Abdullah Mahmoud interview
- Mahmoud, Abdullah
Abdullah Mahmoud, 50 years of age, former resident of the Qurna Hillside, describes his experience with forced migration and relocation to an urban project as part of the Mar’a village [named after one of the village’s famous sheikhs] of the Qurna Hillside, Luxor, whose primitively built mud houses were destroyed and the land restored for investment and access to archeological sites. Abdullah’s family was one of many forced to evacuate to newly built apartments, and with the promise of acquiring a plot of land in the village after the houses have been removed. This took the form of a governmental agreement that mixed promises with threats, and Abdullah explains that the official [of a military rank] responsible for the “Hassan Fathy” project made the option of relocating to the new apartments much more appealing, seeing that they were going to be kicked out either ways, so they might as well take a benefit package. The negotiations were held between this official and representatives from each family that he had selected, and of whom Abdullah was one. Recollecting his village, he explains the layout as including a series of houses in long lines at the end of which there was either a cemetery or a cave. The idea of a forced migration was part of the village’s collective memory, as they were reminded, since they were children of the decision to build a new urban project to house them, in replacement for the Mar’a village which was to be demolished. They were therefore always conscious of that fact-in-the-making, a form of heritage, which only began to feel more and more real by the beginning of the 2000s. This new project was supposed to be dedicated to the inhabitants, the locals of Qurna, to replace their old homes. This however has not been a smooth transition, as the inhabitants themselves were reluctant to leave, and so the new project became occupied mostly by traders, foreigners, and only a small percentage of the inhabitants. Eventually a lot of dealings were made, and so some inhabitants earned more promise of land and apartment than others, in a manner disproportionate to their family size, while others had to move in with other families since they were not given any apartments. No one however, received the promised areas of land, which, as government contracts, they could not manage in any way. In fact they could not even make changes to the apartments to which they were moved, such as installing sanitation and running water and adding rooms, because it was not their property and security guards lived with them in the project and observed such attempts, preventing them, or overlooking them if they were paid in return for their silence. Comparing the evacuation experience to literary depictions of war, he recollects the image of people hurrying and scattering to gather their belongings as the bulldozers moved in to demolish all houses. The change brought about by this move has affected the essence of the village, which was much more safe, open, solidaristic and communal. With the urban move to the new apartment project, a new understanding of security meant installing locks and keys. Abdullah, unlike the rest of his community, view the move favourably. In his opinion they could not have stayed villagers forever, and the project provided them with better built apartments - even if they have to pay for their own water and electricity - education etc. the result was a movement to a more civilized and humane urban arrangement, a project with better infrastructure. Paralleling the question of communal belonging and solidarity, he casually comments on the sense of spirituality in the village, that the area was blessed, and how he is less spiritual than the rest, who either partake in Sufist rituals, or believe in an intermediary between them and God in the form of Walis and Sheikhs. He rejects this, and notes that women are generally more spiritual, while there are no other rituals, especially Pharaonic ones given that the villagers’ origin are probably from the Arabian Peninsula, not ancient Egypt, and the only present religions are Islam and Christianity. Of this arrangement he says they always lived in accord, with no religious strife featuring in the history of the village. He notes that during the revolution (Jan 25th) there were rumours that the churches will be attacked, and Muslims created human chains to protect it, but the rumours were never actualized. He however notes that despite the supposed equality, it is more difficult to tear down a church than it is to tear down a mosque. Speaking of tourism, he identifies it as a source of lucrative and unexpected income, that many households were sustained by their children gaining from the sector, and how incidents like that of Hatshepsut of 1997 suddenly cut that source of income. It also increased securitisation which restricted their movement, as they were no longer allowed to stroll up the previously accessible hillside. Speculating as to the purpose behind the project and the decision to relocate them, he says the majority believe the government cleared up land for better access to the artifacts they could then “steal”, meaning to sell to foreigners for profit. He however believes it was done to improve the tourist attraction to increase the source of income, and it posed the question of security and protection: protecting the area from thieves, and the role the inhabitants can and should play to protect the area. He however does not deny the implication of senior state officials in illicit trafficking, whether or not evidence is presented. As for his home, he explains that the government began to demolish the village, but by the time NGOs intervened to appeal for its preservation or cultural heritage purposes, only the houses on the façade had been untouched.
- Qurna Hillside Oral History Project; Rare Books and Special Collections Library; The American University in Cairo
- Al Qurnah, Egypt
- Copyright 2017, American University in Cairo. All rights reserved.
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- oral histories (document genres)
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- American University in Cairo
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- American University in Cairo