Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January

Ahram Weekly

Trouble on Al-Qursaya

With dozens of Al-Qursaya Island residents facing military trial, the army is insisting that it will not give up its property, writes Amirah Ibrahim

Al-Ahram Weekly

Twenty-six civilians are facing military trial on charges of damaging army property at Al-Qursaya Island near Giza during last November’s clashes, with activists defending them insisting that civilians should no longer face military trial.
The dispute over the property on the island, originally owned by the army, started following the 25 January Revolution when a number of families moved to occupy the army facilities, claiming the island was theirs.
The move came at a critical time when the military was busy keeping order and replacing the police, which had collapsed in the revolution. Soon after the army’s mission ended, it returned to Al-Qursaya Island and attempted to regain its property.
A violent confrontation broke out last November, when military police arrested 26 civilians who refused to leave military land and fired at the soldiers. One fisherman was shot dead during the confrontation by one of the residents, according to a report.
The troops then moved to forcibly evict the occupiers, seizing the land and arresting those found on it. These were later charged with assaulting members of the military and damaging army property, and their trials started on 2 December. The Military Court will give the final verdict on 28 January.
Al-Qursaya Island appeared following the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, and it is one of several islands that appeared at the same time, including the Abul-Dahab Island.
Over the years, the value of the land has increased, causing some to make fortunes investing in the island and allegedly giving residents little money for their land. The army moved to the island in 2007, seizing 25 feddans of land.
In 2010, the dispute was settled with the army staking legal ownership of almost 10 per cent of the land on Al-Qursaya Island. This remained the case until the 25 January Revolution.
“The army sent its troops back to barracks six months ago, following the election of the new president. Yet, this does not seem to be enough for those who insist on seeing the military as some kind of bogeyman,” said Colonel Ahmed Ali, an Armed Forces spokesman.
“Perhaps these people are encouraged by the fact that the army will not use force against civilians. However, in cases of violations of army units or personnel, those accused will face the law,” he said.
“It is not possible to claim ignorance of a law that stipulates that violence against the army, or its facilities and buildings, is to be tried in front of a military tribunal. This is stipulated in civilian law, and the new constitution has ratified it.”
Ali said that the Armed Forces were the registered owners of the land.
In the heated political atmosphere before the forthcoming parliamentary elections, a number of political movements and parties are expected to join the debate, some of them taking the side of the residents to achieve electoral gains.
Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, head of the Strong Egypt Party, said that holding military trials under a civilian president was a “disgrace” and stressed his party’s support for the island’s residents.
The Public Stream Coalition and the 6 April Movement also announced their backing of the Al-Qursaya residents, organising events on the island to protest against the military trials.
“Our island will remain ours. There are some 5,000 residents, and they will not give up their right to their land,” said Mohamed Ablah, an artist who lives on Al-Qursaya.
“Businessmen want to take the land and build concrete towers, restaurants and spas for the rich on it. But we will not allow them to do so,” Ablah said.
Ablah agreed that the military owned part of the Island. “This part must be fixed. The people of Al-Qursaya must know where the military land begins and where it ends,” he added.
According to a military spokesman, army troops have been on Al-Qursaya for years and have never attempted to evacuate the residents from the land they occupied.
“Why would the army want to do this now,” Ali asked. “The troops use this island for strategic purposes, as was the case during the state of unrest following the 25 January Revolution when the military used the river to transfer equipment due to problems on the main roads.”
During the transitional period following the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak, almost 2,000 civilians were convicted in trials in front of military courts out of 12,000 brought to military trial.
Most of those tried were charged with crimes that could not be tried by civilian courts, or were charged with assaulting army units or troops.

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