Monday, June 15, 2009

Death of a village

Times Online, UK (James Hilder)

Just outside the Valley of the Kings a set of ancient tombs has created a very modern controversy.

Western archaeologists accuse the Egyptian Government of forcibly displacing thousands of people from a unique local community to open up the site as a new tourist attraction, while the authorities say that the villagers have damaged tombs and stolen mummies.

The village of Qurna, on the outskirts of Luxor, arose more than a century ago when farmers on the banks of the Nile fled seasonal flooding and moved into the shelter of pharaonic tombs that dot the rocky bluffs above the river. People built elaborate houses of mud brick and wood around the caves and, with the advent of tourism, made a living showing visitors their in-house tombs and selling souvenirs.

But five years ago President Mubarak decided that Luxor was becoming a slum, overrun with hawkers and unauthorised buildings that were obscuring and damaging its ancient treasures. He appointed a former army general, Samir Farrag, to clean up Luxor.

“One of the first orders of the President was to transfer the people of Qurna,” said General Farrag, now the city’s governor. So arose the village of New Qurna, a grid of pink and cream concrete terraces farther into the desert, lacking the character of its predecessor but provided with running water, a post office, schools and sewerage for the 3,000 families moved there.

Most families did not go willingly and they complain that the tiny modern houses have broken up traditional, sprawling households and squeezed them into stifling boxes with facilities scarcely better than those of their former primitive homes. “They just wanted us out. There’s no benefit for us to be here,” said Umm Mohammed Tayyeb, a mother of six, who complained that the water ran so infrequently that she had resorted to storing it in large earthenware urns, as she had done in the old village.

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