Land privatization and farmers evictions in Egyptian countryside
Agrarian policy amendments: social impacts
Agrarian reform began in 1987, earlier than other reform programs. It continues to have a very negative impact on human rights and is a source of considerable state and non-state violence.
In 1992, land law no. 96 of 1992 was issued through which the agrarian land was liberalized. The law determined a five-year transitional period (that ended in 1997) after which tenants had to return the arable land to its original owners. The tenants had rented these properties for forty years with fixed rents determined by law (seven times the tax – about 100 LE per feden/acre) since the issuance of law 157 of 1952. According to the new law no. 96 of 1992, the rent increased to 22 times the tax (about 600 LE). In 1997, determining the rent of the arable land was left to the owners, whereby the rental of one feden reached 2000 LE. And in 2005, the yearly rental value of one feden amounted to an average of 3000 LE.
Land law no. 96 of 1992 omitted the two most important advantages of the previous law no. 157 of 1952 issued by the Naserian government namely a fixed rental value (seven times the tax), the inability to evict tenants from their rented lands. Accordingly, new (non-cash) rental relations emerged, such as unfavorable commodity payments, sharecropping and others that turn farmers into slaves cultivating land that is not sufficient for satisfying their basic needs.
This problem is not limited to a small number of tenants only. Examining the data issued every ten years by the Ministry of Agriculture reveals that the number of tenants harmed by the implementation of law 96/1992 is approximately 904.000 (30% of farmers in Egypt). Those tenants were responsible for cultivating about 1.488.000 feden, while total arable land was estimated at five million feden (valley and delta) in addition to newly reclaimed land estimated at two million feden. Therefore, the rights of 904.000 tenants and their families – approximately 5.3 million people - to social safety and work are violated; they lose their sole source of income.
The tenants are evicted from their lots without receiving any compensation for their property and houses. Article no. 33 of law 96/1992 proposes giving alternative properties in the desert to the evicted tenants, but in reality, nothing has happened. Moreover, the law is not concerned with compensating tenants for their houses, buildings and agricultural machines that they had acquired throughout the renting period. Also, the law violates all constitutional regulations that require providing the million tenants and their families with alternatives guaranteeing their social safety. The law neglects public welfare and the discrimination applied by the law violates the constitutional principle of equality.
Violence during implementation of the law
The implementation of the law was accompanied by violent activities committed by state institutions against tenants. Such violence continued until the end of 2003. Throughout 1997, there were about 100 murdered, 1000 injured and more than 1400 arrested. In 1998-99, violent activities led to 101 killed, 734 injured and 688 arrested. The Land Center for Human Rights succeeded in documenting strong evidence that proved that violence committed against farmers was applied by the state institutions as a guarantee for the implementation of the law. From 1992 to 1998, farmers and some social movements organized protests that led the security forces to randomly arrest and torture farmers. Some of those farmers filed lawsuits in addition to appealing the unconstitutionality of law no. 96 of 1992 before the Supreme Constitutional Court in order to receive their rights. Unfortunately, there was no sentence issued concerning this lawsuit although it was presented seven years ago.
In 1997 the year of implanting the law no. 96 for the year 1992 has led to the death of 100 farmers, the injury of more than 1000 and the arrest of 1400 others, and these farmers have been transferred to the state security prosecutions, in 1998. This law has led to the death of 20 farmers, the injury of 289 and the arrest of 267 others. In 1999, the dispute over land has led to the death of 81 farmers, the injury of 445 and the arrest of 401 others; in the year 2000, the implementation of this law has led to the death of 34 farmers, the injury of 195 and the arrest of 318 other; in 2001, it has led to the death of 58 farmers, the injury of 302 and the arrest of 666 others; in 2002, dispute over land has led to the death of 34 farmers, the injury of 100 and the arrest of 225 others; in 2003, it has led to the death of 30 farmers, the injury of 215 and the arrest of 322 others, and in 2004, dispute over land has led to the death of 49 farmers, the injury of 328 and the arrest of 429 others.
