Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Alexandria’s land battle

A dispute over land ownership has resulted in one person dead and others injured in the Amreya district of Alexandria, writes Ameera Fouad

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Amreya district in Alexandria has recently seen a wave of conflict between residents over the disputed ownership of a piece of land. The problem first began in 2012, following the election of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. During Morsi’s one-year rule, there was an increase in land disputes involving Salafists and their Coptic neighbours.

Located in southwest Alexandria, 20 km from the centre of Egypt’s northern Mediterranean port, the Al-Ella village dispute began when two of the largest families in the district tried to take control of a ten-feddan piece of land without official documentation.

Local people belonging to the Muslim Al-Houty family seized more than ten feddans of land owned by Copt Hamdy Makanouti without legal documentation. Although the Makanouti family went to court to regain the land and won the case, they have not been allowed to go back onto the land due to threats of violence from the Al-Houty family.

The Al-Houty family is accused of not only frightening the neighbourhood, but also using its religious identity to defy the law. Whenever the police tried to intervene and implement the court order in favour of the Makanouti family, the Al-Houtys used mosque loudspeakers to stir up crowds of people against Christians.

“That’s exactly what happened on 20 September, like in 2013 when the police tried to restore the land. Whenever the police try to implement the court order to restore our stolen land, the Al-Houty family, which belongs to the Salafist sect, resort to using mosques to gather crowds not only against us as Christians but also against the police and all the Muslims who are standing with us,” said Nessim Makanouti, a family member.

“In the course of a gun fight with the police in September, one person was killed and the police fled. We didn’t want this violence, and we have never done anything to harm the Al-Houty family, verbally or non-verbally. The court found in our favour in 2013, and we want the judgement to be implemented,” Nessim Makanouti added.

However, especially after the death of the Al-Houty family member in the gunfight, matters have become worse for the Makanouti family, which now feels trapped inside their house. The children are frightened to go to school, their church has been attacked, and they have not recovered their land.

“Although this was never a religious conflict, the way the Al-Houty family has used religion to drum up crowds against Christians is unacceptable. Using mosque loudspeakers and attacking the Makanouti family house is quite unacceptable,” Nader Shokry, a member of the Copts against Oppression campaign group told the Weekly.

A week after the escalation of the dispute and after a Christian woman was injured while praying in the Church of Mar Girgis (St George) in Alexandria, attempts at reconciliation between the two families were made. The reconciliation session took place after the intervention of the Maghawra and Deifallah tribes, who stepped in to try to bring the families back together.

Thus far, the truce between the families has lasted four months. The terms of the truce include the Makanouti family not attempting to reclaim the land for the next four months, the family staying away from the Church of Mar Girgis for four months, the Al-Houty family staying away from Makanouti property, and the two parties agreeing to abide by the agreement.

The reconciliation session was held at the local mosque, and the participants included local tribes and local government and security officials, as well as village elders and Father Boqtor Nashed of the Mar Girgis Church.

“I don’t find the terms satisfactory, and I can’t understand the reason behind banning Christians from going to church,” Shokry said. “The agreement denies Christians the right to claim their land, although this was given by a court order that should be implemented. It is as if peace has been achieved in exchange for land.”

Although the authorities have intervened several times to restore the ten feddans of land to the Makanouti family, it seems the strongest party is winning for the time being. The question remains of when the stolen land in Alexandria will be returned to its Coptic owners.

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