The evolution of land tenure and the agrarian economy in nineteenth century and early twentieth century Egypt
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When Muḥammad ‘Ali came to power in 1805, he undertook a drastic change in Egyptian land tenure. He abolished the iltizam or tax-farm system and seized all rizaq ahbasiya or religious endowments of agricultural land. When Muḥammad ‘Ali distributed land to the fellahin, he did not grant ownership rights over it. The feallahin, had to pay the tax called kharja which was impose don the village as a whole. By the end of Muḥammad ‘Ali’s reign, grants of large estates took place. These went to Muḥammad ‘Ali’s family, high officials and wealthy individuals. In Egypt, land was the principal resource of the economy particularly after the introduction of cotton as a cash crop from 1820. Thus, under Muḥammad ‘Ali, the state gained control of the land in Egypt, and secured the main source of revenue. Cotton became the major Egyptian export. In consequence, two changes occurred; the state revenue increased, but the gap between large and small landholders widened. Under Muḥammad ‘Ali, the peasant had to pay the land tax but did not own the land. The large landowners paid no tac and were able to inherit their land. Under Saïd, large estates, although subjected to ‘ushr tax were granted full ownership. The peasant land also underwent changes, in relation to purchase, mortgage and inheritance. But the state reserved the title of ownership over the land. During the American Civil War, the extension of cotton cultivation, led to a rise in land values and attracted foreign capital to Egypt. Through cotton, the capitalist economy came into Egypt. New techniques of production replaced the traditional methods of cultivation. The coming of foreigners into Egypt led to the introduction of capitalist practices such as mortgage and banking activities. Under Isma'il, the government’s need for cash gave impetus to the creation of private property from kharajiya land. Under the British occupation, the rights of property in all kinds of land were granted and a new equal rate of tax was introduced. This economic transformation led to the establishment of different classes of landowners in the country. By the end of the nineteenth century, a class of landless peasants and a news class of large landowners emerged. As a result of the rise in land values and the growth of private property in land, transactions in land occurred. Many foreigners, land companies and wealthy people acquired a considerable amount of land in this way.
Thesis, MLitt Master of Letters
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