Rural Egypt’s Return to the Ancien Regime

Middle East Online has a translation of a Monde Diplomatique article I’d previously linked to on the reversal of agrarian reform in Egypt. This excerpt deals with the new law passed in the 1990s that has led to many farmers losing land and helped former landlords regain land they had been forced to sell under Nasser:

The 1992 law changed farmers’ lives profoundly. Average rent values have risen 10-fold, and now represent between a third and a half of gross annual income. Perhaps three-quarters of the farmers renting in 1996 have given up because of debts. Farmers have had to indebt themselves to pay rent, and households sell jewels and livestock, reducing expenditure (less meat in the diet, fewer children at school). As the number of very small holdings has declined, those over 10 feddans (4.2 hectares) have improved in number and surface area. It is clear that inequalities in the distribution of agricultural land are again rising, despite the advances between 1952 and 1980 and the relative immobility thereafter.

Over the past 10 years there have been social explosions over land in the governorate of al-Minufiyya, where Kamshish lies. They are the result of manoeuvres by former landowners and have been ignored by the media. Dispossessed families used the new legislation to recover their previous holdings, or obtain more attractive parcels. There have been violent clashes between farmers and the police or hired agents working for these families. Villagers have been intimidated, illegally imprisoned (and tortured), or summarily tried and heavily sentenced. The Land Centre for Human Rights considers that between 2001 and 2004 there were 171 deaths, 945 injuries and 1,642 arrests.

0 thoughts on “Rural Egypt’s Return to the Ancien Regime”

  1. I’d be curious to see what impact this has had on farm production. One problem facing small farmers is their lack of access to capital, and thus productive things like tractors and fertilizer, etc. They can of course get around this by doing things like farmers cooperatives and the like, but I can’t imagine that kind of thing is common in Egypt.

    Most economists would probably see the concentration of land as a good thing, allowing for more efficient production. This would be a good test case, though I’m pretty skeptical.

  2. Not that relevant, but i hate when articles say x “has been ignored by the media” when, A. The article is in the media and, B. The issue has been covered before. I did a story about this two years ago, though nowhere near in depth. I’m sure there are many others…

    Not a knock on what i think is a useful and important article, but i hate that crap.

  3. You’re quite right, it’s been covered a lot by Egyptian media and some major US outlets such as yours. Perhaps the authors were referring to the French media, since the article was originally written in French? But I think Le Figaro did something too…

    Still, the article serves as a good intro to the issue.

  4. I agree with Dan on this one, it is a rather tiresome refrain about all the stuff the press misses. while it’s true that most of the time the press only covers Israel/Palestine, world disasters and Britney Spears, a lot of the other stuff still finds its way in.

    It’s interesting to hear more about the land issue. The law was passed in 1992, ignored during the five year grace period, and then riots erupted in 1997 — causing the government to freeze implementation.

    Still, though, this is not a wholesale reversal of the land reform, as I understand it, but just making life tougher for the renters while the majority of peasants own their land outright — in tiny one or two feddan patches.

    Economically speaking, of course, it’s more efficient and productive to have large farms rather than small ones. They formed cooperatives and all that back in the 60s in Egypt, but I understand they don’t function all that well.

    Problem is, if you consolidate the lands into massive, efficient, agro-industrial enterprises, what do you do with all the people who used to work there? The cities are already rather full.

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