Egypt: Residents of Nile island face eviction
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||15 January 2008|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Egypt: Residents of Nile island face eviction, 15 January 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47b461551e.html [accessed 23 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
"The military came in battle uniforms in September 2007 and wanted to seize our land," said Mohamed Mustafa. "The people resisted with all they had at hand, sticks, glass bottles and stones. When the soldiers finally left, the people started digging their own graves, lay inside and shouted ?Over my dead body' "
For Mustafa, a surgeon, and his wife Brigitte Ritter-Mustafa, an administrative employee at the Swiss embassy, the island was a peaceful, idyllic paradise - until the soldiers arrived. Now it looks like the Mustafas, together with 5,000 farmers and fishermen, will be expelled from the island by military force for the sake of a "Mini Las Vegas" construction project.
"They work day and night with six dredges. Soldiers on army boats are patrolling around the island. The ambiance here is dull like in a slaughter house. We are animals that don't know when they are going to be butchered. Treat us like human beings," Mustafa said.
The local population believe that the wirepuller behind the construction work is a wealthy Saudi prince who wants to build entertainment parks and new residential areas on al-Qursaia. From Mustafa's point of view, the locals stand no chance against the combined might of the Saudi billionaire and the Egyptian military.
The Egyptian government and the local administration have yet to respond to the residents' many inquiries.
Illegally built houses
Samir Gharib, who is chairman of the National Organisation for Urban Harmony at the Ministry of Culture, said the problem is that many residents constructed houses without legal permission. "Their situation is weak and difficult from a legal point of view. If they had legal permission nobody could dislodge them. The government destroys houses of people who don't have legal permission to construct," he said.
In a one-bedroom house, five farmers and fishermen were sitting with wrinkled faces around bowls of local, homemade cornflakes made out of maize, fenugreek, wheat and mixed with warm water buffalo milk. Thumping a recent edition of a government newspaper on the table, one of the men, Maher Abu Goma, sneeringly read out a recent statement of President Hosni Mubarak regarding a new government housing project for poor families: "I believe in social justice for poor people." But to Maher, it was the government which planned the military expulsion from al-Qursaia.
The anger caused the residents to protest on the island using banners and chanting slogans to demand social justice. Farmer Ali Abdullah Ali said he would not know where to go and that he would die without his agricultural fields and his cattle.
Ali shouted with clenched fists: "The government makes us turn into Osama bin Ladens. I will go directly to Afghanistan and Iraq to become a terrorist. Because I will fight until I die to protect our island."
In his garden, big white plastic bags lay scattered across the lawn, containing hidden stones and ochre brown bricks, tools that are ready to be used in the next battle to defend his lands.
According to Mustafa, when the military arrived they docked a 30-metre long army vessel on his footbridge. Soldiers on the boat were armed with machine guns.
Climate of fear, uncertainty
Since then, Mohamed says that he and his fellow residents have been living in a climate of constant fear and uncertainty.
But some residents are taking action. Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla produced a 12-minute documentary entitled Out of Water, depicting the ongoing tumult on Al-Qursaia. He has since appeared live on TV trying to raise awareness about the problem.
After his TV appearance, however, he said the military seized his land. "The situation for house owners such as Abla is weak. They will destroy his home because he has been living there 10-20 years without legal permission," said Gharib, the chairman of the National Organisation for Urban Harmony. "But it's the fault of the government to let these people live without legal permission. It's clear that we live in the Third World and our government is weak like the rest of the country."