It’s no surprise that the Nubian people have little faith in the authorities that claim to work for their benefit, as years of false promises have left them disillusioned. Many Nubians have expressed their worries and doubts about the outcome of the cabinet meeting on Monday.
“There is a crisis of confidence between the government and the Nubians that dates back 115 years. Nubians do not trust the government, as every regime that ruled Egypt has deceived them,” Nubian activist Abdel Dayem Ezz El-Din told Daily News Egypt.
Since last week, Nubians have been protesting on Abu Simbel road for the right to return to their land—a demand that was recently brought to the forefront again as the governmental 1.5m acre reclamation project threatened to encroach on their ancestral lands. Following pledges by members of parliament, on behalf of the president, that the cabinet meeting would bring about solutions, they agreed to briefly suspend their protest until the cabinet meeting is complete and a solution is announced.
The three members of parliament involved in the case are Mostafa Bakry, Amr Aboul Yazid, and Mohamed Sallem.
Filex Toshkawy, member of the Nubian Coalition for the Purpose of Land Reclamation, said: “The Nubian community does not have much faith in the Egyptian government. I’m not optimistic that constitutional Article 236, which stipulates that Nubians could return to their villages, will be activated.”
Despite the Nubian people’s worries, they will await the government’s decisions, he added.
Mohamed Shabaan, another member of the coalition, told Daily News Egypt he is also feeling pessimistic about the outcome of next week’s meeting. He has seen so many promises by the government turn out to be false with no changes being made on the ground, citing former prime minister Essam Sharaf’s pledges that the Nubians will return to their original villages in 2011. He also feels that the authorities do not take this issue seriously.
Former president Gamal Abdel Nasser first promised to meet the demands of the Nubian people after their villages were submerged due to the construction of the High Dam in 1964, which marks the latest displacement of the Nubians.
In 1902, the Aswan Low Dam was built and 10 villages were submerged. The water rose, flooding more villages in 1914 and 1933 and causing more Nubians to be displaced, until eventually all their ancestral villages were overwhelmed.
Nubians are not sure what their next step will be if the cabinet decides to not help them return to their villages; however, a number of Nubians have vowed to continue protesting until their demands are met.
The governmental project to reclaim 1.5 acres of land sparked the ire of the Nubian people, as two Nubian villages in Aswan would be sold for investments under this project. Toshka and Khor Qindi villages are an extension of land that was flooded. According to state media, both villages comprise 12 acres.
Of course, this issue has never been closed for the Nubians who have long been calling on the Egyptian government to help them return to their land. No matter how many protests, campaigns, or demonstrations are held, all they seem to receive is promises, and more promises.
The closest the state has come to taking action is including Article 236 in the 2014 Constitution, which stipulates: “The state shall work to implement projects to return the residents of Nubia to their original territories and develop such territories within 10 years, as regulated by law.”
This is an improvement from the constitution that was written under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood; Nubians advocated for a constitution that represents all Egyptians.
However, presidential Decree 444, issued in 2014, contradicts the previous article. This decree designated a large stretch of land in Nubia as a restricted military zone, adjacent to Egypt’s border with Sudan. This will impact Nubians by restricting 17 villages from their access.
To confront the state’s plans, on 19 November, a caravan of 25 microbuses carrying dozens of Nubians from different governorates across the country headed for the disputed villages. When they found that security forces had blocked the road, they decided to protest on Abu Simbel road in south Aswan.
Security forces surrounded the protestors from both sides, blocking roads to prevent them from leaving and acquiring food or drink. Protests were ongoing for about four days. Several opposition groups and activists have condemned the actions of security forces.
Nubians are demanding that their land be excluded from the project via presidential decree. State media has often portrayed the Nubian people as calling for division in society and separation from Egypt. The legitimacy of their issues has been downplayed and diminished throughout the last century and continues today.
The government’s performance on this matter has been criticised by opposition parties and politicians. In an op-ed for privately-owned newspaper Al-Shorouq, journalist Emad El-Din Hussein questioned: “Why did the state not take any action previously to avoid the issue from escalating to this?”
Actions taken since last week include the prime minister assigning a group of MPs to follow up on the issue and arranging two meetings for discussion so as to hopefully reach a peaceful solution that appeases both sides.
In the second meeting, the prime minister announced that the Nubians will have priority to certain lands allocated to the state’s 1.5m acres reclamation project operated by the Egyptian Countryside Development Company.
This offer was rejected by the Nubians who believe that they are the original owners of the villages and will not accept any alternatives.
Field marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi had arrived in Nubia but contrary to expectations did not meet with protesters, electing instead to meet with the governor of Aswan, the parliamentary speaker, and MP Yassin Abdel Sabour, whom protesters have rejected as their representative.
The Socialist Popular Alliance party (SPAP) and other political parties have expressed their solidarity with the Nubians’ right to return to their villages in accordance with Article 236. They also called for this article to be activated and for dialogue between the protesting Nubian leaders and the state regarding the development of Nubia and the region.
Moreover, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms issued a press statement on Tuesday urging authorities to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution and return the Nubians to their lands.