On April 13, 2020, thirty-year-old Hamid Hamdi was forced to leave his home in the Hawd Al-Barakah area in Al-Warraq within Giza Governorate in Egypt as the seven-storey building he owned was demolished in order to expand the road and facilitate the passage of the Dabaa Bridge through the area.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly issued order No. (1139) of 2019 by which Hamid Hamdi’s building and twenty-five others in the area were classified to be demolished to make way for development earmarked for “public benefit”. The order states that all real estate, lands and facilities that block the road to the Rawd Al-Farag intersection be expropriated.
Hamid and the other owners were not notified of the implementation date of the expropriation order, which violates the law of expropriation for public benefit, that calls for the concerned parties to be notified through a specific registered letter before the construction contractors are allowed to enter the property.
Hamid says, “On that day, I was surprised by the arrival of bulldozers coming from Al-Warraq neighbourhood to demolish the building and a number of other buildings that are in the way of the Dabaa intersection as they claimed that all owners will be compensated for their property.”
Hamid is one of those affected by the road expansion and bridge building project carried out by the Egyptian government in recent years which has led to an increase in the number of forced evictions of real estate and landowners by the government in return for inadequate compensations, or the provision of alternative homes in housing projects that lacked basic services. Such step also violates the law on expropriating properties for public benefit and the articles of the constitution.
Expropriation of properties go uncompensated
This investigation is based on data published in 200 issues of the Egyptian Official Gazette between January 2014 and March 2021.
Hamid’s property was expropriated in 2017, even though he had owned the land and the real estate within the urban space without violations. The contract in his possession bears the seal of the Survey Authority, and his property has been listed in the real estate registry. Hamid has kept also, all monthly receipts for payments made towards all utilities bills.
Hamid resorted to the available legal options in the hope of restoring justice, so he filed a complaint in the provided government complaints route, but he did not receive an answer. He therefore submitted another complaint to the Survey Authority whose response was that it had not been notified of any compensation for the owners in question. The matter remains under examination despite the fact that the order of expropriation and later the demolition took place more than a year earlier.
The lives of Hamid and his family turned upside down as he became a tenant instead of landlord. In addition to financial hardship, he and his family have suffered some psychological trauma. Hamid describes the journey of building the property along with his father and brother as arduous, and along, and now he has lost everything. He says, “I saw our lives’ savings disappear in front of me without having access to any compensation.” Hamid, his brother and their father moved into rented apartments, that cost them all 2,650 Egyptian pounds per month ($107).
Expropriation orders are on the rise
Data show that there has been an increase in the number of expropriation orders of real estate and lands owned by citizens, with 23 orders issued in 2020 alone. Impacted people consider these orders unfair, and have often resorted to suing government agencies in the Egyptian Court of Cassation where 224 cases have been filed between 2014 and 2021.
Data indicate that these orders have resulted in the expropriation of homes and properties of 34,000 citizens.
The number of people impacted by expropriation orders between 2014 and 2021
Deploying the expropriation law in Egypt is not new, but the analysis of the data shows that expropriation orders have increased between 2014 and 2018. 15% of those orders were signed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi or his representatives.
The cases filed by the impacted people against the expropriating parties varied, but 70% of the cases challenged the compensation amount since those parties did not adhere to expropriation procedures as stipulated in the law.
The number of expropriation cases between 2014 and 2021
2018 marked the year with the highest number of cases
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The analysis of the cases showed that there are huge differences in the estimated financial compensation between the litigating party and the courts. The financial compensation has reached 100% in the cases brought against the Prime Minister and then the Ministry of Agriculture.
Expropriation is a tool to practice social oppression
Mohammad Abdel-Aal is a lawyer at the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Constitutional Court and a human rights expert in housing legislation says, “Public benefit is an issue stipulated in the constitution, and it is the only case in which it is permissible to expropriate a citizen’s private property; however, the constitution also protects private property, so it must be preserved.”
He believes that there is a conflict between private property and public benefit, and that was resolved through the law of expropriating private property for public benefit purposes. Recently, however, there has been an increase in investment projects, expansions and construction of roads and axes, which has led to “unfair violations” against the private properties of citizens.
He stresses that this has become a social issue that affects social stability and the legal right to own properties by many groups. He explains that the state should have examined the matter in more depth to know the consequences of such procedures that affect the stability of property owners (the citizens).
From a legal point of view, Abdel-Aal asserts that ownership is a constitutional right and a stable possession that must be protected in accordance with international charters. He clarifies that the legal settlement of compensations does not represent a genuine solution that enables a citizen to obtain adequate housing through compensation. Therefore, this issue must be kept in mind in order to preserve the acquired legal rights of citizens and their social right to housing.
Abdel-Al says, “It is necessary to harmonize the right of public benefit of the state and the right of the individual to legal possession. Housing is a legal possession, so it is necessary to provide adequate alternative housing before removal or eviction. Coercion is part of social oppression, and the law has turned into a tool of oppression instead of managing society.”
Inadequate compensations are offered for expropriations
In many cases, the legal period for delivering the financial compensation expired, and people did not receive anything in the case of Karem Al-Jawhari’s, where the compensation was not commensurate with the value of the expropriated property.
Al-Jawhari is twenty-seven years old, and his apartment on King Salman Street was expropriated in June 2021 with the aim of expanding the intersection.
His apartment overlooked the main road and was 80 metres away from the construction of the axis. He says, “I was shocked when I only received 100,000 pounds ($4000) for an apartment that was worth 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($10000) ten years ago.”
Al-Jawhari used to own an apartment consisting of three rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Each room was allocated only 25,000 Egyptian pounds in compensation ($1000), in addition to the kitchen.
The expropriation took place in accordance with Cabinet Resolution No. (2128) of 2019, and Al Jawhari and others were notified of the decision two days before the demolishing process began. They were asked to leave their homes, and a bulldozers from the Giza neighbourhood came early in the morning to demolish five buildings.
Al-Jawhari says, “A few years ago, my apartment was worth 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($10000), and I have a contract confirming that value. We contacted the Survey and Compensation Authority and explained that this is unjust and a waste of our rights and money. I became a tenant in an apartment of 50 metres with a rent of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($40) instead of being the owner of an apartment of 98 metres. So far we have not received any updates.”
Loopholes in the expropriation law
Article (2) in the Expropriation Law No. (10) of 1990 stipulates, “If the authority in charge of the planning deems it necessary, it shall expropriate any real estate to achieve the purpose of the project, or the property shall be expropriated because its presence in the current condition, shape or size is inconsistent with the required improvement.”
However, in 2018, President Al-Sisi made amendments to the provisions of Law No. (10) of 1990, which prevented limiting the authority of issuing expropriation decisions to the president only, and extended that authority to the officials he delegates to, which doubled the average number of expropriation decisions annually before and after that year.
The impact of the amendments is also evident in the increase in the number of expropriation cases during 2018, which accounted for about a third of the total number of cases. Additionally, the average number of expropriation cases presented in the Egyptian Court of Cassation doubled in that year.
According to Article (6) of the Expropriation Law, compensation to citizens whose property was expropriated is estimated according to current prices at the time the expropriation order has been issued along with 20% of the estimated value. The expropriating entity must deposit the estimated compensation amount within a period not exceeding three months.
According to the Egyptian Council of Ministers, the expropriating entity shall offer adequate alternative housing for the citizens whose real estate has been expropriated, and they are given the choice between accepting a financial settlement or the provision of alternative housing in the recently established residential neighbourhoods of Al-Asmarat, Ahalina, Bashaer Al-Khair or Al-Mahrousa.
The state has the right to expropriate properties without disclaimers
Domestic and urban development expert Hussein Al-Hassan believes that there is a need for a law defining ‘public benefits’, but without disclaimers. He explained that currently, the state is implementing 25,000 projects, and prior to that there were a lot of unplanned urban areas.
Al-Hassan points out that “There are too many unplanned areas, such as 4,677 villages and 31,000 hamlets and manors that have been erected. Some urban properties such as industrial, residential, and commercial areas overlap. This is in addition to the huge number of an outstanding three million violations, which makes urban re-panning a necessity.”
