Egypt armed forces 'won't give up inch of military land': Army source

Ahram Online, Sunday 20 Jan 2013

Controversy continues to rage over Cairo's tiny Qursaya Island, ownership of which is claimed by both local residents and Egypt's military

Military sources have confirmed that Egypt's armed forces "will not give up a single inch of land" that belongs to the military, whether it is situated on the nation's borders or in Cairo and the governorates.

Qursaya, a small island in Cairo's Giza district, is among the lands claimed by the military. In an 18 November statement posted on Facebook, Egyptian military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Ali declared that the land in question was the property of the armed forces, which needed it for military exercises aimed at "securing the capital."

In November, 25 island inhabitants were detained by authorities for resisting efforts by military police to evict them. Despite a 2010 court verdict overruling previous eviction orders and recognising the inhabitants' right to live and work on the island, the armed forces claimed the island as military property.

Egypt's 'No to Military Trials for Civilians' campaign, along with other political movements, has continued to advocate in support of the local inhabitants' right to the island.

Twenty-one of the civilians detained during November's clashes were said to have told a military court that they had not originally been residents of the island; rather, they had reportedly said, they had been paid by businessmen to resist military personnel in order to justify the evacuation of the island.

The Qursaya land feud dates back to 2007, when the Mubarak regime attempted to force locals off the island in order to resell the land to Egyptian businessmen for tourism development. The government at the time attempted to evacuate residents forcibly using police and army forces.

An anonymous military source has told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website that the island was "of critical strategic importance" to Egypt's military and was vital to the protection of greater Cairo. The source went on to say that the armed forces had not expelled a single resident of the island since their appearance in 2007.

The source also alleged that military land was being commandeered by citizens who had taken advantage of Egypt's chaotic and politically turbulent post-revolution climate. He went on to stress that the military used only 25 feddans of the island's 139 feddans (1 feddan is roughly equivalent to one acre of land), which was primarily agricultural in nature and had few residents.

Officially, the island is home to less than 100 civilian inhabitants.

Following the November clashes, Egyptian Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi formally honoured three military men injured in the melee.

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