Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 18 - July 2019 عربى
Terminology Corner
Right to the Built Environment (al-`umrān, العمران)

One of the most significant and articulate examples of the use of the right to the city in CSO discourse and advocacy has come in the context of the 2013 deliberations toward the new Egyptian Constitution. A convergence of organizations, self-identified as the Urban Reform Coalition, cooperated in the preparation of a formal submission to the drafters of the new Constitution. Their document, “A Constitutional Approach to Urban Egypt,” [Arabic] localizes the principles of the right to the city as a guidance note for future efforts to improve living conditions, urban development and governance in Egypt through the transition.

The localization of the concepts begins with the title, which translates from the Arabic literally as “Constitution of the Built Environment.” It incorporates the Arabic term “al-`umrān” (العمران, the built environment) to convey a more inclusive concept, embracing also human settlements beyond the city. The term also resonates in Arab traditions as a term used by the 14th Century scholar Ibn Khaldūn, who instructed that, in statecraft, “al-`adl asās al-`umrān”(العدل أساس العمران, or “justice is the foundation of the built environment (i.e., the state/civilization).”

This articulation of the right to the city establishes a set of basic principles such that:

The state recognizes the right to the city for all inhabitants of Egyptian cities, and the people have the full right to enjoy the city and public spaces on the basis of the principles of sustainability, social justice, respect for different cultures, and the balance between the urban and rural sectors. The exercise of the right to the city rests on the foundations of democratic governance of the city, with respect for the social and environmental functions of the various properties and the city as a whole, with full exercise of the right of citizenship.

 

The collective document proceeds to explain the meaning of the Right to the Built Environment (haq al-`umrān, حق العمران):

The state recognizes the right to the human settlement (al-`umrān), for the entire population on the basis of the principles of social justice and sustainability, and respect for different cultures, and the balance between urban and rural areas. The exercise of this right rests on the basis of democratic management of urbanization, with respect for the social and environmental functions of various types of tenure within the following considerations:

  • Provision of quality public services and utilities, while ensuring their quality and equitable provision and distribution; seeking to achieve welfare for all inhabitants, particularly those most in need; and continuously improving the quality of their lives and satisfying their basic needs and corresponding human rights, all of which are an essential part of the social purpose of the state, as social justice should be the basis of the urban environment, human settlements and governance To this end, the state should prioritize social spending in the allocation of funds in public budgeting and planning.
  • The government should help realize the social function of urban areas so that all inhabitants benefit from available resources to ensure the constant improvement of their living conditions. The state must direct public projects and investment to improve the public wellbeing, giving priority to the neediest members of society. The State of Egypt must formulate and enforce urban policies that require that land be used in accordance with the principles of social justice, equality and respect for the environment, as already defined in the minimal standards of international human rights instruments. In order to realize the social function of property, laws must guarantee the optimal usage of under-utilized, unused, or vacant public and private property for public benefit.
  • The decentralization of local governance must strengthen the practice of citizenship and corresponding human rights, encouraging the democratic management of human settlements, and increasing local government’s responsiveness to local needs, the collective wellbeing of inhabitants, and the social production and management of their habitat.
  • The state commits to materially and politically supporting all local municipal districts to build their technical, administrative, and financial capabilities to respect, protect and fulfill all human rights of citizens and residents. The state also shall authorize elected representatives of local districts to adopt local ordinances consistent with the Constitution and national legislation and to levy local taxes and fees needed to augment the national budget allotments and provide, improve, and efficiently manage local public services and utilities.
  • The people own the state’s natural resources, including land, water, mineral wealth and environmental assets and endowments, and have the equal right to benefit from the natural wealth, dividends, and revenues derived from these national resources. The state commits itself to safeguarding these assets and their equitable use, and to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of future generations dependent upon them. The disposition of state resources and properties shall be prohibited, except through their use toward the benefit and fulfillment of codified rights of inhabitants of the State of Egypt. The law shall regulate the Egyptian government’s obligation to regulate and dispose of state property, according to the principles enshrined above and in the following Constitutional proposal.

