In a ceremony this week 11,500 Egyptian Nubians who had not previously been compensated for losses incurred due to the construction of the High Dam were awarded reparations.
Tens of thousands of Nubians were displaced as the result of the construction of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902, the heightening of this dam in 1912 and 1933, and the construction of the Aswan High Dam between 1959 and 1971.
The ceremony was the culmination of a process set in motion in 2017 when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued instructions to the government.
The first compensation committee, established in the 1960s, determined that the filling of the High Dam had affected 55,000 people living in 38 villages and a town in a 320km area extending between the dam and the Sudanese border. Most Egyptian Nubians were resettled between Daraw and Kom Ombo. The area was later named the Nasr Al-Nuba District.
In the 80 years since the heightening of the Low Dam and the half century since the inauguration of the High Dam 11,500 people were added to the list of those eligible for compensation. Most were heirs of the original beneficiaries.
People who lost their homes as a consequence of the displacement were given a choice between ownership of a government housing unit or LE250,000 in cash.
Those who lost agricultural land were eligible for an equivalent amount of land in Khor Qandi or Wadi Al-Amal,or LE 25,000 in cash per feddan.
“Even though the compensation is late it is better than before when large numbers of Nubians were deprived of reparation for their losses,” said Nubian activist Mosad Abdel-Hamid. He noted that only 20 per cent of those eligible for agricultural land chose to take up the option even though agriculture is “the Nubians’ original occupation”. He attributed this to the transformation of Egyptian society over the past century, not least the massive rural to urban migration. Today 54 per cent of Egyptians live in cities.
“The majority of the new generations of Nubians have never engaged in agriculture because they never owned land. If they’d remained in villages things might have been different. Nubians are no longer part of a rural agricultural society, as was the case before the High Dam.”
Government housing units also proved to be a far from popular mode of compensation.
“The majority of Nubians already have homes and own what they need to own,” explained Abdel-Hamid. The preference for monetary compensation, he added, “reflects the mounting costs of living and a desire to have the cash to either meet these costs or start up a small enterprise.”
According to the reparations committee established in accordance with the presidential decree, half of the 11,500 eligible for compensation have already applied.
According to the commission’s report, published in the official gazette, 2,000 beneficiaries received material compensation in the form of title to the property on which they reside and a further 200 were granted usufructuary rights to the land on which they live. Deeds to social housing units were awarded to almost 200 individuals and 2,000 were awarded ownership of agricultural land totalling 2,909 acres in Khor Qandi and almost 500 got land in Wadi Al-Amal.
Monetary compensation totalling LE302 million was between 1,600 beneficiaries.
Applicants who did not designate a specific form of compensation will receive cash payments.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 2,500 of those eligible for compensation have completed the necessary documents and submitted powers of attorney or certificates of inheritance and will receive their entitlements immediately. The remainder have been asked to complete the necessary paperwork.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.