In some rural areas, large-scale owners colluded with police forces to violate farmers’ rights (hiring some armed vagrants to frighten, beat and oblige farmers to leave their lands without any compensation). It seems that land reform is used for promoting benefits of large-scale owners without any concern about tenants’ rights in Egypt. Many reports that monitored the process of law implementation assert that farmers’ rights to safety, dignity and humane treatment are readily violated in addition to hindering their rights in establishing and joining associations that may improve their social and economic conditions.
Governmental eviction of farmers, privatization of land and the right to housing; the story of three villages
Governmental institutions such as the Ministry of Endowments, the State Property and the Agrarian Reform Corporations use arbitrary and illegal procedures to evict farmers from their homes by confiscating their possessions, imprisoning them or arresting their wives and children to force the farmers who fled to turn themselves in.
Although law no. 96 for the year 1992 states in article 4 that the state must provide the evicted farmers with alternative and suitable houses in the same area that they had lived in, and that they must not be evicted before doing that, many farmers suffer from eviction, mistreatment, high rental values and imprisonment because of their poverty and inability to pay the high rents demanded.
Ezbet Rashwan village
The people of Ezbet Rashwan village are an example for such violations. In a court session held on 15/4/1999, the LCHR has presented a challenge concerning the unconstitutionality of Law no. 308 to stop the Ministry of Endowments from executing administrative confiscations against the farmers. On 3/2/2005, the LCHR has presented case no. 104/23 stating the unconstitutionality of the text of article 89 of the first and second clauses of law no. 308 for the year 1955 modified by law no. 44 for the year 1958, since the law states that it is permitted to follow the administrational confiscation procedures in case of not paying the Ministry of Endowments the due rents.
LCHR has filed a report to the General Prosecutor requesting him to issue his instructions for the release of the detained farmers, because when the Supreme Constitutional court issues a decision of the unconstitutionality of a law, the next day after issuing this decision, this law must be cancelled including its previous effects – such as the confiscation procedures and other charges pressed against the farmers. The Ministry of Endowments may not carry out administrational confiscations against farmers, since after the issuance of this decision and the procedures that follow it and notifying the prosecutor, these confiscations are considered null and void. Based on this, the Ministry of Endowments and the Ministry of the Interior are demanded to compensate the farmers for their financial and psychological damage as a result of their detention, humiliation and violation of their right to personal safety according to an unconstitutional text.
Akyad El Bahreya village
Akyad El Bahreya village is another example for the violation of economic and social rights, as the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments practices continuous persecution and oppression policies against farmers to force them out of their homes for the favour of some influential and wealthy people. This was done through police forces that arrest farmers and fabricate cases against them for the benefit of the ownership claimers. There were more than 30 fabricated cases, and farmers and their wives were arrested for several days to be presented before the court several times. These procedures have forced many farmers to leave their homes fearing the pursuit of police forces.
This conflict takes place over 61 feddans of land between the farmers and one of the ownership claimers, while farmers confirm that the so called owner is a guardian on behalf of the Ministry of Endowments that owns about 340 feddans in the area. On 23/10/1996, the LCHR has succeeded in making the Ministry of Endowments issue a decision demanding the ownership claimer to pay the rents of this land for the period it was in his possession.
Through some of the agrarian association’s employees, the ownership claimer has managed to forge contracts with different dates. In addition to that, he managed to trick some of the farmers into signing blank papers which he has used against them, and which made the LCHR present a communiqué (no. 848 for the year 1998) to the prosecutor general demanding him to investigate these events. This communiqué was transferred to El Zaqazeeq prosecutor with no. 537 for investigation and to file the necessary legal procedures against the ownership claimer and all of those who had helped him. But until now, this case was not decided and the court did not issue a decision. In addition to that, the ownership claimer has managed to prevent irrigation water from reaching the farmers’ lands in collusion with the agrarian association employees who have also refused to provide the farmers with cotton seeds. The farmers presented several complaints to the head of the agrarian association, but he did not respond to any of them in order for them not to be able to plant cotton in time, which violates the crop rotation and will in turn lead to issuing an official decision to evict them from their lands and homes.
