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Hundreds of Egyptian Nubians gathered outside the Ministry of Agriculture in Dokki Wednesday morning to protest against the sale of land which they claim is ancient Nubian property to private investors. At stake is hundreds of thousands of feddans around Lake Nasser in Upper Egypt.
“We have lived there for thousands of years. We might not have the paperwork, but it is understood that this is our land, and we will fight for it,” said Khaled Salah, a Nubian tour guide. “We are fed up with racial discrimination against us.”
Land disputes between the Nubian people and the Egyptian government stem from the forcible relocation of many Nubians during the construction of the High Dam of Aswan in the early 1960s.
Protests against Agriculture Minister Mohamed Reda Ismail’s decision to sell the land in question broke out earlier this month. Ismail initially responded to the protests by announcing that the deal would be cancelled.
But Nubians at Wednesday’s protest say that earlier this week, plain clothes police officers and baltageya (thugs) came to the land and beat the local residents, demanding that they leave the premises.
“We are not leaving without the deeds to our land or the departure of the minister. No more lies and false promises, we want our security,” said Hamdy Taher, another protester. “The old regime is still there and they prey on anybody who can’t fight back — but we can fight.”
Protesters demanded that the land sale deal be cancelled, and that the title deeds of the land be handed to them. A sit-in was formed with the aim of blocking off the ministry to prevent anybody leaving or entering.
Clashes broke out at around 2 pm when ministry staff attempted to sneak the minister out through the demonstration in into a nearby bus. Protesters attacked the bus, shouting, “Here is Reda Ismail, here is the thief!” Mirrors and windows were smashed.
Ismail then fled the bus, running down the street with hundreds of Nubians chasing after him, throwing rocks and shoes. He ran into an adjacent ministry building via a side gate, and the protesters were locked outside.
Within the next minutes, hundreds of pieces of paper bearing Ismail’s signature were thrown out of the windows of the ministry and into the crowd, saying that the deal had been cancelled.
“It’s more bullshit. We want certainty,” Salah responded.
Soon after, ministry staff grabbed a rowdy protester from the street, brought him inside the gate and proceeded to beat him inside the gate. Protesters broke through the gate and clashes broke out. Stones were thrown back and forth between the ministry’s staff and the protesters for an hour or so, smashing nearby cars and ministry windows. Faces were bloodied from blows inflicted by sticks and rocks.
Riot police and officers arrived and calmed the situation. Clashes stopped, but the sit-in outside the ministry continues.
“We are staying here until we get what we want, nobody is going in or out until we do,” said Salah.