Nile City shack-dweller released after arrest at press conference

Anwar Ramadan Abdel Latif, an outspoken member of the besieged Nile City shacks community, has been released following a dramatic arrest earlier this afternoon, during which a police officer threatened to shoot local residents.

"They wanted to get to his sons and to break up the press conference," said Mohamed Khidr, a lawyer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who visited the police station where the man was held.

Another man, Ibrahim Hamouda, said to be in his thirties, remains in custody.

Abdel Latif was snatched by police from his house while an open-air press conference was being held in the shacks, called for by the Popular Committee of Ramlet Bulaq. He was at home near the press conference, which was coming to an end, when police entered the shack area and arrested him around 1 pm.

Locals, including his crying wife, gathered around the vehicle in which Abdel Latif was held, jostling and demanding to see papers authorizing the arrest.  Arresting officer Ali Faisal was unable to produce any paperwork, and shouted the words, "I'm going to shoot you!" 

"Then shoot me, shoot me," several residents, including Abdel Latif's wife, shouted back.  Faisal became more polite after noticing that he was being filmed, and that a larger crowd was gathering.

Egypt Indepedendent asked Abdel Latif, sitting inside the police vehicle, if he knew why he had been arrested. He said he did not.

Abdel Latif was shot in the leg by police on 2 August, as he tried to assist Amr Fathi (known locally as Amr al-Bunni), who was shot dead by police while demanding unpaid wages from Nile City, and subsequently spoke to the press about the community's plight on several occasions.

There has been a running conflict, occasionally breaking out into open violence, between the Nile City development, owned by the Sawiris and Shokshobi families, and local residents, several of whom have been employed on a semi-official basis by Nile City.

During the press conference, spokespersons for the popular committee laid out their demands.  First, they demanded that the area, which currently lacks running water, sewage or stable housing, be developed and, secondly, that any land purchases take place at a fair price.

“We are neither against businessmen nor against tourism,” said Hammad Araby al-Sayed, head of the Popular Committee of Ramlet Bulaq, “but not at the cost of the citizen.”

He added that Bulaq’s residents have lived on this piece of land for generations, “and still there is nothing here that resembles dignified living conditions.” The reason the business elite and the government can get away with this, according to another member of the committee, is “because we are poor.”

Extensive investigations by Egypt Independent have documented the political neglect of the shack-dwellers, the violence which has resulted from conflicts over land rights and labor exploitation involving allegations of intimidation on the part of Nile City security, the partial manner in which security services protect Nile City but neglect its poor neighbors, the killing of Amr al-Bunni, the subsequent violence, and the wave of raids and arrests which has rolled through the community in the subsequent weeks.

By 1:30 pm, activists from the popular committee were making their way to a local police station to make enquiries concerning Abdel Latif's welfare, and the allegations against him. Members of the press, lawyers and locals gathered at the police station to make enquiries, and Abdel Latif walked out around 3 pm, still on crutches from the bullet wound in his leg.

Maher Hassnein Ahmed, a resident who addressed the press during the conference, recounted the raids that took place over the past few weeks.

“They sent their special forces, as if we are Al-Qaeda. I am not a thug, I am an Egyptian citizen and a proud resident of Ramlet,” he said.

The practice of detention without charge is nothing new for residents of Ramlet Bulaq.  Many complained to Egypt Independent about use of the practice, reportedly to get to their relatives. One of those was 30-year-old Rasha Sobhy Abbas, who was detained from Wednesday to Saturday in the Bulaq police station with her three-month-old daughter, after visiting her elderly mother who had been taken earlier that day.

“They told me: ‘You’re not leaving this place until we have your brother,’” she said.

Overshadowing these events is a continuing attempt by businessman Naguib Sawiris and Cairo Governorate to acquire the valuable plot of land on which the shacks sit. In the meantime, a decree by the Cairo governor authorizing security forces to confiscate the land is being appealed by its residents. However, the decree can be enforced at any moment, even while the case is pending.

Ramadan Abu Zet, an 86-year-old resident born in Ramlet Bulaq, is determined. “We will not leave our land without our rights. We have no choice but to fight back, where else do you want us to go?”

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