The tale of betrayal, forced displacement, collective punishment, night raids, arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention and murder – sounds like an average day in occupied Palestine. Yet the living conditions for these residents are even worse than within Palestinian refugees camps – as residents live in broken down, decrepit shacks for which the government provides neither electricity, sewage nor running water. This story of state sanctioned violence, is that of Egypt’s El-Boulaq (or Ramle-Boulaq as it’s also called) residents. However, it is imposed not by occupation forces, but by the tacit relationship between investors and developers – armed with private security and backed by the state.
Violence imposed on urban areas and poor residents worldwide, by expanding business interests – with explicit support by the state, is nothing new. In developed countries, gentrification* pushes out the urban poor, through economic means. The corporate media employs many euphemisms to paint gentrification as a ‘boost for everyone’, to make way for ‘natural growth’ in ‘informal areas’. Other independent media such as Rabble.com reveals gentrification for what it is: “a form of structural violence.” and a “strategy within globalization itself” in essence “to attract capital and tourists.”2
It is estimated that “one billion people – or one-sixth of the world’s population, live in shanty towns”3. Their collective struggles, raise many other important intersections of global concern. All over the world, these poor and unrepresented citizen’s who sit on land desired by rich businessmen, states and other powerful interests, are likewise vulnerable to state sanctioned violence and abuses.
The Worldwide Web of Power
The plight of Boulaq residents illustrates the global web of power and relationship between states, investors and private security firms which without public scrutiny or accountability – literally get away with murder to achieve their aims.
Photo by Virginie Nguyen, Egypt Independent
Located just above the slums, sits the prestigious Nile City Towers. Its owners, the Sawiris and Shokshobi families—have a long-standing interest in the land beneath the shacks, which sit on valuable real estate just off the Nile Corniche. With the full support and backing of the state – they have made it clear that they want the residents, many who have been there for generations gone.
Beginning 25 January 2011, residents worked together to defend the towers, when official police and other security guards fled. Naguib Sawiris expressed his gratitude, and agreed to employ local residents. The faltering economy left the many already poor and jobless residents to work as private security guards at the towers.
Throughout the course of the following year, “around 67 shack residents came to work informally for the towers, making a wage of LE800 per month according to documents seen by Egypt Independent, less than half that paid to G4S staff that formally secured the towers. The residents had no work contracts, insurance, identity cards or uniforms, and are paid on the first of the month from a derelict office on the outskirts of the shack area, close to the tower and operated by tower management.”4
Tensions escalated soon after, when tower security forces began firing residents, and private security guards from G4S began showing up to get rid of them. Within less than a year, all that were employed, were soon fired. Part of the residents’ security work is to prevent families moving back to reclaim land from which they have previously been evicted. “They set us against each other,” Sayyed repeats, shaking his head.”5
Violence Erupts as Residents Fightback
Although G4S is one of three companies handling private security in Nile Towers – in an area characterized by impunity and met with regular violence, intimidation and neglect – their complicity in abuse is documented in at least one of the most senseless and tragic events.
When residents took a legal stand or otherwise attempted to assert their rights to the land, cases of violence immediately ensued. Last year after elderly resident, Ahmed Saleh, initiated a court case asserting ownership of the land on which his house stands, a number of attacks followed– on himself, members of his family and on their homes.
In June 2012, the Cairo Governorate issued an order authorizing police to evict the residents. Just a week later, the death of five-year-old Amar Mohammed Salah resulted due to a fire which tore through his decrepit shack on 27 June, that could have been prevented. Instead, Tarek al Halawani* who was then the head of Nile City towers security, gave a direct order to Khalid Anis in charge of G4S (employed by al-Halawani) – not to turn on the water, which he passed to the staff on the ground. When residents tried to connect a fire-hose to the water, staff refused to turn on the taps.
Weeks later, Amr Fathi, who was employed as a temporary security guard was shot dead after demanding pay for himself and other workers – which had been denied them for months. Rights lawyers are currently suing the tourism police officer, but the Interior ministry said it was self-defense.
The recent several months have also seen the use of shotguns, bird shots and petrol bombs – in regular attacks on residents of the area. Several reports state, counter-terrorism police breaking down doors while residents were asleep, and randomly arresting any young men they could find. Prompted by anger and the ongoing imprisonment, several protests broke out-followed by an unprecedented security clampdown, which is currently in place.
Several figures with intimate knowledge of the affair have suggested that this is part of a bargain with Naguib Sawiris, one of the owners of Nile City Towers, who has been trying to acquire the valuable plot of land for years. EIPR lawyer Ahmed Hossam, who is appealing the governor’s decree says, “You are always the weaker party on this side. We face the government who seems to have joined forces with investors who wield billions, and on top of that, the Interior Ministry is besieging the residents,” he says. “But there are more players involved here, like the residents who fight back, civil society, the courts, the media, and so on.”5
Following the deadly raid and after working with various Egyptian rights groups, residents formed a popular committee and on September 2nd, held a press conference where they announced their following demands.
We will stand at nothing short of one of the two demands, either to:
- Develop Ramlet Boulaq and provide us with humane living conditions by providing us with water and a proper sewage system, or;
- Come to the negotiating table over a reasonable price to sell the land to the constructors and,
- The end of an on-going police crackdown on the inhabitants and the release of dozens of prisoners. Hold police, businessmen and all those responsible for violence and abuse accountable.
