Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ezbet el Baroudi

A declaration of love is scrawled in paint on the wall above A’s head ‘A + A, the dream of my life.’

Below it A is recumbent on a bed lined with children’s cartoon character bed linen. The images do little to cheer the oppressive starkness of the room’s grey, unfinished walls, its murky lighting and lack of air.

Nineteen year-old A’s doctor has told her to have 25 days of bed-rest after her leg was broken by a police officer, who also beat her on the back with a rock.

Sitting next to her Dr Mona Hamed from the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence asks her whether she has been feeling upset since the assault, perhaps crying more than usual.

“I’ve always cried, just by myself, for no reason. God made me like that,” she replies.

Before we went to see A in her room other woman in the village of Ezbet el Baroudi, (located in the Delta governorate of Beheira) told us that A had been most disturbed by the ‘incident’ one morning last week when the police descended on the village.

A’s sadness is palpable. Hamed asks her whether, when she is mobile again, she would be able to come to El Nadeem for counselling.

“I’ve never been to Cairo, but I’ll try,” she replies.

Outside hoards of barefoot children bowl about Ezbet el Baroudi’s one lane, excited by the visitors. One girl has drawn a watch on her wrist. Another stands next to an El Nadeem doctor staring at him intently as a woman gives her account of what happened.

In the early hours of Tuesday 4th June, four of Ezbet el Baroudi’s male residents were arrested, while other men fled. Some of the village’s women sought sanctuary in the fields surrounding their homes until police officers – who were already in the village ahead of the land eviction planned for Tuesday – fired gunshots in the air and frightened them away.

The women returned to their homes where they stayed until 7 a.m. the next morning when they went back to the fields and were attacked by men wearing civilian clothing (who they say were both civilians and from the police) who broke into their homes – a traumatising invasion of privacy in a conservative rural society such as this.

The women showed us damage to two doors they say was caused when the police stormed houses.

A said that the women were violently attacked at random, and that it was a frenzied assault.

She told Hamed that the police officer who attacked her was attempting to drag her by her hair out of a house she had fled to when she fell over, and that he hit her on her back with a rock while she lay on the ground.

Another woman, S, had just arrived home with her mother from the fields when she was attacked.

“Four police officers hit me while people standing around swore at me,

“They took me to the police station and released me at 2 a.m.”

S’s 45 year-old mother was hit with a thick stick during the assault and she showed us a huge, rectangular purple bruise which runs the width of her lower back. Her arm was broken when she raised it in order to protect her head from the blows.

The struggle over Ezbet el Baroudy’s land began in the late 1990s but it is part of a saga which began in 1952, when Agricultural Land Reform Law 178 was enacted.

According to Bashir Saqr of the Organisation for Solidarity with Egyptian Farmers, at the time Law 178 was passed one third of Egypt’s 2.5 million squared hectares of cultivable land was owned by 11,000 estate holders – 0.4% of landowners – whose domination enabled them to charge tenant farmers rent equivalent to 75% of their income.

Under Law 178 land owners were allowed to keep a maximum of 200 feddans (subsequently reduced to 100 feddans in 1961), which they could pass on to their children. Any land over this amount had to be sold on the open market within seven years.

Land belonging to the family of Mohamed Ashraf El Baroudi was seized in this way.

This ‘excess’ land was distributed to farmers and rented to them by the Agricultural Reform Body.

In 1974 a law returned the ‘excess’ land to its original owners. While farmers were not immediately forced to leave the land, they now paid rent to the original owners rather than the State.

In 1986 Saqr alleges, Zeinat El Baroudi, a relative of Mohamed El Baroudi, managed – through bribery – to have the status of the land sequestered in the 1950s changed from agricultural reform land (to which she had no claim) to ‘excess’, in order to allow her to claim ownership of it.

“She gradually sold off portions of the land,” Saqr told Daily News Egypt.

“But when one of the buyers went to the registry office to register the land he was told that El Baroudy in fact had no right to the land nor to sell it.”

Saqr told Daily News Egypt that in response the sheikh el balad (village headman) of Kafr Mahallet Daoud, Ahmed Khattab, drew up false rent contracts which he then used in court to claim that Ezbet el Baroudy’s farmers had not been paying their rents.

The court accepted Khattab’s claim and issued an eviction order.

The men who attacked Ezbet el Baroudy’s women last week were, according to the testimony of one woman who spoke to El Nadeem, both farmers who stand to benefit from their eviction, and members of the police, acting in concert.

She said that as she was being attacked by police officers, men who had bought the land from Zeinat el Baroudy said to her, “what have you benefited from [resisting the eviction] except scandalising yourselves in newspapers?” (A reference to an article published in Egyptian daily El Badeel which listed the names of those injured and detained during last week’s assault).

An anonymous comment on the electronic version of the El Badeel article suggests that the Ezbet el Baroudy land was bought legitimately by Khottab in 1999 and that on the day of the evictions villagers “threw stones at the police causing serious injuries.”

Saqr dismisses this, saying it is “highly unlikely”.

This is not the first time that the police use violence to intimidate women in connection with land disputes.

In March 2005 police laid siege to the village of Sarando, also in the Beheira governorate, and beat women and children (leading to the death of one woman) in connection with an ongoing dispute between landowner Salah Nawar and villagers.

According to Human Rights Watch, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Ammar oversaw a raid on Sarando at 4 a.m. on March 5th during which seven men were arrested, and houses broken into.

El Nadeem told Daily News Egypt that Ammar was also involved in the attack on Ezbet el Baroudi: a woman detained last week says she was assaulted by Ammar.

Fayyad told Daily News Egypt that land disputes which result in incidents such as Sarando and Ezbet el Baroudy will only be stopped with a “comprehensive remedy.”

“This is a multifaceted problem – political, economic, social. Solving it requires a government with the vision and courage to put in place a comprehensive, equitable remedy which realises justice for all parties involved,” Fayyad said.

S, the villager who was attacked with her mother, was the most visibly angry of the Ezbet el Baroudy villagers who spoke to the El Nadeem doctors.

She told them, “What are you doing here? What do you want?

“If you really want to help go and stop them carrying out the eviction order in the village next to us [Ezbet Moharram]

“You’ve come here too late.”

Originally published in the Daily News Egypt


ramy said...

the rape of the land and its people. how ironic. i wonder what egypt would have been like had it remained a monarchy.

incidentally, this dr mona hamed, if you are at liberty to say, is she a psychiatrist? is she slim, tan, and with a high pitched voice?

Amnesiac said...

Hamed is a psychiatrist but doesn't fit your description of her.