Discontent flaring in rural Egypt
A lack of democracy under Mubarak leaves few outlets for peaceful resolution of disputes.
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"What you have to understand is that the peasants aren't educated; they're very simple and it's been easy for the activists to brainwash them,'' he says. "The activists have lied to them, saying that the land isn't really mine, and have really stirred things up. So I had to call in the police."Skip to next paragraph
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He sighs, saying things have gone from bad to worse in the countryside. "There used to be a saying that you went to the countryside for morality, and the city for immorality. Now it's the exact opposite," he argues. "The farmers have lost their moral direction. I blame television and their lack of education."
Nawar says he reached a settlement with all the farmers last month. "I just want this to settle down, so we've agreed to let them stay on as sharecroppers. I think the peasants understand now that this was all the civil rights activists' fault."
"Mohammed," a young man from the village who asked that his name not be used, has avoided his hometown since what everyone calls "the incident." He says the local police chief, Mohammed Ammar, will "punish" him if he returns home.
"This land is our land - we always had contracts with the Land Reform Institute,'' the government agency that administered land-reform efforts.
"Then in the late 1990s, Nawar's men started coming around again, demanding rents," he says. "He was like a little dictator; whole families were thrown out by him. My parents are illiterate. They didn't know their rights so they just paid sometimes. My generation knows our rights."
Mohammed says he and another group of young men started seeking legal help in January, and scoffs at Nawar's claims that they were brainwashed by outside activists. "We went looking for help because we know he wants us off," he says. "Land is everything to us, it's our food, our livelihood, and it prevents us from being thrown out into the world with nothing."
Talking to enough people to get an accurate and independent picture of what precisely happened in Sarando is difficult.
When the Monitor visited Sarando in early April, the men of the village stayed out of sight, an emissary later saying they were afraid of reprisals if they talked to more outsiders.
After about 20 minutes chatting while sitting on the floor with a group of women in a home bare of furniture or even a radio - and frequently interrupted by arguments between those who wanted to tell their stories and others who worried they'd "get in trouble" - Mr. Ammar, the district police chief, arrived, striding into the house and demanding all the outsiders' IDs.
Human rights activists have alleged the strapping Ammar, who goes about in civilian clothes, played a role in Zakaria's death. He denies that.
After about 15 minutes of questioning, in which Ammar provided Nawar's numbers, which were stored on his cell phone, the visitors were firmly told to leave, with warnings from Ammar that it's a dangerous place.
"This is for your own protection,'' he said. "We are the government here and there are people who are still wanted by us in the area."
Shortly before Ammar arrived, one of the village women stopped the interview. "Nawar claims this is his land, but he can't prove it," she said. "But I've been told that if I talk to outsiders, they'll hold my son in jail for another 15 days as punishment. I really don't think this is a good idea."