Illegal housing boom is big challenge for Egypt's leader

Mon Apr 28, 2014 7:56am EDT
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By Asma Alsharif

CAIRO (Reuters) - When an explosion in one of Cairo's calmer residential areas reduced a five-story building to rubble, residents feared it was the work of suicide bombers.

Actually, authorities were dynamiting unlicensed buildings, even though millions of Egyptians are desperate for housing - a sensitive issue that the country's new president will face.

After Egyptians vote next month, many will want their new leader - expected to be former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - to tackle the housing crunch as the population explodes.

Sisi is seen as a decisive figure by supporters. But the man who toppled Egypt's first freely elected president last year has not outlined how he plans to ease the country's social ills, with the housing crisis one of the most challenging.

Many frustrated Egyptians have taken matters into their own hands since the 2011 army-backed uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak raised false hopes of greater social justice.

They started constructing multi-storey buildings without seeking the required permits or adhering to safety standards that may raise the cost of construction.

Some invested their savings in the rows of unfinished red-brick buildings seen around Cairo's ring road, concluding they would get away with living in illegal flats in the chaos of post-Mubarak Egypt.

But as the government tries to impose order by tearing down those buildings, many Egyptians will find themselves empty-handed, raising the prospect of further unrest in a nation where street protests have removed two presidents in three years.   Continued...

A taxi moves past blocks of houses that were built illegally and destroyed by the government, behind the Supreme Constitutional Court in Maadi, south of Cairo, April 25, 2014.   REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh