2009.
Nasr Ibrahim, a resident of Imbaba, described the ruling as a great decision.
If the project is really for the public benefit, as the government claims, they should make the details public. We are not against development, but we want to know our own future. If land is to be confiscated and residents evicted, where are we supposed to go? he said.
In October 2007 the Egyptian government approved a plan for the development of northern Giza, including the land of the closed Imbaba Airport and residential areas home to around 1 million residents. The area is to be developed in six stages over four years.
According to the Ministry of Housing the main aims include opening new traffic avenues and to support health, educational and luxury services in the region.
According to the ministry, citizens whose homes or land would be expropriated will receive fair compensation. But lack of clear information has caused fear among local residents and severe criticism of the lack of public debate.
“The fact that the government so far has refused to reveal the details of the project shows that they are afraid of the reaction of the people, lawyer Sayyed Fathy told Daily News Egypt.
Minister of Housing Ahmed El-Maghrabi previously told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that revealing the details of the project would only lead to “speculation.
Critics claim that the secrecy surrounding the project indicates it will mainly benefit private investors and those in the higher income bracket, while threatening the livelihoods of many of the area’s current inhabitants.
Mohamed Saleh, coordinator of the Popular Committee for Defense of Imbaba Airport Land, welcomed the court decision on Tuesday but doubted it would have any effect.
“Only a strong popular campaign can force the government to listen to its people, he said.
Saleh was very critical of the way the Governor of Giza and the Ministry of Housing has dealt with the project.
“The law requires that such projects must be subject to public debate by elected councils and civil society, which hasn’t happened in this case, he said.
“There is a number of fundamental questions that need to be answered.
What are the exact areas that are affected by the project? How many homes will be demolished? When will it happen and is there a mechanism to ensure that everyone receives just compensation?
Work on the first stage of the development plan began recently at Imbaba Airport with the construction of a 38-acre public garden. But in the narrow alleys of the surrounding neighborhoods, residents said they had still not received any information about how they would be affected by the project.
The owner of a small kiosk in Ezbet Al-Matar, who didn’t want to give his full name, said he didn’t know more than what he had read in newspapers.
“We keep hearing different things, and don’t know what is true and what is false. No one came here to talk to us, neither the government nor those opposition groups that we read about in the papers.
“They won’t tell us anything until the last moment, when the bulldozers arrive and we have to leave our homes. This is life in Egypt, at least for the poor people, he said.
“I’ve been living here for 20 years, without sewage or running water. The government never did anything here, and now we are supposed to believe that they are doing this for our benefit? How are we going to benefit from it? And this talk about compensation, what does it mean? Losing a flat or a piece of land is one thing, but being forced to move to cities in the desert, leaving our livelihoods here behind, how will they compensate us for this?