After a relative calm in the Egyptian street, after President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi postponed implementing the controversial real estate registration law; The government went to parliament with a new bill that caused a lot of anger among farmers because it required them to pay a license fee for the water-raising machines they use for irrigation.
Article 38 of the new draft law on water resources and irrigation, submitted by the government, specified about 5,000 pounds (about $ 325) as a license fee to use a water-raising machine to irrigate agricultural lands.
The article prohibits the establishment or operation of any fixed or mobile lifting machine that is managed by one of the automatic methods or others, to raise or drain water on the course of the Nile River, waterways, public irrigation and drainage networks or reservoirs, for any purpose, without a license from the Ministry for a period of 5 years, renewable.
The overwhelming majority of Egyptian farmers suffer from low levels of irrigation water in canals and waterways branching off the Nile, below the level required to reach their fields, which has resorted to using modern, expensive lifting machines.
Parliament of power
The new bill renews questions about the role of parliament, which has not previously rejected a law presented by the government, despite the fact that the primary role of parliament is to legislate laws in the light of the citizens’ interest as well as to monitor the performance of the government.
Under the pressure of widespread public discontent on social media, the government was forced to return to parliament last week an amendment to the real estate registration law that forced all property owners and apartments to register their properties with very high fees and through cumbersome procedures, otherwise the alternative is to deny them access to public facilities.
A few months ago, the government was forced to reduce the fines it decided to overlook building violations in the name of reconciliation, following a wave of widespread protests in the countryside and Upper Egypt, but it again imposed large fees on car owners and greatly increased in return for reconciliation in traffic violations.
Renewal of unrest in villages
In this context, farmer Farraj Abdel-Awad says that the use of “donak” – the name given to the water lift there – is costly in and of itself, as it consumes a large amount of fuel when operating it with increasing difficulty in raising water to the required level.
The farmer in a village in Assiut governorate in the south points out – in his speech to Al-Jazeera Net – that in the past the farmer relied on renting a machine for a certain amount at irrigation times that may coincide with a low level, and many farmers today were forced to acquire a lifting machine permanently due to their continuous need for it in order to save on rent It also became a source of additional income for some farmers.
His neighbor on the ground, Abdul Basit Ragab, interferes in the conversation, saying that the profession of farming is no longer profitable, but is barely sufficient to feed the family in light of the current difficult circumstances.
With this law, Rajab said that the government sells water to farmers at an exorbitant price and indirectly, warning – in his speech to Al Jazeera – that overburdening the farmer with more burdens will lead to a new explosion similar to the village protests last year.
On September 20, and over a period of two weeks, Egyptian villages witnessed protests against the house demolition law that violated the terms of building permits. Despite the government’s insistence on implementing the law and Sisi threatening to use the army to do so, it gradually retreated from implementation and reduced the fines imposed several times, and postponed implementation more than once until now.
In the plenary session of the House of Representatives last week, a number of MPs raised their voices against this article and demanded its abolition, stressing that laws that guide the use of irrigation water are required, but without overburdening the farmer.
In turn, former parliamentarian Amer Abdel Rahim says that this law will be passed, as happened with all previous laws that clash the interests of the people, because Parliament expresses the interests of “those who brought in his representatives, which is the authority,” as he put it.
Abdel-Rahim went on to speak – to Al-Jazeera Net – stressing that presenting laws that anger the Egyptians and then backtracking on them later predicts a state of “hesitation and fear that possesses the current power, separate from the people, their concerns and interests, and does not back down until the anger of the people appears to them,” according to the spokesman.
On the other hand, the spokesman for the Ministry of Irrigation, Muhammad Ghanem, says that the water winches are used by a limited proportion of farmers, in addition to the fact that the amount of the license extends over 5 years, and it has a regulation that regulates the rates of payment of fees according to the capacity of the crane and the area of the land.
And he continued – in a televised intervention – that the small farmer will not pay anything because he uses a special stream that is not covered by the law, stressing that it was necessary to change the law due to the increase in the population, the increase in pollution and the high rate of evaporation.
Water poverty concerns
In the same context, blogs continued to protest against the new law on social media platforms, warning that what was in the pockets of citizens was no longer sufficient to help the government close the budget deficit.
The head of the farmers ’union, Hussein Abu Saddam, said that the new irrigation law is driven by concerns about water poverty and fear of the future impact of dams in the sources of the Nile.
Abu Saddam criticized – in a post on Facebook – the issuance of the bill without community dialogue, although it affects more than half of Egyptians, stressing that the law in its current form will be an obstacle to the desired agricultural development.
He said that the matter goes beyond the issue of fees, to the point that its materials interfere in various ways in determining the areas designated for cultivation, and requires the approval of the Ministry of Irrigation in any new agricultural expansion, and prohibits all works that waste water resources without defining them.
The draft law also criminalizes contracting to dig underground wells or diverting or seizing rainwater without a license from the ministry, in a first precedent, in the words of the Peasants Association.
He believed that setting usage fees for each lifting machine on public canals suggests that the law does not aim to preserve and rationalize water, but rather to collect money and create the principle that water is for the one who pays and not for the one who deserves.
Collection not rationalization
The Land Center for Human Rights said – on its Facebook page – that the new draft law includes a number of articles targeting taxation, not the interest of citizens.
He explained that the law also included raising the prices of legalization of reclaimed agricultural lands by farmers, increasing the prices of the rents of endowment and reform lands, as well as the rents of agricultural lands belonging to the Ministry of Irrigation, and raising the prices of the meter rents in the shacks where the impoverished peasants reside.
For his part, professor of land and water at Cairo University, Nader Nour El-Din, criticized the imposition of irrigation machinery fees on “unfair” farmers, as he described it.
He stressed that the state is obligated to deliver drinking and irrigation water, and that farmers have resorted to cranes to shorten the state’s delivery of water, adding that the Ministry of Irrigation is not permitted to impose fees on the farmer who has dealt with the ministry’s failure.
The water expert confirmed – in a post on his personal Facebook page – that farmers are experiencing the worst levels of material returns and rarely lose from their crops.
Source : Egyptian media + Al-Jazeera + social networking sites