Alert: another police-backed land grab expected

A friend emailed this today:

I was contacted by Kamal Khalil, the director of the Center for Socialist Studies, who said tomorrow he expects a confrontation between the peasants and the police in the village of Dakarnass in Mansoura.
The landowners managed to get court orders to evict the peasants from their land, and the order's execution is due tomorrow. Kamal said he expects the Sarando scenario to be repeated, and is urging reporters to go there and be witnesses to what will happen.
Remember that this has happened before in Sarando (see also this) and elsewhere just last year -- and it seems likely that this trend will increase as state officials becomes increasingly willing to team up with big landlords to evict farmers thanks to a recent law. Here's the background (from here):

One of the chief goals of the 1952 revolution was land reform in the countryside, which then consisted of vast estates worked by poor, landless peasants. Under measures introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, the great farms were broken up and landowners were limited to 50 feddans per individual and 100 feddans per family.

However, critics of the move—then as now—have pointed out that it made the use of modern agriculture techniques impossible, since poor farmers now own small plots of land, which are worked manually.

In the 1970s, a new property law allowed landowners to reclaim some of the estates lost during the revolution, under the condition that they sell or rent it to peasants within a year of acquisition. Nawar attempted to work around this law, claims Abdul Aziz.

A new land law, Law 96/1992, came into effect in 1997 in another attempt to reverse the trend of breaking up large estates. Rather than have permanent inheritable tenant contracts as set forth under previous land reform, contracts are now for a limited time period, and rent can be set by the market.

Initial attempts to implement the law in 1997 prompted fears of widespread evictions and led to unrest and even riots in some villages, but the issue soon quieted down when the evictions did not take place. Instead, landlords and tenants were able to reach negotiated settlements in most cases.

Not in all cases, however, maintains Karam Sabr of the Land Center for Human Rights, an organization formed in the wake of the law to look after peasant rights. He maintains that since 1997 there have been many cases of violence between landlords and tenants, often featuring police intervention. Last year, he says, some 49 people were killed in similar clashes in the governorates of Sharqiya, Qaliubiya and Beni Soueif, with 328 wounded and 429 detained. Similar numbers were reported in previous years.
“The law” explains Sabr, “affected peasants in many ways. Rent has increased 13 times, around one million tenants have been expelled from their land and many were arrested due to accumulating bank debts.”
It really is like the classic Youssef Chahine movie Al Ard.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.