Posted in Cairo, Development, Poverty, Refugees on Wednesday, 31 October 2007|
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This article was published in September in the LA Times. It’s about Arba3a wi Noss (literally, 4.5), which is one of Cairo’s many squatter slums. It also happens to be one of the areas where a lot of (especially Sudanese) refugees have wound up. I know a lot of work has been directed there over the years, but without much lasting effect. In recent years, however, as with much work in Egypt, there has been a shift in focus towards more sustainable approaches, such as education and community-building. According to the article, it’s when Egyptian and refugees neighbors came together, that things got better.
When tensions between impoverished Egyptians and even more destitute Sudanese refugees reached a boiling point in March 2005, relief agencies and community leaders assembled an emergency workshop to keep fights from escalating.
They found the roots of 4.5’s quandaries lay neither in the behavior of its dark-skinned newcomers fleeing war, nor the attitudes of the Egyptians, many of them recent arrivals to the big city from the country’s rural south. The problem was the district: a decrepit, rapidly growing area lacking water, power or a police presence
Many Egyptian residents of the neighborhood were uneducated recent arrivals to the city and “didn’t even understand why the Sudanese are here,” said Tawer Mirghali Ali, a Sudanese and former accountant who runs a school for refugee children and attended the workshop. “They didn’t even understand what a refugee is. They thought they were here only because they were poor and looking for some food to eat.”
The community leaders concluded that the rapid growth of the neighborhood, in a desert area on the city’s eastern edge, had made it particularly miserable. Throughout Cairo it had become infamous as a magnet for criminals, a haven for car thieves.
The Egyptians were suffering just as much as the Sudanese. They began pressing politicians for amenities. The Sudanese, some of them doctors and lawyers well- connected to the aid networks, provided the savvy the rural Egyptians lacked.
“In Cairo’s shantytowns, survival itself is a triumph, one that demands a degree of participation,” said author Maria Golia, who wrote about 4.5 in her book “Cairo: City of Sand,” an examination of urban space and culture in the Egyptian capital. “While middle- and upper-class members may feel they can afford an every-man-for-itself detachment from their neighbors and communities, it’s not really an option for the poor.”
( emphasis added)
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