CAIRO: Some 100 residents of El-Qorsaya island gathered at the Journalists’ Syndicate Sunday to raise awareness of government plans to evict them.
Artist and island inhabitant Mohamed Abla exhibited photos of some of the island’s children and screened his short documentary film “Out of Water.
The film documents the community’s anger towards plans to destroy their homes in order to construct what is rumoured to be a tourist complex, a giant park or a golf course on the island.
The government has not formally announced what it intends to do with the land, and islanders say that they are not reassured by MP Mohamed Aboul Enein’s words that there is no need for them to worry – particularly given that bulldozers under army protection have been at work on the island since November.
“I was born here, my father was born here and my grandfather was born here. The army came to frighten us when it should be protecting us. We cannot sleep at night, cannot work without worrying that at any second something might happen to us, said one resident.
Many of the roughly 1,000 fishermen and 4,000 farmers who constitute El-Qorsaya’s population have lived on the island for generations since the island was first inhabited in the 19th century.
Entirely self-sufficient, island residents say that they had personally provided infrastructure services such as electricity, by buying two generators from the government.
Decades-old fishing and construction licenses and over 25,000 documents issued by various official bodies acknowledging the presence of the islanders on El-Qorsaya, islanders claim, belie government claims that they do not have the right to be on the land, and that they may legitimately be remove from their homes.
Islanders feel that their way of life is being sacrificed for corporate interests.
“The government left these people for years without services and they provided for themselves. The island was worthless to the government for all these years and now suddenly it’s become priceless, said Abla during the meeting.
He added that El-Qorsaya is a microcosm of the situation in Egypt as a whole.
“Cairo needs greenery no matter how small. The government doesn’t care about Cairo or the people. It must learn how to deal with its people, it cannot just treat them as if they don’t exist or else all of Egypt will be up next.
Kamal Khalil from the Center for Socialist Studies underlined this, by placing the plans for El-Qorsaya within the context of government plans to redevelop Cairo.
“El-Qorsaya is part of a bigger picture. There is currently a development project for Imbaba which involves the involuntary removal of 100,000 people into new homes in the desert by 2015, he alleged at the meeting.
Island residents say that they refuse to be moved and will defend their homes no matter what.
“I was born on this land and I’ll die here. We have never asked for anything from the state, and we want nothing from it now – except that it leaves us alone, one resident said.
“I’m a farmer. If I leave the island what will I do? I don’t know any other trade. Should I sit on a balcony and hunt birds? he added.