More than 16 million people out of a population that has exceeded 80 million currently live in Egypt’s slums, most of which are based in the Greater Cairo metropolitan area.
Inhabitants are forced to live in inhumane settlements, owing to a severe shortage of affordable housing in the cities, suffer from lack of electricity and sewage services, and are subjected to mistreatment by the state, including regular forced evictions.
Thousands of poor Egyptians who survive in slum areas are left on their own to deal with extreme heat in the summer or treacherous rain stints in the winter, such as a recent storm that drenched shanty towns across the country.
The ever-growing number of slum dwellers highlights the huge disparity in the distribution of wealth, residential units, and unequal access to housing options.
The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights (ESCR), an NGO specialised in defending citizens' right to adequate housing, said in a recent report that although millions of citizens lack proper shelter there are almost six million vacant residential units in Cairo alone. The report also stated that almost 250,000 families own more than three housing units while 18 per cent of Egyptian families live in "one room" units.
The deteriorating slum issue is perceived by the Egyptian government as a "ticking social bomb." The government has repeatedly said that it lacks the resources to build enough units to keep up with high birth rates.
However, the problem cannot be reduced to scarce resources or inadequate infrastructure, but should rather be attributed to the absence of a "social justice" mindset in formulating housing policies, ESCR said in several press statements since the January 2011 popular uprising.
"Governmental policies since the 1970s have always been biased to big capital and profit accumulation rather than the society's lower tranches. Governments literally ignored informal housing; it was never their priority," Khaled Ali, a prominent labour lawyer and former presidential candidate, told Ahram Online.
Housing experts and activists have denounced "neoliberal" policies that were implemented in 1991 as a result of the Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Program (ERSAP) introduced in Egypt by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), deeming it the main reason for persistent housing inequality in the country.