In Egypt, journey down a Nile of discontent
Voices from the 'other Egypt' show why the country is so riven – and what its next leaders face.
(Page 5 of 8)
The sugar cane is knee high, but the corn is tall, and the tassels are beginning to turn golden brown. Piles of clothes sit atop the small bridges that cross the canal, left by the boys splashing in the murky water to cool off. In the village of Awlad Yehia, Momen Fahmy Ali oversees his workers as they harvest cattle feed. On his plot, about two acres, he grows corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, sesame, and fava beans.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Trouble Along the Nile
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He, like many growers, has struggled in recent years with a variety of challenges – water shortages, fertilizer shortages, gas and diesel shortages. These problems have put pressure on farmers in almost every way in Upper Egypt, where agriculture is a key source of employment and income. "We only have the land of our fathers," said one farmer. "No factories, no businesses, no jobs."
The dearth of diesel and gasoline, which has been widespread throughout the country in the past year, means farmers have trouble finding fuel to operate their irrigation pumps. Mr. Ali says he often has to buy fuel on the black market, for double the price. "The plants have to have their water, no matter the price of the fuel," he says. "We have to irrigate at special times – we can't be late."
Similarly, Ali buys fertilizer on the underground market for £150 a bag because the government, which sells subsidized fertilizer for £75 a bag, doesn't give him enough.
Water has become increasingly scarce since 2011. According to tribal leader Ahmed Mokhtar, one reason is the frequent power outages that halt the large irrigation pumps on the canals. Another is that some towns are taking advantage of the chaotic security situation and damming the canals to make sure they have enough water for themselves. That leaves downstream areas dry. In the province of Qena, some canals have turned to a trickle.
Before 2011, problems like this would happen once a year, and be resolved within days, says Mr. Mokhtar. Now, water shortages can last as long as two months. "Can you imagine a farm without water for 60 days?" he says. "As a farmer, my bread, and my income for my children, is burning in the sun in front of me."
All this partly explains why many in Upper Egypt turned against Morsi. "Their bread is being threatened," says Mokhtar. "There's no bigger reason to protest than that."
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When we arrive in Assiut, one of the biggest cities in Upper Egypt, the police presence is immediately more noticeable. But authorities still struggle to control the lawlessness that has increased since the uprising, aided by weapons flowing into Egypt from neighboring Libya and Sudan. The proliferation of guns is now a problem all over the country, but especially in Upper Egypt. Though residents of this rural area have always had guns, they're armed with more of them now – and more substantial ones. In some places, residents tell of warring tribes brandishing RPGs and truck-mounted machine guns.
A high-ranking police officer who asked to remain anonymous says criminals are more confident since 2011 and harder to confront now that they are better armed. "They stand in our faces," he says, using an Arabic turn of phrase. He complains that the police don't have the equipment, the training, or the manpower needed to restore security. Villages known for their gun dealers, where people can buy automatic weapons, lie just across the river from the police station here.
In the 1970s and '80s, Assiut was one of the strongholds of the Gamaa Islamiya, a formerly militant Islamist organization that began in the universities of Upper Egypt. We traveled to the nearby town of Manfalut to meet Ahmed Abdel Salam, who was imprisoned for more than 15 years for his role in planning murders as part of the group's armed wing.