Around 70 people forcibly evicted from their homes in Alexandria protested outside the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday demanding that they be given the right to buy the land they have been living on for between five and ten years.
On the morning of 1st May 2008 central security trucks surrounded Tosson, home to some 500 families, and proceeded to use teargas and police dogs to force some of the inhabitants out of their homes, before the houses were razed to the ground.
Protestors told Daily News Egypt that they were given no prior notice of the eviction.
“I told a policeman, ‘I have three children and no source of income – what do you expect me to do?’ He said, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to put you in the street,’” Samia Basheer told Daily News Egypt.
Central security troops then returned on 19th May 2008 and used the same techniques to remove other residents. Lawyer Mohamed Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that 48 security trucks were used during the operation.
A mobile phone video taken after the eviction shows residents sitting in front of piles of rubble and the possessions they managed to salvage from their destroyed homes.
A total of 52 people were arrested during the course of the evictions.
Nine people were charged with obstructing the implementation of the eviction order but were cleared of these charges by the public prosecution office.
Twenty-two others were accused of damage to, and theft of, public property, illegal assembly of more than five people, and chanting anti-police slogans. Ramadan claims that they were chanting ‘there is no god but Allah’.
On the 19th May nineteen people were arrested and charged with preventing a public official from carrying out his duties and illegal assembly of more than five people. Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that they were held for several days before being released.
Mohamed Ahmed, an engineer who lived in Tosson told Daily News Egypt that these are trumped up charges.
“The police lit fires on the ground and photographed them in order to substantiate the fabricated charges against us,” Ahmed said.
Residents of Towssoon made their homes there ten years ago.
Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that officially the land is categorised as Agricultural Reform land and belongs to the state.
He said however that under Law 148 (2006) inhabitants of such land have the right to buy it from the state – a right which the protestors outside the Ministry of Agriculture were invoking on Thursday.
Ahmed questioned why the state provided them with services if they were supposedly on the land illegally.
“The state provided electricity, water, telephone lines and installed a sewage system and now claims that this is Agricultural Reform land and that we have no right to be here – it’s illogical,” Ahmed said.
“We just want to enter into negotiations with the government in order to buy our land and live on it again,” Abdallah Abdel Razeq Abdallah told Daily News Egypt.
The case has been transferred by the State Security Prosecution Office to the State Negotiations Body hay2at mofawada el dawla. Ramadan says that residents object to this because it could take years for the body to issue a ruling and they desperately need a fast resolution.
Mohamed Zeitoun worked as a labourer in Kuwait for ten years before returning with his savings to Egypt.
“I put all my money in the house I built on this land, and now I have nothing. Am I meant to start again?”
Ahmed told Daily News Egypt that some 100 people remain in Tosson but that the authorities have cut off electricity and water in an attempt to drive them out.
Evicted residents say that they are prevented from entering the site of their destroyed homes by a private security firm, Care Services which patrols the area.
Ramadan alleges that a contract exists between the company and the governorate of Alexandria.
While it is unclear why residents of Tosson have been evicted, and why they have so far not been offered to opportunity to buy the land, Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reported Wednesday that the area will be used for the construction of housing forming part of the Mobarak Youth Housing Scheme.
Residents say that there is in fact housing forming part of this Scheme next to Towssoon, but that it is empty.
An activist from Alexandria who requested anonymity told Daily News Egypt that he suspects the land has been seized for business interests.
He explained that the area in which Tosson is located has undergone a process of gentrification and increased in value.
Forced, often violent, evictions are a routine occurrence in Egypt, in violation of its obligations under international law to consult with residents before evictions, to evict them without using violence and to provide them with alternative housing.
“How can the state use teargas against us? Are we their enemies? Am I not a citizen of this country?” Schoolteacher Nagwa Farouq said.
“We haven’t asked the state for anything except that they leave us be. If I want to buy a house in Egypt, what am I supposed to do? Adverse possession is widespread in Egypt,” she continued.
“One of my sons said ‘I want to be a police officer when I grow up’. My other son said to him, ‘what, so you can throw destroy people’s houses and throw them in the street?’ This is how he sees his country.”
Originally publised in Daily News Egypt