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Gamal Mubarak, a powerful young Egyptian politician, traveled to the Aswan area last week to address some of the concerns of the Nubian people about the government’s intentions toward them. The second son of aging Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Gamal is head of the Policies Committee of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The younger Mubarak, 46, is widely seen as being groomed to succeed his father, perhaps in national parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

The point of his visit was to renew promises made earlier to the Nubians, that people displaced from their homes along the Nile River would be allowed to return to the shores of Lake Nasser, which inundated the river valley when the Aswan Dam was closed in the 1960s. The reservoir destroyed 44 Nubian villages.

Mubarak visited the Nubian village of Aniba accompanied by the ministers of Agriculture, Water and Irrigation, and Housing. The officials made many promises. The Housing Minister, Ahmed El-Maghraby, promised that 2,000 new housing units would be completed within 24 months and made available to Nubian people. The Minister of Agriculture promised that 10,000 acres of agricultural land located along Lake Nasser would be given to the Nubians, with efficient irrigation facilities provided. The ministers promised that no one would be compelled to move to the new villages, but whoever did want to return to the shores of the lake could do so.

The Nubians have heard government promises before and were apparently critical of them. Manal El-Tibi, head of the Egyptian Organization for Housing Rights, strongly criticized the government for its policy of granting an acre of land to Nubian farmers, five acres to Arab Egyptians from the northern part of the country, and thousands of acres to land speculators.

Abdullah Abdel Fatah, a Nubian who is secretary general of Al-Tagammu Party in Aswan, said people who have been dispossessed of their land have a natural right to a replacement. That right is guaranteed by international legal charters, he said. When events force them to leave their land, they have the right to return as soon as conditions permit. He added, “the current Nubian villages are over-crowded; we are in desperate need of new residential areas to provide homes for the growing population.”

Local Nubian representatives also described their problems to the visitors. Their impoverished communities need improved infrastructures and better public services. People who live in the Nubian village of Nasr El-Nuba, located in the city of Kom Ombo, north of Aswan, also want to have their political representation changed. They would like to be represented by Nasr El-Nuba itself, as a separate political entity from Kom Ombo.

In addition to pressing for the construction of new villages around the lake, the Nubians asked the government to complete a planned highway linking Aswan to the border with Sudan, to modernize an irrigation system, to construct a sugar factory, and to improve a hospital in Nasr El-Nuba.

Mubarak and the ministers that accompanied him also spoke at a meeting in Aswan City during their visit to Upper Egypt. At that meeting, Mubarak promised that the government would study the Nubian demands for an electoral constituency of their own. But he was less positive in his comments than in the village. “It isn’t possible for the Nubians to return to the banks of Lake Nasser,” he said in Aswan. The lake is in a strategic location in the country, on the southern border, which must be protected. Nubians, however, were free to go to other areas in the Abu Simbel region, to the north of the sensitive border zone, he said. “The development of our border areas is being carried out very carefully,” he added.

He asked the Nubian leaders invited to the Aswan meeting to “accept the status quo” by approving the new housing units that are already under construction around the lake. Various Nubian leaders in Aswan requested the government to renovate an irrigation station, which has not been maintained in seven years, to grant free lands to Nubians, and to fix problems that a local paper mill is experiencing.

The Minister of Agriculture denied the allegation that land had been deeded to wealthy speculators. He promised that lands would be donated to small farming projects instead.

Overall, press reports suggest that the Nubians have heard the promises before and they are quite skeptical that much will happen. The Nubian Movement for Change issued a statement asking what had happened to all the earlier pleas that had been sent to the government. “Gamal Mubarak is in [ Nubia] pretending to offer solutions to the Nubian crisis,” according to the statement, “but we all know that his real motive is to please all parties to pave the way to the crime of succession.” The group expressed its hostility to the son as well as to the President, and concluded, in reference to the younger Mubarak, “you are not welcome [here].”

The Committee for Nubian Change expressed its view that the visit was a flop. According to Hani Youssef, a member of that group, the visit “didn’t provide the people with anything new. It was little more than propaganda for upcoming presidential elections.”

The meeting in Aswan was carefully controlled by the government. Only 120 hand-picked local leaders and journalists from the state-run media were allowed to attend the gathering.