Nubian activists were peacefully demonstrating in Aswan for their rights on Sunday September 3rd when the police responded by arresting 24 of them. The Nubians, citing Article 263 in the current constitution, which provides for the return of lands in Southern Egypt to them, held widely-publicized protests for their rights last November, but the government is loath to fulfill its promises to the people. The same issues remain unresolved today.

According to a report in the Middle East Monitor (MEM), the protesters in the demonstration last week sang folk songs that described conditions in Nubian resettlement communities after they were forcibly exiled from their former villages along the Nile. Their communities and most of Old Nubia were destroyed by the completion of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s.

The Aswan government building, torched by Nubian demonstrators, September 2011
The Aswan government building, torched by Nubian demonstrators, September 2011 (Photo on the Egyptian Chronicles blog, Creative Commons license)

The demonstrators last week were planning to go to the Midan Al-Mahatta, a park, where they expected to protest in front of the Aswan government building. The same government building had been set on fire by Nubian demonstrators during a protest in September 2011. Instead, according to a statement by Siham Othman to the online news service Masr Al-Arabiya and quoted by MEM, they were surrounded by police forces that prevented them from entering the park.

Another activist, Tarek Yahia, reported that they then went to another location and held up banners reading “Nubian identity, the implementation of the constitution.” Police forces surrounded the demonstrators, got into physical confrontations, and leveled their guns at them. They then deleted videos and pictures of the protest from the cameras of the demonstrators in order to eliminate, Yahia alleged, evidence that the protest had been peaceful.

Nubian kids in Aswan
Nubian kids in Aswan (Photo by Eve Fouché in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Yahia went on to say that the 24 who were arrested Sunday night were held in an Aswan jail overnight. They were then questioned on Monday morning by prosecutors without having any access to lawyers. The Nubians were then ordered to be detained for four days for such crimes as disrupting public security, possession of flyers, inciting protests, protesting without permission, and receiving funds from foreign sources.

On Tuesday, the demonstrators obtained a lawyer, Mustafa El-Hassan, who told the government-owned news service Ahram Online that this was the first confrontation between Nubians and security forces since the demonstration last November. The lawyer works at the Hisham Mubarak human rights law center. El-Hassan added that the basic demand of the protesters is that article 263 of the constitution must be implemented. It states that the government should work to return the Nubians to their original lands in Southern Egypt within 10 years.

The Corniche in Aswan
The Corniche in Aswan (Photo by Marc Ryckaert in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Another news service reported that security forces intercepted the marchers at a place known as the Corniche of the Nile and arrested several prominent Nubian leaders among the 24, including Mounir Bashir, President of the Nubian Lawyers Association. Mohamed Azmy, the former president of the Nubian General Union in Aswan, was also arrested. Tight security measures were imposed around the Aswan government building and the Dorrat al-Nil park, where the protesters were trying to assemble. Security people told the news service that the participants had not obtained the proper permits for their demonstration.

A brief news story by the Associated Press on Wednesday September 6 indicated that a judge in Aswan that day had authorized the continued detention of the protesters for another week, until September 13, when he plans to review their case.