CAIRO: On New Year’s Eve, El-Qorsaya islanders organized a public party to express solidarity with the inhabitants, who are under threat of eviction.
Surrounded on two sides by Cairo’s rapidly multiplying tower blocks, the island is one of the few remaining patches of green in an ever-expanding city.
El-Qorsaya’s 5,000 inhabitants are at the frontline of this battle with relentless urbanization. In November, bulldozers began construction work on one end of the island.
It is rumoured that the government plans to destroy their homes in order to make way for a golf course or tourist complex.
Angry and concerned by the constant threat of eviction, the islanders have responded by launching a media campaign in an attempt to save the island. On Dec. 20, 2007, they held a solidarity meeting in the Journalists’ Syndicate during which the islanders expressed their refusal to leave their homes.
Some of El-Qorsaya’s families had been living there for five generations, in fact, since the place was first inhabited in the 19th century.
Press, activists, and members of the public attended the solidarity party, leaving the dusty, dirty clamour of Giza’s El-Bahr El-Azem Road for what is a strange tranquillity in the middle of Cairo’s noisy mayhem.
The island is reached by the ma’deyya, a small, decrepit boat which ferries people back and forth over the narrow stretch of water between El-Qorsaya and the mainland using a pulley system.
In order to find El-Qorsaya, we were told to look for a bathtub planted on the pavement outside the spot where the ma’deyya is reached.
There was indeed a bathtub, full of the oily-looking water left behind by the fish which El-Qorsaya’s fishermen sell on the pavement. There are some 1,000 fishermen who support themselves and their families this way.
Usually they work 10-12 hours a day, but under the threat of eviction fishing hours have been reduced dramatically. The men are reluctant to leave their homes for prolonged periods of time, fearful that the government might implement the eviction order at any moment.
Among photographs of the island, printed slogans such as “the land is our land, and boisterous children running amuck among the guests, artist and islander Mohamed Abla announced that El-Qorsaya’s residents have three demands of the government: “We want the government to remove the troops it has stationed here, stop construction work on the island, and legalize the island’s status, he told the audience.
While El-Qorsaya’s residents claim that they have over 25,000 documents issued by official bodies acknowledging their presence on the island, the government alleges that they have no legal right to the land.
Daily News Egypt asked Abla about the time span of these demands. “We’re giving the government two weeks. After that we’ll start another action – but I don’t want to say what it will be, he said.
Oud group Eskenderella performed songs by Sheikh Imam and Ahmed Fouad Negm. Negm’s daughter – who was at the party -telephoned her father and his typically irreverent message to El-Qorsaya’s residents boomed out of the speakers: “Don’t let these dogs drive you out of your land!
Island resident El-Hag Maher told Daily News Egypt why the islanders decided to throw aparty. “We’ve been silent for eight months during which time we couldn t sleep and couldn t eat because of the worry. We want to express ourselves, but through art. People have come to El-Qorsaya today because it’s a question of justice, he explained. “We will stay here, we won’t move.
As darkness fell on the Nile-side garden where the party was held, singer Wagih Aziz took to the stage, performing traditional songs accompanied by the oud.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt after his performance, Aziz said he felt compelled to come to the island in solidarity with its residents. “This campaign isn’t being led under the banner of any political party, group or movement. It’s a very human issue, he explained.