Egyptian authorities besiege Nubian protest camp on Aswan-Abu Simbel Road
Nubian organizing meeting - Courtesy: Facebook page Nubian Rights

A Nubian caravan of cars attempting to travel into Toshka, Aswan to organize a strike has established a protest camp on the Aswan-Abu Simbel Road after Egyptian authorities blocked its progress on Saturday.

Members of Egypt’s police and military surrounded the encampment on Sunday, arresting anyone who attempts to enter or leave and denying the admission of food and water.

“Security forces are surrounding us via two checkpoints. They have prevented any Nubian from joining the camp and denied protesters access to water and food, while any protester who leaves the site of the camp is arrested,” Nubian rights lawyer Mohamed Azmy, who is present within the camp, told Mada Masr.

“We are working with a number of Nubian villages, as of this evening, to organize convoys to ease the siege,” said rights lawyer.

The makeshift protest camp is 200 kilometers away from what was the 25-car “Nubian Right to Return” caravan’s destination: the Nubian Forkund village in Toshka. The village was recently annexed for a state-backed development project in Toshka, and the caravan was organized after police stopped a previous march toward Forkund to protest the land seizure.

In the face of the siege, those within the camp are trying to secure supply convoys from nearby Nubian villages.

“Security forces have sought to negotiate an end to our encampment to no avail,” Azmy said, “We are working with a number of Nubian villages, as of this evening, to organize convoys to ease the siege imposed upon us in order to have our demands realized.”

The siege of the protest camp is only one of the state’s measures to curtail Nubian protest. According to Azmy, the state cordoned off several streets in Aswan and denied access to the city’s center and entrances after clashes broke out between Nubian protesters and the military.

“The clashes broke out after a military conscript fired live rounds at three Nubians, requiring one of them to be hospitalized,” Azmy said. “Following the shooting, angry locals took to the streets and set fire to a police station.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued two decrees which have provoked the ire of Nubians, who have long been subject to state violence.

In August, Sisi passed decree 355, designating 922 feddans of state-owned land to the new Toshka development project. Much of this land falls within historical Nubian sovereignty, and, under the terms of the decree, Nubians will not be granted rights to its exclusive use.

Mai Shams El-Din details the state’s fears of secession, possible international justice and neoliberal development in the Nubian conflict.

In 2014, the Egyptian president issued decree 444, which was later passed by Parliament, designating certain border areas as military zones that are not to be inhabited, a decision that affected 16 Nubian villages.

Nubians in southern Egypt have been forcibly displaced a number of times in the 20th century: first by the British occupying force in 1902 to build the Aswan Low Dam, subsequently when the dam’s height was raised in 1912 and 1933 and again with the building of the Aswan High Dam by former President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1963-64.

The Egyptian Constitution stipulates that the state must make progress in granting Nubians the right to return to their lands within 10 years of ratification, in addition to developing Nubian land and preserving Nubian culture.

In September, a number of Nubian organizations held the conference in Daboud village titled “The Right of Return.” Participants urged Sisi to issue an executive decree to establish a supreme body to oversee the resettlement of Nubia and to amend decree 444 to ensure that it does not forcibly evict Nubians living on the land under its jurisdiction.