Sunday, May 6, 2007

Land tenure and inequalities in Lebanon

Daily Star article by my friend and bright journalist Yasmine Ryan. Sinai (not Sini, Yasmine!) is my village.

"The arrival of large-scale farming techniques and increasing efforts on the part of farmers to comply with international export standards represent promising developments for Lebanon's agricultural sector as a whole. But pressure to get the most out of Lebanon's arable ground poses a threat to family farmers, who, despite having worked the same land over generations, in many cases do not have clear ownership rights to that land.

Due to a framework of Ottoman-era land ownership, Lebanon's family farmers face the possibility of being evicted from their property to make way for more capital-intensive farming. And there may not be much they can do about it.

Formal land titles were not instituted until the French Mandate in the 1920s. The process distributed land in bulk to elites across the country.

"The peasants didn't know how to talk to the French. It was the intermediaries who decided who the land belonged to," said Zurayk, who is a professor at AUB's Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences.

Ibrahim Akeel is an elderly farmer in the Southern Lebanese village of Sini, located some 10 kilometers west of Nabatiyeh

A feudal lord named Hussein Derwich brought Akeel's grandfather and family to Sini from Marwaneeh around 1870, as serfs to work the land. Successive landowners had absolute authority over their workers and at least one, Yousef "Beq" Zein, even ran a tribunal, dishing out punishments to locals in the 16 villages he controlled.

Ever since, the Akeel family, like other families in the village of Sini, has worked land owned by somebody else and given a share of their crops or profit to an absentee landlord. "

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