Monday, May 23, 2011

Petition to stop the destruction of the Lake Qarun Protected Area


Thanks to Per Storemyr for sending this to me - a petition for the protection of the priceless antiquities in the Lake Qarun area of the Faiyum depression, to the southwest of Cairo. The petition can be viewed and signed above. They also have a Facebook site called NO PORTO FAYOUM but I'm not on Facebook any more and I don't have the link. The petition is publicly supported by, amongst many others, Per Storemyr (Quarryscapes), Mindy Baha El Din (Secretary, Nature Conservation Egypt) and Cassandra Vivian (author of The Western Desert of Egypt).

Egyptian Government, Minister of Antiquities, Minister of Environment, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Governor Fayoum

In December 2010 Egypt’s Tourist Development Authority (TDA) sold 650 acres in the Lake Qarun Protected Area in Fayoum to the Amer Group, the Egyptian real estate developer responsible for the massive Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna tourist developments. The Amer Group paid a megre sum for this land (an annual fee of USD 0.01 per square metre). This is the first development of such huge proportions to be authorized in an Egyptian protected area.

Amer Group Chairman Mansour Amer is a former member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and reportedly has close ties to former president Hosni Mubarak. Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, many improper land deals have come under scrutiny. The former Minister of Tourism, Zuhair Garanah, is now serving a five-year prison sentence for corruption, and other government figures, prominent businessmen, and even the TDA itself, are currently under investigation.

Gebel Qatrani, where the development is to take place, is a desert area of outstanding natural beauty north of Lake Qarun. It has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals and remains critical to our understanding of mammalian--and human—evolution. Just last year, excavations there revealed the complete fossil remains of a prehistoric whale, new to science. In addition to its priceless fossil deposits, Gebel Qatrani is brimming with other prehistoric and pharaonic treasures, including the world’s most ancient paved road.

Porto Fayoum and other planned tourism developments in this area will also destroy bird habitats around Lake Qarun, which is a BirdLife International Important Bird Area (IBA).

The head of the Ministry of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass sanctioned the building in this area, despite its cultural, scientific and global importance. The former Governor of Fayoum supported the project against recommendations of experts and donors. Officials at Egypt’s Ministry of Environment opposed the developments, but were unable to stop the tourism projects, including the half-completed asphalt road around the lake.

If it goes ahead, Porto Fayoum will wreak untold destruction to this priceless natural and cultural heritage site, valuable to Fayoum, Egypt and the world.

Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) and the signatories of this petition are calling on the Egyptian government to:

1) Rescind this illicit land deal and return this land to the Egyptian people.

2) Abolish all TDA jurisdiction in the Lake Qarun Protected Area and return the land to the Ministry of Environment’s Nature Conservation Sector, responsible for Egypt’s Protected Areas.

3) Declare the northern part of Lake Qarun Egypt's to be first UNESCO Geopark.

4) Take steps to protect this area’s rich natural and cultural heritage by developing the Geopark’s management and infrastructure, turning it into a genuine ecotourism attraction for Fayoum oasis and Egypt.

5) Undertake the necessary measures and procedures to declare the Gebel Qatrani Geopark as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to bring recognition to this area of global importance.

Zahi Hawass has responded to it on his website

It has come to my attention that an organization called Nature Conservation Egypt is circulating a petition about Lake Qarun in the Fayum, implicating me in a real estate project that threatens this site:

Please be aware that much of what I have seen written about this issue is not true. The Amer Group did not take the site and did not build anything there.

Three years ago the Minister of Tourism decided to sell the site of Lake Qarun, which is government property, to the Amer Group to use for touristic purposes. I strongly objected to the project from the beginning because I know that this is an archaeologically rich area.

After a long discussion, my Ministry, the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA, then known as the Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA]), the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Culture all agreed that an archaeological impact assessment of the site should be undertaken first to judge whether this tourism project should be allowed or not.

It has been covered by bikyamasr too:

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass lashed out against a conservation organization in a blog post after he was accused of allowing state-owned property protected under international agreements to be sold for development by major developers.

Former President Hosni Mubarak’s government sold Amer Group the land on Lake Qarun for only $28,000 ($.01 per square meter), according to Egypt’s American Chamber of Commerce.

A former member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party reportedly has close ties to Mubarak and former Minister of Tourism Zuhair Garanah – who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for corruption – was the person who purchased the land at extremely low prices.

This and other tourism projects planned for a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land along the northern part of Lake Qarun, 100 kilometers southwest of Cairo, will undoubtedly wreak untold damage to this unspoiled, scenic desert area, known as Gebel Qatrani.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

The petitioners clearly state that 'The head of the Ministry of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, sanctioned the building in this area, despite its cultural, scientific and global importance.' The Minister says he always strongly opposed it, but does not supply many details of this 'opposition'. The whole building scheme is a scandal, and , if allowed to go ahead, would set an extremely dangerous precedent.
Obviously, either someone is lying, or the petitioners have been misinformed. It would be great if for once we could have some documentary evidence to clarify one way or another this new controversy surrounding the Minister.