The high-rise, which only had permission for four floors but stretched up to 13, was just one unsafe building among an estimated 14,500 in the city of Alexandria alone. Egyptian research group the Built Environment Observatory estimates that each year “around 200 people lose their lives, and over 800 families are made homeless as a result of over 390 residential building collapses a year”.
After leaning for 21 days, the tower was finally demolished last week by a team of engineers led by the army. The general in charge, who asked to remain anonymous, said the demolition was one of the most complex they had ever undertaken.
Though the law is clear on maximum building heights – which allows new constructions to rise no more than one and a half times the width of the road it is built on – building inspectors can be persuaded to apply only a fine, rather than place a demolition order and instigate legal action if the rules are breached. The sum of the fine varies, but is often covered by the landowner’s profit from renting flats in the illegal higher floors.
Hamza Mostafa is a building inspector in Alexandria. Though he claims he didn’t need to take bribes to supplement his government salary of 2,000 Egyptian pounds per month (£86), he says, “everyone takes [bribes] from that,” alleging that many of his colleagues, including the head of the district he works for, are involved in some form of corruption.