To most Egyptians, the sight of members of the army in confrontation with civilians is rather unusual (until recent events). However, residents of Qorsaya Island had their encounter with the army back in 2007 when it was used by the government to protect bulldozers and intimidate residents of the island. The government wanted to forcibly evict the rural community inhabiting the island in order to open it for development (some speculations regarding the kind of development range from five star resort, golf course to high-end residential units) all of which have no relationship to this community. The army has been used to protect and back private interests for much longer than most Egyptians realize, it is only becoming clearer in “post-Mubarak” Egypt. The video below is from 2007.
Decades-old fishing and construction licenses and over 25,000 documents issued by various official bodies acknowledging the presence of the islanders on El-Qorsaya, islanders claim, belie government claims that they do not have the right to be on the land, and that they may legitimately be remove from their homes.
Entirely self-sufficient, island residents say that they had personally provided infrastructure services such as electricity, by buying two generators from the government.
Islanders feel that their way of life is being sacrificed for corporate interests.
“The government left these people for years without services and they provided for themselves. The island was worthless to the government for all these years and now suddenly it’s become priceless,” said Abla during the meeting.
He added that El-Qorsaya is a microcosm of the situation in Egypt as a whole.
“Cairo needs greenery no matter how small. The government doesn’t care about Cairo or the people. It must learn how to deal with its people, it cannot just treat them as if they don’t exist or else all of Egypt will be up next.”
The community of 1000 fishermen and 4000 farmers have been living on the island for generations. It is a self sufficient community that farms and fishes for its own food. Inhabitants are content to live a basic rural way of life in the midst an overcrowded, congested city.
Qorsaya Island is located near the west bank of the Nile just south of Roda Island (the earliest island to be urbanized in Cairo). Qorsaya is halfway between Mar Girgis metro station on the eastern bank and Giza train station on the western bank. Its central location makes it prime for speculation and real estate. Moreover, government policies have made agricultural land worth at least ten-fold if the same land was to be urbanized. The southern tip of the Island has been home to a tourist attraction called “The Pharaonic Village” since 1984.
The Cairo2050 Plan includes development components for the island along with Dahab Island further south. Needless to say Cairo2050 has nothing to do with the people of the city and everything to do with corporate interests and neoliberal developments that aim to transform the country into a cash cow for a network of few businessmen with little positive effect on society at large.
The fate of Qorsaya Island and the community that lives on it is still uncertain. Below is the first part of a 52-minute documentary film “al-Qorsaya” directed by Nawara Murad. For more information in Arabic, click here.
UPDATE November 18, 2012: Military and security forces stormed the island during the early hours of November 18, burned fields and when the farmers defended themselves at least two have been reported dead and 10 injured. It is known since the 2007 attacks that investors, Egyptian and Saudi, have been wanting to confiscate the island and turn it from a productive farming community to an exclusive tourist complex. Link to report of today’s deaths, click here.
Despite the Giza Governorate denial of any connection to the attack on the island, its official website features a plan for the redevelopment of the island. The community has not been consulted regarding these plans.
UPDATE December 2, 2012: Below is a video by Mosireen showing testimonies by residents of Qursaya. Today 26 residents of Qursaya who were arrested during the military attack on the island stand trial at a military court.