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A Tragedy for All - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It was so painful seeing the images of the victims of the rockslide in the impoverished Duwayqa district in eastern Cairo and to watch the rescue attempts to save those trapped under the rubble as they pleaded for help, and to see their relatives and the pain that was tearing them apart.

But it is regrettable that we suffer tragedies and that we have become accustomed to them; we cry for an hour, scream for a day and have political disputes that last for a week. After all that, the matter is done and dusted until we are afflicted by a new catastrophe because we failed pay attention to these tragedies in the past as much as we cry over them.

This is a very simple example but who would believe that the Muslim Brotherhood, who are today weeping for the victims of the landslide in the poverty-stricken Duwayqa district, and who themselves have a haphazard way of thinking, caused uproar regarding the film ‘Heen Maysara,’ [When Things Improve], which actually portrayed the reality of shanty towns and the danger that they present with respect to crime, terrorism and the breakdown of morality, yet they ignored the significance of the film and focused on certain scenes.

Therefore awareness of the dangers of these shanty towns in some Arab countries has not reached a level of priority. And this is natural as long as there are those amongst us who trade in the misfortune of others without taking an interest in the reality of their affliction.

Shanty towns do not only pose a problem for Egypt even if it does have a large number in consideration of the rise in its population levels. According to the Egyptian Al Ahram newspaper, statistics show that the number of shanty towns has reached approximately 1221 throughout Egypt’s provinces and Cairo alone is home to 81 shanty towns in which around 8 million people live. In total they occupy 45 percent of Cairo’s surface area!

We must clarify that this crisis is a universal one; however, the dangers threaten most of our Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Qatar and others. It is worrying that the extent to which the dangers of this issue are realized varies from one country to another in our Arab world.

These slums are a threat to their residents and to the security of our Arab world. The issue is bigger than the suffering of the poor or people without a system; the problem lies in the lack of safety, health, and security conditions and these shanty towns are breeding ground for all kinds of crime.

Shanty towns continuously eat away at the city and its infrastructure since these areas are outside the census zone and away from educational and health institutions and are under the poverty line. The residents of these slums are people within the state but are external to its systems. They are not included in the state’s security or health systems and do not have access to different kinds of services.

Shanty towns, where life is one of misery and exclusion from society and the course of its natural development, are hotbeds for organized crime including murder, robbery, drug dealing and the creation of terrorist groups. They have become areas that are sometimes difficult for security forces to enter let alone rescue teams to assist the injured and those in need of aid, and this is because shanty towns are areas that form themselves with no kind of civil planning for a road network etc.

Unless Arab countries pay attention to shanty towns and support their residents who lack any kind of system in order to be just to those who deserve justice and to arrange residences for those who deserve residences and launch projects that will reduce the rapid migration of villagers towards the cities, then our Arab countries face more tragedies in the future as shanty towns are a ticking time bomb.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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