Privatization of state land; El Bothure village
During the implementation of the agrarian reform policy called « privatization of state land », the Ministry of Agriculture has started selling its lands. For example, the state sold lands in El Bothure village in Abu El Matameer, Behira governorate. Farmers’ lands were sold to a Saudi investor through forgery and collusion with the land registration office. Although farmers have presented many complaints to the prosecutor general because of these violations and for seizing their lands, the conflicts still continue. Violence and mistreatment were used against the farmers to force them out of their lands as a result of corrupted cooperation between the state employees and the Saudi investor.
More than 20 farmers were arrested and had to leave their lands and homes along with their families in order to escape from violence, torture and humiliation by the police forces who also fabricate charges against them.
Protecting farmers’ rights; the Land Center’s role and the obstacles it faces
Egypt suffers from the small number of foundations and organizations that advocate farmers’ rights and resist violent actions taken against them. The state still uses mechanisms of violence and threat against the existing organizations working in this field. While LCHR was working in the case of Sarando village, one of its lawyers and some farmers were accused of instigating the farmers against the authorities when they were monitoring the violations committed by police forces. And instead of reinforcing, developing and supporting organizations that work in the field of defending farmers’ rights, the state tries to eliminate them with any means necessary.
LCHR defends the farmers and agrarian workers suffering from poor agrarian working conditions that are a derivative of the lack of work contracts, holidays, working regulations, and the right to organize. LCHR supports and encourages the roles of syndicate organizations, co-operations, associations, and rural organizations. It directly confronts the phenomenon of child labor and studies its causes and effects. It works to empower rural women, especially those working in the agrarian sector, so they can confront and challenge the daily violations of their rights. LCHR supports efforts to curb pollution in the countryside and educate farmers about pollution. It also upholds the importance of safe working conditions and providing healthcare and other necessities of life to farmers.
LCHR aims at improving the economic and social conditions to which farmers are exposed in rural Egypt, observes human rights violations in Egyptian villages, develops citizens’ awareness of human rights culture, and encourages coordination between civil society organizations by supporting their independence and reinforcing the values of democracy and human rights.
Conclusions and Recommendations
It is internationally recognized that farmers should be liberated from fear and poverty and enjoy their economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights, and that all governments must guarantee farmers and their families the right to an adequate standard of living by enabling them to farm and possess a piece of land, own a suitable house and enjoy public services, such as electricity, clean water, drainage systems etc.
Farmers and their families in Egypt demand the members of the people’s and local assemblies, political parties and movements and all civil society organizations to provide them with solidarity in their struggle for their rights to an adequate standard of living, managing their agrarian resources by owning appropriate pieces of agrarian lands, access to farming resources and requirements, participation in effective planning of programs related to rural development and contribution to the decision-making process related to their issues and financing their agrarian projects, in addition to providing them with the agrarian inputs and facilities for selling their products.
Farmers and their families would like to see their problems discussed in all of the media with suitable means of communication for the rural areas, as farmers represent more than 50% of Egypt’s population.
The farmers urge consideration of their demands:
The state must adopt a different policy based on the understanding of the farmers’ crucial role in providing food for society, and guarantee their rights to safe land possession and farming.
The issuance of a new law that organizes farmers’ relations to their lands in order to guarantee their right in owning these lands, in addition to defining a safe period for the rental contract that is no less than five years and a rent that fits their income and the output of agrarian production. Also, a law that allows farmers to establish associations that defend their rights and interests is needed.
The farmers who have been evicted from their lands following the implementation of law no. 96 for the year 1992 must receive alternative lands that are no less than five acres (feddans) in the state’s reclaimed lands.
Allow farmers to own the state’s reclaimed lands with long term instalments that are no less than 20 years without interests.
Solutions to problems related to irrigation water, underground water, usage of drainage water and the cleaning of waterways and canals in a limited time period, in addition to stopping all forms of indirect attempts to sell farmers’ irrigation and drinking water.
Waive the debts that farmers owe the Agrarian Development and Credit Bank, and reconsider the bank’s debts regarding small owners who own less than five feddans by not collecting any interests for these debts, and permission to pay back these debts on a long period suitable to their income and without any interests for at least 20 years.