Egyptian authorities have prevented a Nubian caravan of cars from moving into Toshka in Aswan for the second time based on “orders by sovereign bodies,” an organizer of the caravan told Mada Masr on Saturday.
Nubian rights lawyer Mohamed Azmy explained that a number of policemen, some of them belonging to military and general intelligence, have prevented a caravan consisting of 25 cars from moving forward at the start of the Aswan-Abu Simbel road.
The caravan moving under the banner of the “Nubian Right to Return” was stopped 200 kilometers away from the Nubian Forkund village in Toshka. A number of activists had decided earlier this month that would start an open strike in Forkund to protest the inclusion of the village in a state-backed land development project in Toshka.
The decision to start the strike was triggered after police stopped a march toward Forkund from proceeding.
Azmy told Mada Masr at the time that the protest organizers met to look into possible escalation measures, but the meeting quickly turned into a huge gathering of Nubian citizens who decided to organize the caravan on November 19 — opting to wait until after November 11 when it was predicted that large scale protests would take place.
In August this year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed decree 355, designating 922 feddans of state-owned land to the new Toshka development project. Much of this land is Nubian and Nubians will not be granted rights to its exclusive use. In 2014, a presidential decree (444) affecting Nubians was also issued, and later passed by Parliament, designating certain border areas as military zones that are not to be inhabited, including 16 Nubian villages. The two decisions would put an end to the dreams of thousands of Nubians to return to their lands in southern Egypt.
Policemen stopped the caravan at a checkpoint and threatened to fire if they attempted to cross the checkpoint, Azmy told Mada Masr. The police claimed that it was forbidden for cars to move on that road, he recounted. In response, caravan organizers said that they could leave theirs and continue on foot, a suggestion that was turned down by authorities as well.
“We are continuing in our struggle and we will continue to try to pass the checkpoint and there will be no backing down from our side no matter how much this will cost us,” Azmy pledged.
Meanwhile, independent Nubian groups and civil society organizations are working on collecting historical documents and evidence to file an official complaint against the Egyptian government before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). The complaint is against the two presidential decisions, and aims to order Nubian return to 44 villages that they were forcibly evicted from in the 1960s, in accordance with constitutional guarantees.
Nubians in southern Egypt were displaced a number of times in the 20th century. The first wave of displacement was with the building of the Aswan Low Dam by the British in 1902, when its height was raised on two different occasions in 1912 and 1933, and again with the building of the Aswan High Dam by former President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1963-64.
Article 236 of Egypt’s Constitution mandates the state to work on giving Nubians the right to return to their lands within 10 years, as well as committing the government to propose plans to develop the land and preserve Nubian culture.
A major conference was held in September by a number of Nubian organizations in Daboud village dubbed “Return is a right.” Participants recommended the state establish a body to develop Nubia and address the decision to stipulate Nubian land as a military zone, giving the government three months to comply with the demands before the involvement of international courts. Nubian parliamentarian Yassin Abdel Sabour, coordinating this conference, previously told Mada Masr that he will work with state bodies during these three months to find a solution to Nubian demands.