April 24, 1997
The Aswan branch of CHLRA took up the collective complaint filed by the inhabitants of the village of al-Mahamid-south in the Arment administrative district, Qena governorate, against Egypt's Awqaf[footnote 1] Authority, which has been attempting to deprive them of their ownership rights to an area of land estimated to be just over 11 feddans. The inhabitants inherited the said land from the estate of the late 'Ali Awad Garabu.
The dispute over the ownership of the land started in 1947, when the Awqaf Authority filed lawsuit No. 46/1947 in order to prove the authenticity of a Waqf document bequeathing the land to the Authority, which the Authority claimed had been issued by the late Garabu, although such a bequest had never been registered anywhere.
The case was closed after the court decided not to hear the Waqf case on the grounds that the disputed Waqf document had not been registered in accordance with Waqf Law 48/1946. However, the Authority then resorted to deception, and started to pressurize the villagers by taking administrative seizure measures against the beneficiaries of the land, claiming that it was the property of the Authority and that as such the people were obliged to pay in exchange for benefiting from the land. As part of this deceptive behavior, the Awqaf Authority has been filing fictitious seizure orders and asset-squandering charges against those abstaining from payment. These are then referred to the public prosecution, which in turn refers them to court.
In response to the villagers' refusal to comply with the rents imposed on them, part of their refusal to acknowledge the Authority's ownership of the land, detention orders were issued against many of them, from which not even women were spared.
Those affected by detention orders include the following:
- Hanem 'Abd al-Rahman Ahmed 'Ali (15-day detention)
- Zakiya Ahmed Hamad (7-day detention)
- 'Ali Amin Mahmud (30-day detention)
- 'Ali Abd al-Karim Mahmud (30-day detention
- Mustafa Mohammed Selim (two detention orders of 30 days and seven days)
- 'Abd al-Salam Mohammed Selim (two detention orders of 15 days and seven days)
The attorneys of CHRLA's Aswan branch provided legal and judicial assistance to the affected citizens by attending the hearings of over 16 cases of misdemeanor through asset-squandering which the Awqaf Authority had filed. These attorneys also filed no less than 16 countersuits against the Awqaf Authority to prove the citizens' ownership of the disputed land.
Although primary court rulings were issued to prove the right of a number of citizens to the ownership of the land they had inherited, and although many expert reports have been issued supporting the rights of other citizens and denying the Awqaf Authority the right to the ownership of any land in the aforementioned village, the Authority officials in Qena governorate continue to besiege the villagers by filing further asset-squandering charges. In response, the citizens are seriously considering going on a hunger strike. The villagers insist on not having to pay for benefiting from the land, which they consider an acknowledgment of the Authority's ownership giving the Authority the right to evict them at any time.
Finally, the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid calls on Minister of Awqaf Dr. Hamdi Zakzuk to intervene personally to halt the increasing pressures exerted by the Qena Awqaf Authority against the inhabitants of al-Mahamid village, to withdraw all administrative seizure orders and asset-squandering charges filed against the villagers, and to prevent the implementation of any measures which may violate or circumvent court rulings.
1. Plural of "Waqf", an inalienable estate or mortmain.
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