During one of my recent visits to Egypt, I was sitting with family and friends in an apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of Alexandria. As we were talking, we heard a large thud that sounded like an explosion. It turned out to be a concrete balcony that had broken free from the third floor of a building across the street, and fallen to the ground. Miraculously, no one was hurt. My friend, an architecture graduate, looked at the pile of rubble and said, “this is why I don’t want to work in Egypt. No one has a conscience in the building industry.”
These types of occurrences are not unusual in Egypt. Last week, a thirteen-story building in Alexandria’s Azarita neighborhood tipped over and leaned on an adjacent building, prompting an evacuation of all nearby apartment buildings. The story made headlines internationally, and has been the subject of a slew of jokes on social media (some have called the building, “The Leaning Tower of Alexandria”). The governor of Alexandria said the building only had a permit for four-stories. Nine additional floors had been built without permission, and no safety inspections had taken place.
Community organizations have volunteered free study spaces for college students who have been evacuated from the area. Thankfully, there were no deaths reported. In many previous, similar cases, the consequences were far more tragic. For example, in 2013, twenty-three people were killed when an eight-story building in Alexandria collapsed.
— Bel Trew – بل ترو (@Beltrew) June 1, 2017
In Egypt’s urban areas, corruption and cronyism in the construction industry are rife. Alexandria is especially notorious for having the highest number of illegally built or modified buildings. Over 14,500 buildings in the city have been built illegally and could potentially be unsafe. According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, in 2014 alone, there were almost 400 buildings that collapsed across Egypt, with over half of the structures built illegally.
— Amro Ali (@_amroali) June 2, 2017
Managers of construction companies regularly bribe neighborhood officials to bypass building safety codes in order to make a profit. The state often turns a blind eye to these transgressions.
In the many building collapses that have happened over the past few years, no high-level officials have served time in prison and, instead, have merely been suspended from their jobs. Atef Amin, an urban activist in Egypt told the Daily News Egypt, “We have never heard about the sacking of a neighborhood head because of a building collapse; instead it is always the lower-ranking employees who are punished.”
With the Egyptian government preoccupied with quashing press freedom, and imprisoning tens of thousands of political activists, it is only a matter of time until the next building collapse happens.