10 must-watch videos to understand Egypt’s urban challenges

Right to Housing is an initiative that aims to link contemporary urban challenges with the notion of the “right to housing.” If that right is constitutionally protected and guaranteed, urban activists argue, it could lead to the drafting of policies that will respond to the many negative aspects of urban and rural life in Egypt. The project was initiated by Yahia Shawkat, author of the Shadow Ministry of Housing urban blog. A foundational aspect of the initiative is to document and make the main challenges to urban Egypt legible and accessible to a wider public, including politicians.

The documentation is intended as an entry point for real debate on issues that shape and affect the lives of millions of inhabitants which include unsafe built environments and lack of services. Available studies produced by various development and aid agencies are utilized to support the observations made in the initiative’s documentation. In addition, the initiative aims to highlight the role of civil society and community initiatives in responding to the state’s neglectful rule. To learn more about the Right to Housing initiative visit the Shadow Ministry of Housing.

One of the outcomes of the initiative is a series of videos (usually under 10 minutes) each focusing on an urban issue or challenge as a way to illustrate the problems clearly to a wide audience. These urban challenges impacting the lives of millions on a daily basis have not been the concern of any of Egypt’s public debates since January 2011, including those around the constitution of 2012 nor the current constitutional debates to amend it. Instead, abstract and polemical issues such as how to constitutionally prescribe an Egyptian identity have taken center-stage distracting the public from what actually impacts their lives daily. The right to housing initiative is among the supporters of the “Urban Constitution,” a document proposed by a collective of eight groups including Tadamun, containing eleven proposed rights to be constitutionally protected such as “right to participatory planning and urban management,” “right to information,” which would be related to accessing information such as municipal budgets, “right to heritage,” and “right to municipal services,” which are currently not accessible to a sizable percentage of the urban population and an even larger percentage of Egypt’s rural population with no constitutional obligation for the state to do much about it. To review and sign the “Urban Constitution,” click here.

The military is focused on interfering in political life to protect its privileges (including its ability to sell land to international private investors without civilian oversight). International agencies such as the World Bank and UNDP pat themselves on the back for their work which has limited impact and never leads to meaningful policy change on the part of the Egyptian state. Egypt’s political elite before or after Jan 25, 2011, June 30, 2012 or July 3, 2013 are busy playing cheap politics rather than looking effectively into ways for understanding and solving every day challenges to Egypt’s urban and rural populations. In the meantime, civil society, with initiatives such as Right to Housing, with limited resources have been able to map, document and identify main challenges, key issues, and players and potential approaches towards solutions.

Right to Housing initiative has completed 10 videos (Arabic with English subtitles*) which together run for about one hour and twenty minutes. Each video focuses on an issue and is shot on location with residents speaking for themselves about their challenges. In making the videos Yahia Shawkat was assisted by urban activists such as Sherief Gaber of Mosireen, Jenny Montasir, Lamia Hassan, and Mohamed Al Sawi. Here are the ten videos. Please take the time to view all of them as they not only provide a clear outline of urban Egypt’s major challenges but also offer insights from residents about how to confront them.

[*Addendum, 9 November] Please note that not all the videos have English subtitles, if you want to volunteer to complete the subtitles for the videos please contact Yahia Shawkat at Shadow Ministry of Housing.

How communities cope with the state’s failures to provide services

Urban hazards and unsafe built environments

Local governance

Drinking water



Self-built communities or “popular urbanism”

New cities or “state urbanism”

Forced eviction

Transport and the right to mobility in the city



Cairobserver was founded in April 2011 and is edited by Mohamed Elshahed.  Mohamed Elshahed is a Cairo-based scholar and researcher currently completing his doctoral dissertation in the Middle East Studies Department at New York University. His dissertation, Revolutionary Modernism? Architecture and the Politics of Transition in Egypt, 1936-1967, focuses on architecture and urban planning in Egypt during the period of political transition around the 1952 coup d’etat. Mohamed has a Bachelor of Architecture from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master in Architecture Studies from MIT.


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