Quorsaya residents and army trade blame for violence on Island

Zeinab El Gundy and Randa Ali, Monday 19 Nov 2012

Ahram Online visits Quorsaya Island following fierce disputes between residents and the army which have left 2 dead and 25 in military detention

The disputed land on Quorsaya Island (Photo: Zeinab El Gundy)

Peace was disturbed, once again, on the Quorsaya island close to the centre of Cairo, where thousands of families make their living on the shores of the Nile fishing and farming, when, on Sunday morning, a dispute over land between the residents and the amy turned violent.

The clashes which lasted for hours, and spilled into the Corniche road in the Giza part of the greater Cairo metropolitan area, left two of the residents dead, 25 arrested by the military, and several missing.

At the entrance to the disputed land, Ahram Online reporters saw a house with smashed windows and doors.

Locals told Ahram Online that the house was owned by a man called Ahmed Badawy, and that army soldiers had smashed the glass during the recent clashes.

"Badawy is a designer; he is a very generous man," a resident said.

He later interrupted the interview to ask his young sons to get inside their house "or else they could be shot by the army."

Conflicting stories, accounts

"The soldiers attacked us with electric shock batons while officers opened fire on us. They attacked us suddenly and did not differentiate between men and women," an angry resident, sitting outside the ferry port on Quorsaya Island, told Ahram Online.

The man’s testimony was echoed by many, including Arafa Saber, another resident of the island who lost his cousin, 23-year-old Mohamed Abdel-Mawgoud, during the attack.

"My cousin was shot twice; once before he jumped into the water and then once more when he was in the water. He was supposed to get married next month."

"There are still bodies in the water that we failed to save; there is a 12-year-old child now lying in the morgue and another 14-year-old still missing," Saber added.

According to Saber, the land in dispute between the residents and the army long before the January 25 Revolution. However, in 2007 the residents of Quorsaya won a court verdict that granted them ownership of the land.

Army sources told the story rather differently.

On Sunday Colonel Ahmed Ali, the official spokesperson of the Egyptian armed forces, issued an official statement saying that the disputed land was owned by the army and has been registered at the notary's office since 12 July, 2010. The army statement also says that residents opened fire on army soldiers, leading the soldiers to defend themselves.

"They claimed we attacked the soldiers. How is that possible? What can I do in the face of two thousand soldiers?" said a fisherman from the island, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The fisherman claimed that during the attack, the army destroyed cattle and ruined boats, as well as arresting 25 residents.

"They claim this is an army? An army is supposed to protect the country!" he added.

According to some locals, four feddans of land (approximately 4.152 acres) was controlled by the army around 15 years ago and used for naval training, but the army later left and as a result a number of people moved onto the land and set up their own tents.

"Suddenly the army came last Friday and demanded that they leave," the fisherman said.

"The army officers told them to show the papers that prove their ownership, giving them 48 hours, but instead of waiting they attacked them suddenly on Sunday, although the 48 hours had not expired," a young man in his 20s told Ahram Online.

While most residents gave Ahram Online a similar account of how the attack started, one lady, who abstained from mentioning her name, had something different to say.

"The people of the island are the ones who attacked the army first at night," she said adding that drugs were later found on arrested residents.

"The army had protected us and told us 'don’t be scared of anything,'" she said.

Her daughter furiously interrupted her testimony, and stressed that it was the army who attacked the residents.

"Was it the young children who died who attacked the army? The army could have talked to the people instead of firing at them," her daughter said.

According to human rights activists and lawyers, the 25 detainees from among the island's residents have been transported to a military prison. They are currently accused of attacking army personnel and army property - charges that may mean they are subjected to a military trial, according to Egyptian law.

Residents of the island are still searching for the five missing men who reportedly jumped in to the Nile River in an attempt to escape from the soldiers.

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