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Following the rockfall, Egyptian slum dwellers have little more than hope

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The day after Hussein lost his small grocery story to the rock slide, he and his sons were evicted from their damaged homes as part of a government effort to clear the disaster zone.

A government employee delivered the eviction notice, and days later all the buildings not destroyed in the slide were demolished by the state. Today, the neighborhood has been flattened. The basin it once sat in has been filled in with pebbles and sand. Residents say the government never exhumed the bodies of the dead; it simply buried them.

Hussein and his four sons had each built his home on public land under Egypt's widespread informal land-holding system, called wadaa yad, or "laying on of hands."

Under that system, they were able to live on government-owned land by paying rent to the local municipality, says Ms. Abbas, and although it lacked the stability of true homeownership, she says, they felt like landowners.

"I have a son who is 34 years old and he was born there," she says. "How can I be moved away from it just like that?"

After their eviction, they moved to the Suzanne Mubarak Project, a vast complex of 8,500 housing units built by the Egyptian government in 2000.

Before they could get the keys, they had to sign a series of legal documents. No one in Hussein's family can read, but they were desperate for shelter and stability so they put their thumbprints on the dotted line. They still don't know if they own the apartments or will have to pay rent.

Mohamed Helw, a lawyer for the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights, says that the resettlement difficulties faced by families like Hussein's reflect the shifting nature of Egypt's attitude toward the urban poor.

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