Let's Map Qursaya

Posted by moftasa on 14 January 2013 in English (English)


The government has complete monopoly over data and information. There may be hope that this may change with the draft Freedom of Information law, but this is unlikely. National security concerns will always stand in the way of getting complete information.

You can buy from the Egyptian Survey Authority (ESA) maps of any area in Egypt in great detail, except areas deemed sensitive. For this, people are referred to the military survey authority, which can sell you the map or it can deny requests on a national security basis.

In the age of Google maps, buying printed maps is a hassle and there is a possibility that due to the land dispute between the people living on Qursaya and the Army, maps of the island may no longer be available. This is serious.

Qursaya is not very well known, it's a mostly rural area with one small hand operated boat for transporting passengers. The curious of the general public will most likely check it out on Google maps and they will find nothing. On Google maps, it's a featureless Island with no detail or labels, even though it has a population of almost 5000 with residential areas and farms. One may see this and ask, Why are activists making such a big deal? Even satellite photos aren't informative as they lack contextual information.

Journalists trying to explain the situation to the general public will not find maps that are easy to access and available for use on TV, web or print.

Qursaya on Google maps

I propose that we change this using OpenStreetMaps (OSM). One of the most brilliant collaborative projects online today. It aims to crowdsource the creation of a free world map. With an open license that allows everyone to use it. It's current coverage now is quite extensive. During the Haiti earthquake disaster, volunteers created a complete and accurate map of Port-au-Prince in two days.

So let's read the documentation or watch some videos and use the widely available online tools to get this done. You don't have to download anything. I learned the basics of map editing and it wasn't very difficult. Online tools such as Potlatch2 makes it very easy to trace Bing satellite imagery of Qursaya. In an hour's work I improved it's outline and added few features. Remember you are not allowed to trace Google's data or any commercial map. Bing gave OSM permission to trace its satellite imagery.

If you go to the island, turn on your phone GPS and record tracks and way points, this can add more detail and accuracy. If you live on Qursaya or you know someone there, it would be very useful to collect information on the different features of the island. It will be even very useful if we can trace ESA maps as well (public domain).

If anyone reading this has experience in editing OSM maps and the different tools used and is willing to give a small demonstration, please get in touch.

This was originally posted on my blog

Location: Masr Al-Qadima, Cairo, Cairo Governorate, 12541, Egypt

Comment from shenriod on 14 January 2013 at 08:26

Interesting post!

Have a look at the side-by-side comparison OSM / Google:

It looks like Google is starting to improve it as well. But still far behind OSM


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Comment from moftasa on 14 January 2013 at 09:42

Thanks Shenirod for the link. The island has been like that on Google for ages, I don't think it will change. Greatest thing about OSM is that it looked like Google only few days ago and now it has more details. Hopefully will get more people involved and properly map the island.


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Comment from Sanderd17 on 14 January 2013 at 23:05

Mapping isn't that hard. If you're dedicated, you can easily do a place of 5000 inhabitants on your own (if they are a bit concentrated that is).

My village is bigger than the island you showed, and I did it mostly on my own (even in the days without aerial images). Detailed to every single address.

You should first map the most important things: roads, paths and POI. Landuse looks nice. But satellite images offer the same filling of land.

With those roads, paths and POI, the names are also very important. Names make sure people are able to find stuff on the map.

Also, if you want to become a power editor, I suggest you look into the power tools. JOSM is a bit more complicated than Potlatch, but it works so much faster.

I wish you good luck. And be sure to promote OSM, even if not for your own island. It could still be handy when you want to travel somewhere ;)

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Comment from moftasa on 16 January 2013 at 15:44

Sanderd17, thanks for your comment. Yes it shouldn't be very difficult for someone living on the village, but I don't. What we are thinking now is that the best thing to do is to introduce OSM to some of the local activists living on the island. I've been there only once. As outsiders, the best we can do is trace satellite imagery and and as you know this has its issues. Also locals will know the names of everything on the island.

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