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Tension - Ancient Nile dwellers face relocation

Egypt government forcing Nubian local villages out of their UNESCO World Heritage Site locations

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  May 20, 2009

A UNESCO World Heritage site and attraction in Egypt risks losing the village people who complement the ambience of the ancient tourist destination. Townsfolk and indigenous people who create the atmosphere of an otherwise ‘another’ ancient templedom in Upper Egypt fear displacement.

Last month, Nubian villagers have started to collect signatures to withdraw confidence from members of local and community councils who agreed to the decision issued by the governor of Aswan. The decision mentioned that it rejected the idea of resettling Nubians in Wadi Karkar. Organizers of the campaign demanded that their new villages be built in alternative locations similar to their original one alongside the Nile, said Al-Fajer’s Amirah Aḥmad.

“A group called al-Mubadirun al-Nubyyun or Nubian leaders met at the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights in order to discuss the new developments after the governor of Aswan changed his opinion on Wadi Karkar where he decided to execute the old plan of specifying an area for migrants and young graduates. Nubian leaders attacked the governor and accused him of deceiving Nubians by claiming that he would fulfill their demands related to choosing the place they want to build their villages,” added Ahmad.

As the conflict continues to brew, Nubians stand to lose tourism spotlight if they move.

It was indeed ancient Nubia which earned Egypt a permanent seat in UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee since being organized during the 1960’s - as a result of the Nubia monuments salvage campaign. Age-old monuments were rescued by UNESCO when the finished Aswan High Dam flooded the original ancient sites. Temples have since stood aloft on safer, drier desert grounds stretching miles upon miles from Abu Simbel to Aswan. To better preserve them, temples can be visited only by the smaller motor boats lowered from tourist cruise ships anchored a short distance from the shore.

Dr. Ahmad Sokarno from Rose al Yusuf that these issues with the Nubians have a long history. “As a result of the fact that the national press ignored the Nubians’ problems since their forced immigration in the 1960s, a minority of writers and intellectuals started to write in opposition papers in an attempt to cause disputes and fitnah in Egyptian society. In 1994, some of these papers like al-Arabi al-Nasiri, accused Nubian organizations and groups of their constant attempts and desire to announce their independence from Egypt," Sokarno said.

Rose al-Yusuf could have been the only institution that cared more about seeking the rights of Nubians by traveling to Nubia and meeting Nubian people. On April 11, 2009, Rose al-Yūsuf published a report that resulted from different visits to the region and meeting Nubians from different spheres of society. Sokarno added however most press agreed that Nubia is definitely an inseparable part of Egypt.

Egyptian Nubian writer Hajjaj Adoul, said in a controversial speech in D.C. that Nubians are persecuted minorities in Egypt. He added that Nubians do not enjoy citizenship rights in Egypt and are not treated the same as other Egyptians, arguing that they have no opportunity to work because of their dark complexion.

Meanwhile, the villagers await further development hoping to remain custodian of the antiquities nearby.

Temples and attractions that sustain the Nubian tourist industry include the Beit El Wali, a rock temple, the smallest of its type, dedicated to King Ramses II in his youth depicted as paying tribute to some desert animals and offering statues to Amun; the Kalabsha, a grand Graeco-Roman temple built by Augustus Caesar in honor of the Nubian god Mandulis, the falcon-headed god like Horus: and the Kertassi, dedicated to Isis as Hathor, the goddess of music, beauty and love, depicted with cow-like features. At its rear quarters, Kertassi boasts some of the most interesting sites such as the well with Nilometre used as taxation device and the most-preserved bas reliefs of Caesar portrayed offering to Isis, Horus and Mandulis.

Passed the Tropic of Cancer are the temples of Dakka, Meharakka and Wadi El Seboua. Rescued piece-by-piece, temple Dakka commemorates the supremacy of Tutmosis II and III by its molder Amenhopis II in the 18th dynasty. Meharakka (also called Wadi Al Laqi or gold-mining region) dates back to 200 A.D. and was dedicated Serapis. Wall illustrations show Isis and one of Osiris dismembering his brother in 14 pieces in the name of power. Honoring the god Amon, the rock-cut temple Wadi El Seboua built by Ramses II, opens up to an avenue of sphinxes. Peculiar-looking Ramses statues in this temple seem to revere the Pharaoh in his death. Also in Nubia are the Temple of Amada built by three pharaohs of the Tutmosis 18th dynasty - the oldest in Nubia, built with unique polychrome decoration and moved by rail to its present location); Derr, the rock temple built by Ramses II and dedicated to sun god Ra and the divine aspect of the pharaohs (Derr is viewed as the Abu Simbel prototype); and the Tomb of Penout, the only conserved example of a tomb of an Egyptian Nubian viceroy (the holy of holies displays sacred boats, the king offering bread and other foods; however, an extensive amount of wall has been stolen by tomb robbers through rough carving).

In the mid-6th century BC, Meroe in Sudan became the central city of the ancient Nubian Cushite dynasty, the 'Black Pharaohs', who ruled some 2,500 years ago in the area from Aswan in southern Egypt to present-day Khartoum. The Nubians were at times both rivals and allies of the ancient Egyptians and adopted many of their northern neighbors' practices, including burying members of the royal family in pyramid tombs.

Today, Nubians want to stay put in Nubia, integrating as much as they can, for as long as they want into the UNESCO heritage sites.

Egypt government forcing Nubian local villages out of their UNESCO World Heritage Site locations

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