Egypt’s Nubians say they have right to their land
Cairo - Never before have relations between Egypt’s Nubians and the government resulted in direct confrontations but in recent weeks some Nubians cut off roads and staged a sit-in after the government included Nubian land in the southern regions of Toshka and Khorqundi in a national land reclamation project.
The project, which includes the reclamation of approximately 1.6 million acres, is to be mainly carried out by private investors.
Nubians reacted angrily to the decision, considering it a threat to their history and land at a time when they have been struggling to protect what is left of it. On November 19th, Egyptian security forces blocked a Nubian group heading to the disputed land. This prompted a sit-in on the road leading to the land.
Tens of thousands of Nubian families were evacuated from their villages in southern Egypt in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the High Dam, Egypt’s megaproject then for controlling Nile River flooding. They were moved to Comombo Hills, a barren desert behind the site of the planned dam.
Successive governments have since pledged to return the Nubians to their original villages. The pledges have never been carried out.
The government’s latest decision to allocate plots of Nubian land to investors reignited the Nubians’ anger and reopened old wounds.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi enlisted the help of former Defence minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a Nubian, to meet with the group’s leaders and ease tensions but he was unsuccessful.
Some have said the Nubians sought separation from Egypt, a charge they vehemently denied.
Abdel Sabbour al-Garhi, a member of the Right of Return, a committee formed by Nubians who want to return to their original land in southern Egypt, described the claim that the Nubians seek separation as an attempt to block their efforts to obtain their legitimate right of return.
“By overlooking Nubian demands for years, the government exacerbated the already tense situation,” Garhi said. “Giving Nubian land to investors just means that the real owners of this land will lose their rights.”
Rami Yehia, a coordinator of the Returning to Nubia Alliance, said the Nubians have become exasperated with the government’s failed promises.
“Nubians do not demand the impossible,” Yehia said. “They got out of their land in the past for the best interests of their country and now they want to return to this land.”
He said Nubians cannot be kept away from the land while non-Nubian investors were allowed to take it and invest in it.
“We should be given priority to have this land,” Yehia said.
Nubians living outside Egypt, some political parties and politicians offering support to Nubians staging the sit-in gave encouragement to them, political analysts said, leading the Nubians to believe that this was an opportune time for them to make gains.
Nonetheless, the same analysts said they expected that a lack of response from the government and parliament in resolving the situation would set off a new wave of Nubian protests.
“Things are also getting worse because Nubians do not trust the government,” said Mohamed al-Ghoul, a member of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee.