zaterdag 18 april 2009

There and back again

Yesterday was brilliant. At 10h I left Doqqi for Ramses Station, where I took the microbus to Mansura, a two hour ride. In Mansura, Walid Ali, journalist of the deceased-and-yet-yo-be-resurrected al-Badil newspaper, took me to his home to have a lunch prepared by his mother and sister-in-law, consisting of rice, bread, meat, and kolkas, a potato-like vegetable in a delicious sauce. After the sturdy meal we went to Andrea, an old decrepit building from the forties, which houses a café, a place for the local youth to hang out,* and a Tagammu meeting room. There I met Hamdi Qenawy, who is a member of Tagammu and the man who always makes funny appearances at demonstrations, dressed up as various satirical characters. Muhammad Taher, young member of Tagammu and (ex-)journalist of al-Badil, was there as well, and would join us for the rest of the day.

Hamdi Qenaway (left), Muhammad Taher (right)

We had an interesting conversation/interview/dialogue which covered a lot of topics. A subject which keeps on surfacing in my discussions with people from the left, is the comparison between Nasser and Chávez. A lot of left-wing intellectuals look with hope at the revolutionary process in Latin-America, and try to make sense of it within their own political-historical framework.
We talked about the peasant movement in the region as well, of course. In Nasser's era some peasant families in this area had been allotted lands by the state, a 40 years installment. However, since Sadat's infitah-policy, the landlords became interested in obtaining these lands. So at the beginning of the nineties a law was enforced, in favour of the big landlords, which gave them the right to approproate these lands, even if these were the legal property of the farmers. The peasants refused to give up their lands, obviously, as it is their only means of existence. Taking their lands away will mean their death, it's that simple. The farmers decided to occupy their lands, and to collectively resist any attempt to drive them of their land.
I asked Walid if we could go and meet some of the leaders of these peasants, and after a small tour around Mansura, wandering through broad avenues (with Muhammad Taher enthusiastically commenting on any mozza who passed by) and small streets, we headed for the small town of Dikirnis, a twenty minute ride from Mansura.

In Dikirnis I met with a few of the peasant leaders (Hagga Zeki, Said Abd al-Mali & Ahmed Rashil) and with Mahmud Foda, the general-secretary of Tagammu for the district, who lives in this village and not in the city of Mansura, and who, being close to the farmer community, played an important role in organising and supporting the peasant movement in Dikirnis. It was wonderful to see how the self-organisation of the farmers heightened their political and social consciousness. The necessity of both occupying their lands (with tents housing whole families) and providing food has led to a collective division of labour, whereby one part of the peasants occupies the land, while the other part cultivates it, feeding the whole community - and they regularly switch these roles. In addition, the national and international solidarity campaigns conducted by the left brought this issue in the media, so the local experiences of the peasants were translated into other/"higher" scales/spaces of protest, which influenced on its turn the way these farmers perceive themselves and their actions, i.e. in a broader social and political context.
Interesting detail: the Muslim Brothers sided with the landlords in this conflict, once again showing their true class nature.
"Stand with us, like Guevara did when he came to Egypt and met the peasants" Hm, much too much honour I fear... :D

After my encounter with the farmers, whose social consciousness is a fascinating hybrid between traditional (in religion, customs, culture, etc) and revolutionary (in their struggle, collective organisation, etc) thought, I went back to Mansura with Walid and Muhammad. We had another tea with Hamdi Qenaway and then at midnight I took the microbus to Cairo. At around 3h I finally dropped on my bed, tired, but very satisfied with my day.

* Apparently, in the seventies this was a meeting room for al-ahrar, a left-wing party which was subsequently banned. Now, politics have given way to pool tables and playstation rooms...

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