Long Road to Recognition for Egypt’s Nubians

Egypt has long  denied the existence of any minorities, despite being home to both ethnic and religious minorities. Nubians and other groups, such as Amazigh, have long been marginalized and suffered from exclusion and oppression. The 2011 Egyptian Revolution and the fall of President Mubarak ignited demands for the Egyptian government to recognize minority rights, and provided a unique opportunity for Egypt’s Nubian community to mobilize. While the 2012 Constitution proved to be a setback, the 2014 Constitution is the first legal instrument in Egypt to explicitly acknowledge minority rights. For Egypt’s Nubian community, it represents an important milestone.

Nubians have inhabited villages along the banks of the Nile for thousands of years. Here, they retained their own distinct language, customs and culture. Following the Condominium Agreement of 1899, which solidified the boundary between Egypt and Sudan, this group was arbitrarily divided between the two countries. Approximately half of the Nubians were forced under direct Egyptian rule. The industrialization of Egypt during the early 20th century, when a series of dams were built by the British colonial powers along the Nile, effectively uprooted the Nubian population. In the 1950s, President Nasser initiated the Aswan High Dam project, which virtually flooded all of Old Nubia, today found under Lake Nasser. In 1963, Egyptian authorities began a program of forced resettlement of approximately 50,000 Nubians from some 45 villages to new, purpose-built communities in southern Egypt. Little care was taken to safeguard the culture and traditions of the Nubian people, housing soon proved inadequate, and schools taught exclusively in Arabic. Dissatisfied with their new living conditions, a large proportion migrated to other parts of Egypt. Continue reading