On Friday, January 25, Egyptians marked the eighth anniversary of the 2011 Revolution, which ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. Less than three years later, current President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi emerged as a tyrant bent on amassing power for himself and the country’s security forces. According to Amnesty International, Egypt is more dangerous now than it has ever been for political activists.
Every year since taking power, Sisi has exercised his authority in increasingly arbitrary fashion. This month, Sisi announced a series of construction reforms aimed at controlling citizen’s lives under the guise of renovation. One decree issued by Sisi on January 21 orders governates to paint all of the country’s red brick buildings “dusty colors,” while coastal buildings will be painted shades of blue. The government will issue fines or take legal action against tenants or landlords if they do not adhere with these specifications. Many of these buildings are inhabited illegally, due to an acute shortage of affordable housing. This means the burden of complying with the new government regulations may fall on individuals already living near or below the poverty line.
Egyptian are also claiming the government has been demolishing homes, buildings, and farmland in Cairo and Alexandria without warning to make way for development projects earmarked for tourism and business. Authorities have been experimenting with alternatives to forced evictions, including subsidized government housing in other locations. Many analysts say new government housing projects are far too expensive for many lower and middle-class income Egyptians, have substandard public services, and are located far away from city centers.
Many view Sisi’s new housing endeavors as a mechanism for tightening controls over the Egyptian population. As Michelle Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has argued, by controlling real estate development, the government is able to build and construct communities in areas it wants, instead of supporting communities, especially poor communities, where they are currently located.
Sisi’s cosmetic facelift to Egyptian buildings will do little to improve conditions for average citizens. Instead, it will burden these individuals, while allowing the government to exert further control over their lives.