Fate of farmers union uncertain after recent political events

After months of campaigning to establish Egypt’s first grassroots farmers union, as well as coordinating with sympathetic MPs to increase the political weight of Egypt’s farmers, NGOs and farmers alike are currently left in a state of disarray after recent political events.

“All the MPs we had been working with are now gone,” says Mahmoud al-Mansy, spokesperson for the farmers’ rights NGO, Sons of the Soil, referring to the apparent dissolution of Parliament last week by the Supreme Constitutional Court. “It was already difficult to get farmers to engage in the initiative. This is a huge setback, particularly in terms of their spirits.”

Khalil Reda, a farmer from Daqahlia who championed and campaigned for the union, says that, “A union wouldn't change or affect anything at this point. Many believe that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has all the power right now, until a new Parliament is formed; we are left in fear and anticipation again.”

Mansy also criticized both presidential runoff candidates Mohamed Morsy and Ahmed Shafiq: “Neither of them have said anything important about agriculture or farmers,” he says. “Morsy hardly said a word, and Shafiq, when he did say something, lied about abolishing taxes and made impossible promises just to gain votes.”

He further explains that although many farmers did not vote in the runoff, Shafiq’s speeches swayed many of the farmers who did vote, despite the fact that he associated with the old regime that “took away many farmers' rights, and even stole land by brute force,” said Mansy.

Land grabbing has been a common occurrence in Egyptian agriculture since legal changes in the early nineties granted pre-Nasserist owners the incontestable right to reclaim their land, despite the fact that millions of farmers had set up lives on that land for decades.

Preliminary election results indicate Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsy, as the potential winner. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” says Mansy, adding that the Sons of the Soil have temporarily abandoned political aspirations and have returned to ensuring farmers access to seeds and agricultural markets.

Reda Nassef, a farmer who moved to farm on the land of relatives after his land was taken by brute force over a year ago, fears that new political powers are going to continue with the same sort of tactics.

“I just pray to God that the land grabbing stops,” says Nassef, who voted for Shafiq in the hopes that he would improve security. “Everything else — unions, seeds, parliaments — is secondary. If it continues after a new president is chosen, we will protest again.”

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