تعترف الدولة بالحق في العمران لكافة السكان. كما أن لھم جميعاً الحق الكامل في التمتع بالعمران وفراغاته العامة على أسس مبادئ العدالة الاجتماعية، والاستدامة، واحترام الثقافات المختلفة، والاتزان بين المناطق الحضرية والريفية. وترتكز ممارسة ھذا الحق على أسس الإدارة الديمقراطية للعمران، مع احترام الوظائف الاجتماعية والبيئية للملكيات المختلفة، وللعمران ككل في إطار الاعتبارات التالية:

  • توفير الخدمات والمرافق العامة، وضمان جودتھا وعدالة توزيعھا، وتحقيق الرفاه للمواطنين وخاصة الأكثر احتياجاً، والتحسين المستمر لجودة حياتھم، والتأكد من تلبية احتياجاتھم الأساسية، كلھا من الأغراض الاجتماعية الأصيلة للدولة. ولھذه الأغراض، تلتزم الدولة بإعطاء جوانب الإنفاق الاجتماعي العام الأولوية على أي مخصصات أو أوجه إنفاق أخرى في خطط وموازنات الدولة وأجھزتھا المختلفة.
  • يجب أن تؤدي المناطق العمرانية وظيفة اجتماعية تضمن لكل سكانھا حق الانتفاع الكامل من كافة مواردھا، وأن توجه مشروعات الدولة واستثماراتھا بما يعود بالنفع على المجتمع ككل. وتستھدف سياسات العمران استخدام الأراضي بما يؤكد على مفاھيم العدالة الاجتماعية، والمساواة، والتوازن البيئي؛ كما تضمن التشريعات الاستفادة الكاملة من الأراضي والملكيات العامة والخاصة غير المأھولة، وغير المستخدمة، والقليلة الاستخدام بما يحقق الوظيفة الاجتماعية للملكية.
  • اعتماد اللامركزية في الحكم المحلي، بما يعزز الممارسة الكاملة للمواطنة، والإدارة الديمقراطية للعمران، والاستجابة لاحتياجات المجتمعات المحلية؛ وتلتزم الدولة بدعم الوحدات المحلية بما تحتاجه من بناء قدرات ومعاونة فنية وإدارية ومالية، وتمكينھا من جمع الموارد من الضرائب والرسوم ذات الطابع المحلى الأصلية والإضافية، واللازمة لتوفير المرافق والخدمات المحلية، والنھوض بھا، وحسن إدارتھا.
  • الثروات المعدنية والموارد الطبيعية للدولة ملك للشعب، وعوائدھا حق له، تلتزم الدولة بالحفاظ عليھا، وحسن استغلالھا، ومراعاة حقوق الأجيال فيھا. ولا يجوز التصرف في أملاك الدولة العامة . ويكون منح امتياز استغلالھا، أو التزام مرفق عام بقانون، ولمدة محددة. ويحدد القانون أحكام التصرف في أملاك الدولة الخاصة، والقواعد والإجراءات المنظمة لذلك .

 

The “A Constitutional Approach to Urban Egypt” takes the opportunity to explain the meaning and value of social production of habitat (SPH) where it proposes:

The state is committed to providing the institutional environment and resources needed to process the social production of housing in the form of legal tools and financing, administrative, and technical support, land and raw materials at a reasonable price consistent with the [needs of persons with] low-income. The State recognizes the efforts of self-construction and supports housing initiatives and cooperatives, whether of individuals or families or organized and collective efforts in this area. Moreover, the State is committed to the fight against abuse and exploitation in rental relations in the context of ensuring the right to adequate housing for marginalized and most vulnerable.

تلتزم الدولة بتوفير البيئة المؤسسية والموارد اللازمة لعملية الإنتاج الاجتماعي للمسكن من أدوات قانونية وتمويلية وإدارية، ودعم فني، وأراضي وخامات بسعر مناسب يتلاءم مع قدرات محدودي الدخل، وتعترف الدولة بجھود العمران الذاتية، كما تدعم المبادرات الذاتية والتعاونية سواء من أفراد أو أسر أو جھود جماعية منظمة في ھذا المجال.  كذلك تلتزم الدولة بمكافحة التعسف والاستغلال في العلاقات الإيجارية في إطار كفالة حق المسكن الملائم للفئات المھمشة والأكثر ضعفا.

Clearly this CSO initiative and articulation of the right to the city, human rights in the city, even more broadly as the human rights habitat, speaks to the state context that the city inhabits. However, this exercise also follows in the tradition of city-based human rights charters, while taking a page from the World Charter on the Right to the City and indigenizes its tenets.



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