According to Al-Hassan, more than 600 bridges and twenty-one axes roads were built to ease traffic flow. Egypt has suffered from an imbalance in population distribution because Cairo has ten million inhabitant for example, while Giza and Luxor have nine and one million, respectively. These differences are huge, and redistribution is a must he claims.
Al- Hassan explains that this law is binding to all parties, and if the state widens a road that causes accidents, it will save the lives of thousands of citizens. He adds, “Violations must be deterred, and at the same time citizens’ right to their properties must be protected.”
He adds, “The state usually expropriates the properties it needs, but there must be fair alternatives, such as appropriate alternative housing or a fair compensation for violations committed in randomly built properties. Citizens must be given options to chose from.”
Al-Hassan suggests that certain committees must be formed to determine the appropriate value of each property, be it land or real estate. Those committees could be commissioned to evaluate the expropriated properties under the supervision of competent authorities within each region.
“The security forces did not wait for us to leave our property safely.”
Shadia lives in Teraat Al-Zomour Street on Al-Barajil Road, and on January 18, 2021, she was looking out of the window and was surprised to see members of the security forces arrive to the property where she lives, at Number (3) in Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah in the Giza Governorate.
Upon enquiring with the member of the security detachment, Shadia and her neighbours were told that those properties had to be evicted to make way for the King Salman axis road (Work on this road is still in progress to publication date).
After that, Shadia requested to be provided with an alternative housing instead of financial compensation, but her request was rejected.
Shadia who is a mother of four says, “Initially, we agreed to the expropriation of the property based on a financial compensation package that guarantees we would own our own house in another location, but we were surprised when we got given 25000 Egyptian pounds ($1000) as compensation for each room we had in the existing flat. Accordingly, my compensation package for my apartment was only 125,000 Egyptians pounds ($5000) for three rooms, even though the compensation that fits the apartment at the current market price should not be less than 650,000 ($26000).”
The security forces went on to demolish Shadia’s house and a number of neighbouring houses without waiting for their owners to leave safely, “I put my belongings in a nearby mosque”, she says, “and my husband had to sign the expropriation document, so that we can obtain the unfair compensation, or there would be no compensation whatsoever.”
Shadia moved from a 100-square-metre apartment she owned to a 50-square-metre rented apartment that cost 1,200 Egyptian pounds monthly in rent ($40).
The Prime Minister is the highest authority that issued expropriation orders
Data analysis indicates that Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly topped the list of entities that issued expropriation orders between 2014 and 2021. This accounts for more than half the number of orders, and the cases filed against the Prime Minister grew to reach 100.
Percentages of the shares of each entity of expropriation decisions
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Member of the Egyptian House of Representatives for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Faridi Al-Bayadi says, “The expropriation law was implemented during the last legislative session of the House of Representatives and gives the state the right to expropriate land or houses for public benefit, but the problem is the unfair compensation system in place.”
He had submitted several briefing requests to parliament, but this issue was never discussed, he says, although it was submitted more than once.
Al-Bayadi believes that it is necessary to take the commercial and market value of the properties as well as their moral value for families into account. He explains that it is harsh for citizens to be forced out of their homes and that has moral consequences, so they must be adequately compensated financially.
Al-Bayadi stresses the need not to expand the use of this law, even if the state has the right to use it. He says, “It must be used when absolutely and indispensably necessary because it is not easy for citizens to move from their homes.”
Regarding the solutions, he explains, “Our legislative role is to submit briefing requests and wait for any move by the government or citizens through the cases that are being examined, so that there would be amicable solutions, fair compensations or suitable housing alternatives provided.”
He added, “The law cannot be repealed because it was issued and ratified by all state institutions, but work can be done to improve its implementation process, so that it reflects better market value compensation that also addresses the citizens’ feelings.”
The Legal loopholes in the expropriation law remain, and clear executive procedures are absent. To the date of publication of this article, Hamid is still looking forward to receiving his compensation package, Shadia is dreaming of living in an apartment that she, her children, and her husband would own, while Al-Jawhari is waiting for someone to do him justice and give him a fair compensation package that would allow him to live with his children in dignity again.
*Pseudonyms were used for all those quoted as they preferred not to be identified.