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Villagers cling to "business, memories, heritage" By Pakinam Amer

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dpa German Press Agency
Published: Saturday December 2, 2006

By Pakinam Amer, Luxor- Proximity to the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of Luxor has put most Qarna villagers into the tourism business: sculpting, alabaster shops, selling ancient Egyptian replicas, renting bikes or hawking souvenirs. But as Luxor authorities decided to relocate families by the hundreds to a new community to protect the monuments on which the village was literally built more than 100 years old, unrest marred the peaceful village.

People seemed reluctant to leave - preferring their primitive village, lacking clean water and sewage, to the new, modern flats built for them.

The new city has service centres, a post office, a police station, a cultural centre, electricity, running water, sewage, a mosque, schools, gardens and a market.

But the presence of more services was of little interest to many, especially those from the younger generation. Some said that they hated leaving behind their 100-year-old homes - considered by some as family heritage, old and crumbling as they are.

Some the older people said that they were prepared to leave for living space with more amenities - even if it means losing some of their piece of the tourist business. Younger people in the community seem to focus their objections more on the business issues.

Some of the villagers say they have thriving small businesses that depend on the nearby tourist attractions.

Others say that their memories and emotional attachments are too strong to abandon the wide, two-storey and three-storey structures that have housed their families for generations.

The sons of Omm Fathy, who were born in Qarna, showed journalists around their two-storey house, which lies on top of a sealed tomb. The tomb was closed by the Antiquities Ministry around 40 years ago, and authorities have been checking on the site every month or so ever since.

"We are the guardians of this tomb. I am now, and my fathers and great-grandfathers were before me," said Omm Fathy.

Omm Fathy said that she should not be made to leave her home - unless she is given a house as large and allowed to take along all her belongings - frames with the family photos seemed extra special to Omm Fathy and her big family.

In one of Omm Fathy's rooms, the four walls are covered with framed photos: pictures of dead family members, movie stars and German Reich leaders, Egyptian presidents and even Sufi sheikhs were all lined side by side.

The rest of the walls that were not adorned with pictures were covered with drawings by family members.

"This room has all the memories. How can I leave this room?" asked Omm Fathy's eldest son. "We are afraid. What if they give us no compensation if we leave all this?"

The son deemed the room "a monument" in its own right, saying that he only wishes that the city authorities would at least let them take the pictures when they're forced to leave.

"We have been living here for a thousand years," said another resident, Alaa Ahmed, a local tour guide and one of al-Qarna's younger residents.

Ahmed's house is to be bulldozed, but he doubts that he will be given a new apartment as the city claims.

"We get water through pipes, not a problem, and we're used to living here. It is closer to our work," said Ahmed.

"I've been staying here for 35 years," one of Ahmed's relatives said. "I own my own antiquities shop just by my house."

Although cleaner and only several kilometres away, the new city was seen as "not fit" according to several people who said that they will not be forced to leave.

"I will sit in front on my house if the bulldozer comes to destroy my house," said 35-year-old Sabah, a single woman who now lives alone after her parents died earlier this year.

"I haven't seen anything. Not the apartments, not the contracts, nothing. They cannot force me out even if they come with their trucks."

She said that authorities had threatened to cut off electricity and water service if she refuses to leave. "There is no water system anyway," Sabah said, "so they can't cut if off."

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency