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Egypt's Kamshish remembers champion for farmers' rights

Forty-seven years since death of farmers' rights advocate Salah Hussein, farmers in Egypt's village of Kamshish honour his legacy

Nada El-Kouny , Wednesday 1 May 2013
Under backdrop of renowned farmer's right activist Salah Hussein portrait, Mamdouh Hamza (R), Shahenda Maqlad, Hassan Nafei, and Abdel Gelil-Mostafa (L) speak at 47th conference since his 'martyrdom' (Photo: Nada El-Kouny)
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The village of Kamshish in the Nile Delta governorate of Menoufiya on Tuesday celebrated the 47th anniversary of the death of farmers' rights advocate Salah Hussein, a national hero who died as a result of his long struggle against the feudalist El-Feqqi family.

30 April also marked the anniversary of the establishment of the Independent Union of Egyptian Farmers (IUEF), which has existed informally since 1983 and which was revived in the wake of Egypt's January 25 Revolution.

The day included several activities and gatherings – including a meeting of IUEF members, a film screening and a presentation on solar energy use – and concluded in the evening with a conference attended by a wide range of prominent political figures.

Following noon prayers, visitors began trickling into the home of Shahenda Maqlad, veteran leftist activist, conference organiser and Hussein's wife. Throughout the day, Maqlad – commonly known as 'the mother of farmers' – received greetings, delegated those around her with tasks, took part in meetings and answered phone calls, explaining to visitors how to reach the village.  

Numerous times throughout the day, Maqlad would stand on top of her balcony overlooking the area in which that evening's political conference would be held, issuing orders to various delegates.

Abdullah Abdel-Aziz, 66, a farmer from Kamshish, explained the importance of the planned conference. "This event reflects farmers' long-term struggle against the state and against powerful interest groups, which we try to highlight on a yearly basis," he told Ahram Online.

Farmer and IUEF head Abdel-Meguid El-Kholy, for his part, stressed to Ahram Online the importance of honouring Hussein, because he had been the "first to stand against feudalism and lost his life as a result of that struggle."

Ali Abu-Hegazy, 48, a former student of Hussein, recalled how he had used to take part in Hussein's group in Kamshish, which was devoted to socialist advocacy and thought.

"Hussein tied the local village struggle to the greater national struggle," Abu-Hegazy asserted, stressing how this had played a major role in politicising him and many others of his age.

'Celebratory and mournful'

El-Kholy described the conference as "both celebratory and mournful," in that it remembers a great hero while also highlighting the continuing struggle of Egypt's farmers (fellahin). That struggle is a result of the economic liberalisation adopted by late president Anwar El-Sadat, he explained, which "has increased in viciousness until today and which has directly crippled the fellahin."

He highlighted a number of critical issues, including the ongoing lack of food security; the continued effects of a 1996 land-tenancy law that resulted in the forceful eviction of many fellahin; debts incurred by the state-owned Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit; the inefficiency of cooperatives; and soil and water health.

Reflecting on the issue of cooperatives specifically, deputy IUEF head Abdel-Fattah Mahmoud Shawarna said that instead of being a main support system for farmers, most cooperatives now end up hurting them.

A body – by which subsidized fertiliser, pesticides and farm equipment are meant to be provided – has since the 1970s been turned into a government-affiliated body that "pushes the farmer" into dependence on the state, Shawarna said of the cooperatives.

Maqlad explained the need for "a real liberation of the land from the numerous types of privatisation taking place and the need to liberate ourselves from dependency," which, she stressed, forms the primary base of all continuing struggles. 

In an attempt to raise awareness about the need for self-sufficiency, a presentation and film screening was given by Afifi Abbas Afifi, head of the Soil, Water and Environment Research Institute, on the use of solar panels instead of diesel fuel – prices for which have recently greatly increased – to power water pumps.

With approximately 40 farmers in attendance, many questions were asked regarding the affordability of such a costly project in the village. Afifi encouraged attendees to consider implementing the scheme by collectively joining the cooperatives in investing in a project that, "while being very costly given the price of solar panels, will prove very beneficial and cost-saving in the long-run."

By sunset, the bulk of visitors and speakers began trickling in, awaiting the evening conference, which was attended by approximately 500 people.

Those in attendance included a wide range of well-known political figures, including former Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi; former leftist presidential candidate Khaled Ali; former Kefaya movement leader George Ishaaq; former National Association for Change head Abdel-Galil Mostafa; prominent engineer and political activist Mamdouh Hamza; opposition National Salvation Front member Karima Hefnawy; leading urologist and founder of Mansoura University's kidney centre Mohamed Ghoneim; writer and political analyst Hassan Nafei; and former senior Muslim Brotherhood member Hazem El-Helbawi.

Need for self-sufficiency

Hamza said the main issue Egyptians face until this day is that Egypt's "entire agricultural system is based on importing from abroad." From the seeds and fertilizers to pesticides, he noted, everything is still imported, thus promoting dependency. He stressed that the solution was the creation of truly independent cooperatives.

Reflecting on the issue of dependency, Ghoneim stressed that a proposed IMF loan to Egypt – along with other types of loans – would be greatly detrimental to Egypt's economy and should therefore be rejected. The proposed $4.8 billion IMF loan would force Egypt to submit to terms that would "further impoverish Egypt's fellahin," Ghoneim asserted.

Maqlad, for her part, paid her respects to "all the martyrs of the fellahin," especially her late husband Hussein, "whose precious blood has watered our village of Kamshish." She concluded by calling all the Egyptian people to continue his struggle. 

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