From the Editors
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“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press” - Khalil Gibran
Since the late 1970s the Egyptian government has steered the country toward economic liberalization. This entails the rolling back of the government's role across all public sectors, the lowering of import tariffs and an increased drive for exports. One of the sectors that were hit hardest by these policies is Egyptian agriculture. Due to liberalization of land laws, which the government implemented in 1999, land rent prices have increased dramatically now that they are determined according to market prices rather than through fixed agreements between landowners and small farmers working the land. Prior to the introduction of this new law, the state played a role in protecting small farmers from landlessness. For generations, families inhabiting and working small land plots had a certain right to the land they worked. For example, before 1999, if landowners wanted to evict farmers from their land, they had to compensate the tenants with half the land's value. When Egyptian authorities implemented this new land law nearly one million farmers became landless and left their farming practices completely. Furthermore, government subsidies that supported small farmers have nearly disappeared, forcing these farmers to compete with an increasing number of agri-businesses in Egypt. The government is keen on increasing exports to their northern trade partners with the aim of strengthening the Egyptian "economy." This has justified the government’s policy of selling arable desert land to entrepreneurs at extremely low prices, while going so far as to provide subsidies per exported ton on certain produce. These policies are jeopardizing the very existence of small farmers in Egypt while tying Egyptian food prices to international markets and reducing the country’s ability to maintain food self-sufficiency.
If the Egyptian authorities' current agricultural policies persist, food prices will continue to skyrocket, making life increasingly difficult for millions of Egypt's poor. Meanwhile, more and more farmers will be forced to abandon their land. An uprising in the industrial town of Mahalla al-Kobra in the summer of 2008 and the most recent uprising in Egypt are direct consequences of the food policies described in "Pity The Nation."
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[I]t was hard to imagine that seven months later Egypt would remain a country of emergency laws and military trials ... in which labor strikes and demands for distributive justice are demonized and dismissed by decision makers and opinion shapers.click | email | tweet
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