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Middle East

"The country is their country" says Egyptian farmers in lead-up to elections

media Men in a donkey-led cart drive by farm fields RFI/ Pedro Costa Gomes

The Egyptian election affects all of the country, but not all of the country feels it has much of a say in it. In this photo-essay, Anne-Marie Bissada meets generations of farmers in the south of the country who feel this election will not change anything for them. Photographs by Pedro Costa Gomes.

Family of farmers take a break in the Egyptian village of Riad Basha RFI/ Pedro Costa Gomes

 

Taha carefully pours strong tea from the charred pot into glass cups, and then pauses for a moment to laugh and say ‘el balad  baladhom’, meaning the country is their country, or in other words nothing changes. Here, beneath the shade of a large tree in the middle of farm fields in the village of Riad Basha, just outside Beni Suef city, the family sits together to sip tea and occasionally crack jokes about the situation of their country.

Beni Suef is considered the gateway to Upper Egypt, in the south of the country. Upper Egypt remains home to the country's poorest areas, with some 57 percent of rural areas being impoverished, says a 2016 report by CAMPAS, Egypt’s official statistics agency. The village itself is named Riad Basha after the grandson of Muhammed Ali, who is considered the founder of modern Egypt. Riad Basha used to own this land until President Gamal Abd al-Nasser nationalized it during the 1950s.

Man waving from farm RFI/ Pedro Costa Gomes

The family rents one feddan (approximately one hectar) of land for 7000 Egyptian pounds per year. Mohamed explains that they subsist on what they get. Since 2016, after the pound was devalued by 100 percent, the daily cost of living has gone up, says Taha’s mother. Taha explains that he and his wife have five children and they all live together with the other family members on the farm. After selling their harvest of wheat and cloves, Taha says sometimes they have 1000 or 10,000 Egyptian pounds to live off. But no matter what the amount, he says they always manage to make do.

Mohamed and Taha take a tea break RFI/ Pedro Costa Gomes

“The government doesn’t support you with anything except enough to buy shoes!” says Taha laughing while the others nod their heads in agreement. In the past five years since the fall of Mohamed Morsi and the rise of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Taha's mother says nothing has changed. "It’s always the same. Five years ago or 10 years ago, it’s the same", she explains. When there used to be government subsidies for cotton farming, many farmers, including some here in Riad Basha, grew cotton. But now they grow wheat, corn or cloves since cotton is no longer lucrative.

Mohamed sits with his niece RFI/ Pedro Costa Gomes

“They are all going to vote, but not me” explains Mohammed. He decided that he will not vote for anyone because it’s already going the way of Sisi. “My voice will not change anything” he adds. “He will already win anyways, just like the time of Mubarak” adds Ahmed. “He [Mubarak] was winning without people going.”

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