Egypt's popular uprising may have arrived just in time to save a Neolithic site that holds the country's oldest evidence of agriculture and could yield vital clues to the rise of Pharaonic civilisation.
The site lies in a protected nature reserve along the shore north of Lake Qarun that until recently had remained virtually untouched, even though it lies only 70 km from Cairo, Egypt's fast-expanding capital.
A month before the protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak erupted in January, the Egyptian government carved 2.8 square kilometres of prime land from the reserve and awarded it to property developer Amer Group for a tourist resort.
Since Mubarak was ousted, three government ministers who sat on a committee that approved the sale have been jailed while they battle corruption charges not related to the Amer deal.
One of them, Housing Minister Ahmed el-Maghrabi, told Reuters in January that archaeology officials had given the re-development the necessary green light.
Egypt's archaeology chief now says that was untrue.
Al Masry Al Youm (Louise Sarant)
Last December, the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) allocated large chunks of land located in the North of Lake Qarun Protected Area to the real estate developer Amer Group.
The North of Lake Qarun area has been a protected prea since the 1980s, and its boundaries have expanded gradually to include Gebel Qattrani, a desert filled with archaeological and geological treasures. The site has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A group of environmental activists recently launched a Facebook campaign to alert the community of Amer Group’s potentially devastating development plans. After building “Porto Marina” over the site of an ancient Greco-Roman Port on the North Coast in 2005, the group built its second monumental resort on the once pristine Red Sea coast, “Porto Sokhna.”
Environmentalists are worried the company may develop a similar resort on the lake’s shores, thus endangering the archaeological remains and violating laws that regulate protected areas. To have their voice heard, they launched a petition and created a Facebook group to stop any development project.