Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who owns the land?

If you want to understand the ecology, as well as the food and farming economy of a country you have to understand the evolution of its land tenure. In Lebanon, where land distribution is one of the most unequal in the world (countries that are worse: the US and Jordan), land ownership goes back to Ottoman times, when the regional governors farmed out lands to rich families. In South Lebanon, the creation of the state of Lebanon and then the protracted war and Israeli occupation blurred the tenure system, and the land ended up into the hands of those who had been working it under a tributary system, the peasants.

This is one of the rare occasions in which we read about these issues in the press. In the village of Tar Harfa near Sour in South Lebanon, the Lebanese state is finally laying out the new cadastre, and allocating the land to those who own the deeds. But a family, the Mamlouk, is claiming that they own 7/8 of the lands of the village according to, this article says, Ottoman documents.

The term Mamlouk (or Mamluk) refers to former warrior-slaves (the Arabic literal translation is "owned") who became extremely influential between the 12th century and the 19th century AD, and effectively ruled the southern part of the Levant from Egypt through puppet rulers. Their influence went as far north as Syria and Lebanon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Abu Ali,

Very interesting and funny article. Thank you for posting it.

Historically the sunni Mamluk family were the rulers of Tyre in the 17th and early 18th century. In those days, the city was a dump of biblical proportion according to historical accounts. Still, this family was the local tax farmer for the Ottomans.

Eventually Shias from Amil started moving in the area and took over ruling the city. It started with Daher el Omar, with Sunni making a comeback under Al Jazzar.

The Mamluk family must surely have owned the land in Ottoman times, but since then there has been a few land surveys in Lebanon (under the French and the new Lebanese republic), and the Mamluk family claims will not hold.

It seems to me they are just trying to make a sectarian point, reminding the Shia that the Sunni were the rightful owners of the area, just like Palestinians would make the same sort of claims
to their ancestral land.

The problem here is that if the Mamluks insist too much on their ownership, the lebanese state is going to step in and make them pay back taxes on the land for the past 130 years.