SAMANOUD, Menufiya: Over a hundred farmers gathered outside the Samanoud Cooperative Building for Land Reform to express their anger over a five-year delay in receiving their land deeds.
Farmers of Samanoud, located in the Ashmoun suburbs of Menufiya governorate, held a demonstration when, after five years of waiting for deeds to be issued, they were informed that a local lawyer, Ali Fahmy Sharaf, had attained a court ruling ordering farmers off their land.
Sharaf, according to farmers reports, has been working to deprive farmers of their land since 2003 when he wrote a false preliminary contract between himself and descendants of former land owner Youssef Mansour.
The contract, according to both farmers and representatives from the Organization for Solidarity with Egyptian Farmers, has no legal basis. However, as it was effectively verified in a court of law, farmers fear their land will be taken from them.
“There was no investigation to confirm the legal basis of the contract. It is a false document compiled by [some] lawyer, said Abdel Mohsen El-Rahawi.
Farmers were unaware of the existence of the document until they were given notice that Sharaf had attained a verdict authenticating the contract, and that they would either be forced to pay rent backdated to 1952, or be forced off the land.
“He claimed that we had taken the land, which consists of 397 feddans and is occupied by some 4,000 people, by force five years ago, and that we are now occupying it illegally. There were no checks or investigations done to verify his claims. The court took his word for it, and who knows if Egypt has perjury laws in place, said Eid Ahmad Mohamed Fayed, father of four and employee in the local veterinarian.
Should their status be reduced to tenants, the sums owed by each farmer may reach LE 30,000; far beyond their means.
According to farmer’s claims, the land pre-1952 was the property of owner Youssef Mansour, who sold it to land supervisor Abdel Hafez Amr. He was given a sum of money as compensation for giving the land up as part of the land reform act in 1952, when it was split amongst his farm workers.
Farmers have since been paying installments rendering them full-fledged owners of the land they cultivate. In 2002 they completed their payments and, as land owners, began to pay tax on their land and produce.
However, lawyer Sharaf approached descendants of the original owner, offering them a large sum of money should they give him power of attorney to “return the land.
Now, after the Land Reform Authority has failed to act, farmers suspect the land reform authorities of having a hand in the matter.
“We believe there is a clear link between this court ruling, and the delay in the issuing of our land deeds. Every time we complain to the land reform authority, they claim that the procedures are still ongoing, but we have a feeling that bribes are being exchanged for the authority’s compliance in the matter, continued Fayed.
Farmers claims to have seen security gathering in Samanoud center have further stoked fears that they will soon face direct confrontations with what they call the hands of lawyer Sharaf.
“I was here in the days of feudalism, when my family worked for the landowners, said Ibrahim Mohammed Imam, 80. “Between me and my four siblings, we have 20 descendants, all working on one feddan. If our land is taken, there is nowhere for us to go.
Despite attempts by the Local Community Building, which serves as a branch of the Authority of Land Reform – based in Cairo – to extract a response from their seniors, so far requests have been in vain.
Mohammed Rashid, head of the Samanoud branch of the Cooperative Building for Land Reform, told Daily News Egypt, “we have tried to help these people, but the matter is out of our hands.
However, farmers remain vehement that the Land Reform Authority is to blame.
“We have identity cards with our status as land owners clearly stamped, as well as receipts to prove we pay taxes, said Imam. “But we need our land deeds and we need them soon, otherwise we will soon be begging in the streets.