Sehman Osman is a member of the Nubian indigenous group, which has lived along the Nile River in southern Egypt and northern Sudan for thousands of years. At their peak, the Nubians ruled over an ancient empire encompassing all of present-day Egypt and beyond. But today, the group has seen the loss of their rich history’s relics and suffered increased discrimination.
Starting in the 1960s, Nubians were relocated to make room for the mega-dams that flooded their lands. In some cases, they were moved inland, to barren regions far from the river so central to their culture and history. Following these relocations, they found themselves increasingly marginalized—politically, socially and economically.
The mass displacement has particularly affected women according to Seham Osman, a member of the Nubian Southern Free Women Foundation. Seham has been at the forefront of the struggle for land rights and has argued that women’s rights must be central to the struggle for return.
Following the country’s revolution in 2011, Nubians found an opportunity to finally gain recognition. In 2014, Haggag Oddoul, a respected Nubian novelist, helped to rewrite the country’s constitution to include official recognition of the Nubian homeland and an article that Nubians have a right to return to that land within 10 years.
The constitution also banned discrimination. But the words on paper did not lead to action, and Nubians continued to face discrimination. President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi waged a campaign against the group as he demarcated some of their ancestral lands as a military zone and made plans to handover the rest to an irrigation megaproject.
In September 2017, in Aswan, Seham took part in a peaceful protest calling for legislation guaranteeing the Nubian right to return to their homeland. The singing and music of the protestors—which was also active on Twitter and Facebook—were met by tanks.
For their participation in the protest, Sheam and more than 30 others were arrested and imprisoned for two months under harsh conditions.
They were only released after one of the protestors, the well-known Nubian philanthropist and advocate Gamal Sorour, died in detainment under suspicious circumstances.
Harassment against Seham and the others continues. Their court case was dragged on as the government continued to paint Nubians as instigators working against the country’s development. On 7 April 2019, a Court finally acquitted Seham and the other human rights defenders.
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