08 June, 2009
Egyptian small farmers under siege
Click the pic above for a set on Flickr of farmers in Meet Shehaala, Monofiyya governorate, which I visited yesterday. Large parts of the lands of this village and neighboring Kamshish were once part of the giant estate of the Fiqqi family, but was confiscated and divided during the land reforms of the 60's. Since the early 70's there has been a trend towards reversal of these reforms. New laws have been passed, making it possible in some cases for heirs of old "feudalists" to claim back parts of their land.
Often, farmers have resisted these attempts and violent confrontations have taken place in many parts of the delta since the mid 90's. In 2004, armed thugs attacked farmers in Meet Shehaala to gain control of a warehouse and a water pump station that once belonged to the local land reform cooperative. The villagers managed to capture one of the thugs and delivered him and his unlicensed firearm to the police. In the end, however, it was 6 of the farmers who were sentenced to jail by the local court - a sentence which was appealed by human rights lawyers and anulled by a higher court.
Today, the situation is one of a stalemate, with the farmers in constant fear of the old landlords returning to reclaim their land with force. Meanwhile, they face serious economic pressures, as the reduced subsidies on seeds, fertilizers and other necessary equipments means that small-scale farming is increasingly unprofitable. Famers who used to be able to support their families now fear being forced to leave their lands to join the ever growing pool of unemployed.