Today, a press conference took place to announce the outcomes of a voluntary fact-finding mission that was formed in February this year to investigate the violent dispersal of a sit-in by the Dab’ah (الضبعة) community on their land, also the designated site of a planned nuclear power plant; events dubbed by the mainstream media as the “Dab’ah Site Break-In”, painting the locals as unpatriotic vandals bent on destroying “Egypt’s nuclear dream” for their self-serving interests.
The press conference was organized to present the report findings, but also to give a voice to a very active community who has consistently been denied fair exposure by the mainstream media and by the remoteness of their location. But the highlight of the conference was the testimonies by the Dab’ah delegation (the Mayor, the President of the Dab’ah Community Coordination Committee, and its Media Liaison Officer), and their presentation of their struggle and activism.
The plight of the Dab’ah community dates back to 1981, when a presidential decree (by then-president Sadat) dispossessed them of their land and allocated it for the construction of a nuclear power plant. In the testimonies, the delegation members recounted how some of their elders were not too adamant to giving up their lands for the “greater good” of their country, as a token of their patriotism – often put to question on a racist basis of their indigenousness; and how they were promised fair compensation, decent employment opportunities, “flowing rivers” through their lands, and “apples ripe for picking from the orchards” that would grow in their backyard. Most of the community, however, was resistant to giving up their ancestral grounds.
They cut off the water supplies, then they stopped sending teachers and the schools closed, we survived even after they cut off the electricity and water.
Testimony of Umm AbdelRahman on the dispossession in 1981
But in all cases, consultation and participation were never part of the decision-making process: since 1981, the community has been, by the said presidential decree, denied any activity on the land of which it was dispossessed, including ownership and building, and denied access to its resources – land they have manually cleared of landmines at the cost of the limbs and lives of their youth over the years, land they use for growing fig and olive trees, and wheat and barley in the winter, land where their livestock grazes, wells drilled to satisfy their water needs, the sea where they fish and the beach of which is the natural and only recreational facility of the community.
Then in 2003, the Governor of Marsa Matrouh ordered the forced eviction of the Dab’ah people: 65 square kilometers of land were cleared, houses demolished, wells clogged and farmland destroyed – without any prior notice. The community was dislocated to Tribal Dab’ah (الضبعة القبلية) where, even there, they were denied ownership rights and new building permits, resulting in many families crowding in one house.
They came suddenly, without prior notice, they wouldn’t even allow us to salvage the tin roofs and wood to use them in building new homes.
Testimony of Umm AbdelRahman on the forced eviction in 2003
For thirty years, the Dab’ah people have braved continued violations against their community and either complete ignoration or unfair treatment and portrayal, and often criminalization, by the mainstream media; worth mentioning is that the project for which they have endured these violations shows no signs of serious implementation on the ground, save for an administrative building and a facility used exclusively by the Nuclear Power Authority employees as a summer retreat. The Dab’ah community has fought and resisted to reclaim their rights using formal channels, activism, and grassroots mobilization.
This post is mostly dedicated to shed light on the Dab’ah people – their resistance and activism. The fact-finding report details the violations of the rights of the Dab’ah people, both from a rights perspective and a legal standpoint, and concludes with important recommendations to correct the injustices against them, and also pertaining to policy and legislative reform to ensure the rights of (indigenous) communities in development planning, these will definitely be discussed in other posts. It also opens up the equally urgent debate about the viability of the Egyptian nuclear project – which will be treated extensively in upcoming posts.
The fact-finding mission was voluntarily formed by three organizations: Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network, and Egyptian Center for Civic and Legislative Reform, you can read the fact-finding mission report here.