This week, residents held their first march to the prosecutor general’s office at the high court building. The march was organized as part of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party’s “Alive in Name Only” campaign – in coordination with the Ramlet Boulaq Popular Committee.” Another march and future community events and actions, are being planned to take place soon.
Join Global Resistance to Stop G4S
G4S came under scrutiny in November 2010, when Who Profits, part of the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace and Danish financial watchdog DanWatch “revealed that the company supplied equipment and services to Israel for use at checkpoints, police stations and settlements in the occupied West Bank and at Israeli prisons.”6
G4S is a British-Danish company headquartered in the UK. With more than 650,000 staff worldwide it is the largest private security company in the world, and the second largest employer after WalMart. G4S does the dirty work for governments – who partner up with its countries richest investors to determine its targets. Their operatives provide hired muscle to asylum detention centers in the UK, private prisons in America and government facilities in occupied West Bank settlements. “In 2008, G4S bought ArmorGroup, and in doing so joined the shadowy world of privatized war in Iraq and Afghanistan“. G4S Africa is the largest employer in Africa, and its website boasts of having “over 100,000 employees in 29 countries across the continent from Morocco to South Africa” – where union/labor rights campaigns have sprouted due to abuses, which have been well documented.
While G4S is a government favorite, its complicity in abuse are nothing new, and their track record is far from spotless. “G4S has been repeatedly accused of providing poor services in its prisons and immigration detention centres. For example, the lack of investment in staff and efficient procedures has often led to detainees’ missing important medical and court appointments. In June 2011, it was revealed that a record 773 complaints were lodged in 2010 against G4S by detainees, including 48 claims of assault.”5
The trend of outsourcing already contentious issues such as forced eviction, to those who profit from markets traumatized by poverty and war – while directly benefiting the private military industry and prison system is a dangerously growing trend. Traditionally, the state handles the monopoly on using violence to deal with the underbelly of capitalism, globalization and big business interests. Due to the public sector’s budget cutbacks and austerity measures however, governments are increasingly outsourcing the monopoly to anyone willing to do their dirty work. Despite urgent calls to ensure decisive controls over this deadly industry, PSCs are left to police themselves through trade associations and voluntary codes of conduct.
Unless there’s an organized global campaign to stop them, private security company’s unlimited growth potential remains inevitable. The UK government has gone so far as to confirm “that Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians is contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that they have raised this with the Israeli government and will continue to do so.”6 Such vague diplomatic pressure is not enough–much more can be done to hold G4S accountable, and prevent the British firm from being directly involved in these of rights abuses.
The Egyptian revolution and all those struggling for freedom worldwide, have tremendous potential and an opening on the socio-political level, but remain limited without organized global campaigns that connect our common struggle. Community participation at the local level, when connected to a global movement, can be a powerful model and symbol, in the rise of our collective power. Global campaigns against such multinational corporations, business interests and war profiteers such as G4S and to support the residents of El-Boulaq, can be the first step to the manifestation of this.
Contact: the Sawiris, and Shobokshi:
You can send a message through this online form: http://nilecitytowers.com/contact.html or call Manal Abdel Hamid, spokesperson for Naguib Sawires: 012-2215-6333.
1) support residents demands as stated above and
2) demand an answer as to why Tarek al Halawani ordered security not to turn on the water, to save little 5 year-old Amar’s life.
See the many global campaigns and reasons to stop G4S May 21, 2012 http://corporatewatch.org/?lid=4343
1. Moving on up: Gentrification in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – Rabble.Ca – By Marsha Walia and Dave Diewert – February 24, 2012 http://rabble.ca/news/2012/02/moving-gentrification-vancouvers-downtown-eastside
*According to the article: “Gentrification is the social, economic, and cultural transformation of a predominantly low-income neighbourhood through the deliberate influx of upscale residential and commercial development.”
2. Shanti-town’ as defined by Wikipedia – “is a slum settlement (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, often do not have proper sanitation, electricity or telephone services.Shanty towns are mostly found in developing nations, or partially developed nations with an unequal distribution of wealth. In extreme cases, shanty towns have populations approaching that of a city.
3. Land rights, labor and violence in a Cairo slum: Egypt Independent – Abulkasim al-Jaberi, Tom Dale, 17 July 2012 – http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/land-rights-labor-and-violence-cairo-slum
4. Wave of arrests, threat of eviction plague Ramlet Bulaq: Egypt Independent – Abulkasim al-Jaberi, 8 August 2012 http://www.egyptindependent.com/news/wave-arrests-threat-eviction-plague-ramlet-bulaq
5. How G4S helps Israel break the Geneva convention: New Statesman – Lisa Nandy calls for the government to take action over G4S’ participation in illegal imprisonment. By Lisa Nandy, 30 September 2012 http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/how-g4s-helps-israel-break-geneva-convention
6 G4S ends some aspects of its complicity with Israeli Apartheid: BDS Movement – by Adri Nieuwhof and Basma Salem, March 27, 2011 http://www.bdsmovement.net/2011/g4s-ends-some-5472
7. G4S – A company profile, By Corporate Watch – Updated September 2012: http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=341