Ongoing Violations Against Residents Of Hod al-Musallas In Muntazah

Press Release

2 November 2014

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is deeply concerned about an imminent social catastrophe that could displace some 5,000 families out of their homes in rural Muntazah, located in the Alexandria governorate, following action taken by the Endowment Authority to expel them from agricultural land in their possession and convert the land into real estate investment projects.

The Endowment Authority on Monday, October 13, 2014, printed an appeal to the president in al-Gomhouriya, claiming that “influential people” to seized land the authority allegedly possesses and urging the Alexandria governorate to clear 300 feddans on which more than 5,000 families live and work. The authority is falsely claiming that it owns the land on which the families’ homes are erected. According to title documents submitted by the farmers to the EIPR, the land is in the legal possession of the farmers, and neither the Endowment Authority nor the governorate has any legal claim to it. As such, the demolition orders, which are on the verge of execution, are tantamount to an illegal eviction order that will leave the legal occupants of the land homeless and deny them their livelihood, based in the agricultural land on which they work.

In 2008, the Endowment Authority signed a protocol with the Alexandria governorate under which the authority gave the governorate 100 of 300 feddans of agricultural land in the rural Muntazah area on the condition that the governorate evacuate the land and install utilities to make way for real estate developments. This is part of a joint detailed plan between the authority and the governorate, to be established on agricultural land owned by small farmers. Demolition orders were issued to clear the land of its residents, but the former governor of Alexandria, Osama al-Fouli, suspended the orders after a meeting with local residents in 2012 pending a review of the ownership of the land in dispute. The Endowment Authority contested the suspension of the orders in the Administrative Court, but the court denied their petition and upheld the suspension. The Endowment Authority has been given several final judicial rulings declaring it has no claim to the land, according to Mahmoud Hamdi al-Kabir, the attorney for the local residents.

Local residents had appealed the Endowment Authority’s plan, adopted by the Muntazah district of the Alexandria governorate, for the rezoning of the area for real estate investments because the authority offered no proof of possession of the land in the plans. The Agricultural Reform Authority investigated the title to the land and found, as documented in a report by the authority’s Central Directorate for Ownership and Title, that small farmers were given title to the land in 1959 pursuant to decrees issued by the board of the General Authority for Agricultural Reform.

But the Endowment Authority disregarded the report and the ruling of the Administrative Court of rejecting its appeal against the suspension of the demolition orders, as well as several other final legal judgments that attest to the authority’s lack of claim to the land. Instead of complying with court orders, the Endowment Authority concluded agreements for housing developments with several housing cooperatives, in addition to the protocol with the Alexandria governorate, without any legal basis for its claim to the land.

The origin of the dispute over the land in the Muntazah rural area lies in the era of Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s agricultural reforms. After abolishing the old Endowment Ministry, Abd al-Nasser turned its lands over to the Agricultural Reform Authority for distribution to small farmers. Local residents gained tenure to the land in the 1950s, pursuant to the land distribution system then in effect, after making the tenure payments that officially transferred ownership of the land to the residents and their heirs. When President Sadat reconstituted the Endowment Authority, land in the rural Muntazah area was mistaken for part of the lands given to the authority to manage and use as a result of the failure of the General Authority for Agricultural Reform to exercise its prerogatives in 1973. Nevertheless, Law 3/1986 affirmed that the land was in the possession of the Agricultural Reform Authority.

Since that time, the Agricultural Reform Authority has not exercised its prerogatives over this land, while the Endowment Authority has continued to transfer ownership of the disputed land to various cooperative housing associations, in violation of the law, which has subjected local residents to numerous abuses. Some of these cooperatives have used violence to intimidate and threaten locals. Official governorate bodies have refused to connect the farmers’ land to irrigation networks, and farmers have difficulty obtaining seed and fertilizer. In addition, locals also complain that sewage is mixed with the irrigation water available to them and that the area is not outfitted with basic utilities.

EIPR researchers have made numerous field visits to the area and met many local residents and farmers, who are asking for legal recognition of their claim through the actual owning authority as per the law. They are also demanding basic utilities and social services for the area from the Alexandria governorate.

EIPR holds the Endowment Authority and the Agricultural Reform Authority wholly responsible for the violations experienced by the residents and urges the Alexandria governorate to swiftly intervene to respond to their demands. EIPR also urges the competent state bodies to comply with judicial rulings issued in favor of the residents. EIPR is deeply concerned and apprehensive about the grave consequences of the illegal practices of the Endowment Authority in this area.