Simmering tension in Nile Island result of poor communication

Egyptians run for cover from tear gas during clashes with security forces in the Nile island of Al-Warraq in Giza province, north of the capital Cairo, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2017
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Simmering tension in Nile Island result of poor communication

CAIRO: Tales of struggle and tragedy have always been tied to the people of the poverty-stricken Nile island of Al-Warraq, which on Sunday witnessed clashes between the people and police over the demolition of illegal buildings.
The area is one of many squatter settlements on the peripheries of Egypt’s capital. If developed, the government believes Al-Warraq could be transformed into a tourist destination.
The island holds the largest area among 255 Nile islands in the country. It contains 1,600 acres across the banks of the Nile, with an average population of 60,000 to 80,000 residents.
It enjoys a unique location in the heart of the Nile, and is bordered by the Qalyubiya governorate from the north, Cairo from the east, and Giza from the south.
Over 30 years ago, its residents built their houses and have been paying electricity and water bills for services provided by the government. They rely on agriculture and fishing as the main sources of income.
However, they suspect the authorities want to build a luxury resort there and fear being left homeless. It remains unclear if the government plans to provide them with an alternative.
 

Erupting in anger
Sunday’s move proved to be horribly unpopular. Authorities were met with protests and violence when they began demolishing illegal buildings in the area. The clashes left one person dead and at least 40 police personnel injured.
The Interior Ministry accused local people of firing shotgun pellets and throwing stones at police.
Residents told AFP that they had not received advance warning of the move.
Hours of hit-and-run clashes resulted in postponing the procedure for now.
 

Development plans 
Population pressure, poverty and migration to urban areas has for years been causing a housing crisis in Egypt and posing a serious threat to investments in the country.
In May, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi began a campaign to demolish thousands of buildings that were alleged to have been built illegally on state-owned land.
“There are islands in the Nile ... according to the law no one should be present on these islands,” El-Sisi said in a speech in June. He ordered in the same speech that the authorities should make it a priority to reclaim the islands.
Much of the housing in Al-Warraq is believed to be built illegally, lacking amenities such as clean water and a proper sewage system.
“Settlement problems are historic in Egypt, people in Upper Egypt would come to the capital and squat on state-owned land. And migration to urban areas has been taking place for years, and there was never a proper housing policy,” Saeed Sadek, Cairo-based professor of political sociology, told Arab News.
“On Sunday, people woke up to see contractors and police demolishing buildings. The way it was done seemed too provocative, and scared residents in the area.”
“Everyone was afraid of being kicked out of their houses, and without a house you are naked.”
Sadek said enforcing the law must take into consideration the people and their families and provide alternative housing to reassure the people in the area.
“There is a humanitarian aspect to be taken into consideration. The government now realizes that it is not easy and the image of the state has been affected. People can erupt in more anger and this might result in more damages.”
 

Victims or ‘troublemakers’?
Egyptian television channels affiliated with the government insisted on defending the procedure, referring to those who went out in anger at times as “troublemakers.”
Social media users were divided over the situation as well, with some showing sympathy toward the residents’ reactions, and weary of the government’s alleged use of force against them.
“Dealing with a crisis of this sort requires special procedures; the government needs to communicate with the residents and understand that they have lived there for years and have nowhere else to go,” Howaida Mustafa, a Cairo-based professor of mass communications, told Arab News.
“Even if the government has good intentions for developing the area, it cannot resort to force when the people have no other place to go,” said Mustafa. “We cannot call the angry residents trouble-makers in a crisis of this kind. The media needs to keep a calm tone in dealing with the situation.”


Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

Updated 22 April 2018
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Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

  • Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora
  • Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do

AMMAN: Hundreds of staff who are paid salaries but do little work will lose their jobs in a major downsizing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

The restructuring is aimed at ending the duplication of tasks by the PLO and the Palestinian government, and reducing the size of the 700-member Palestine National Council, which is expected to lose half its staff and half its budget. 

Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora. Those that deal with refugees, planning, culture, media and the national fund will remain.

“Why do we need staff and offices in the PLO for such areas as social affairs and education, when we have major ministries in the government that are focusing on these areas?” Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Arab News. 

“When the PLO was responsible for all Palestinian affairs, this made sense, but now we have a government with relevant ministries and it doesn’t make sense to have such duplication.”

Most PLO staff belong to the various factions that make up the organization, and have been on the payroll for many years. This arrangement allowed these factions to provide jobs for their members. 

PLO sources told Arab News that the restructuring would also affect the Palestine National Council. The PNC holds occasional extraordinary meetings, but its full regular session scheduled for April 30 will be the first for 22 years.

Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do. “The membership of the PNC will have to be cut in half, as will its budget,” a PLO source said. 

Najeeb Qaddoumi, a PNC member and senior Fatah activist in Jordan, confirmed that a restructuring would take place on April 30 but denied that it would be downsizing. “Some departments might be eliminated and others might be boosted,” he said.

Ali Qleibo, an artist, author and lecturer at Al Quds University, said the PLO had “exhausted its role since Lebanon and has caused chaos in the land.”

The downsizing will surprise analysts who had expected the Palestinians to revitalize the PLO after the failure of the peace process and the lack of trust in the Palestinian Authority.