Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Anthropology

Supervisor(s)

Dan Jorgensen

Abstract

This dissertation addresses the challenge of achieving increased empowerment and equality for Egyptian women. The dissertation tests the assumption that land access (through both joint and full titles) increases empowerment and equality for women in two desert resettlements of Sa’yda and Intilaq, part of the massive Mubarak Resettlement Scheme (MRS). In particular, the dissertation identifies: 1) how land access could empower Egyptian women and 2) women’s experiences with land access in the MRS. Findings reveal that land access is indeed the most promising route for women’s advancement in life, but the desert land required patience and financial assets. Land access, however, is not ubiquitously empowering as has been argued by many scholars. The dissertation showed, for example, that joint titles did not increase women’s ability to overcome inequalities. Women landholders of both title types experienced resistance from government officials and family members to capture opportunities provided to them through land access. The dissertation asserts that inequalities and injustices are reproduced in the MRS. Women landholders and other poor settlers were provided with the most marginal lands in the MRS and had to endure inadequate planning, limited access to basic services, and empty promises. Settlers, including women, resisted government’s weak policies by covert (rumours, gossip, and passive non-compliance) and overt ways (open protest and defiance), increasingly after the Revolution of January 25. In response, the state participated in settlers’ resistance, turned a blind eye to it, or legalized it to generate profit and please the angry crowds. The study confirms an interdependent household model for Egyptian families. Women did not aspire to opt outside their households, as has been advocated for by many scholars; rather, women landholders aimed to provide for their husbands and children. Long term sustainability of women’s access to land is seriously challenged by women landholders’ plans to bequest property mostly to their sons. The study also highlights the importance of relying on site-specific and locally relevant scientific knowledge for farming marginal lands, which is common to many parts of the world due to population pressures. Provision of land to women has the potential to be empowering, provided that policymakers also consider gender relations, land subjectivities, micro-credit, marketing, scientific research in desert conditions, adherence to promised policies, and patriarchy. In analyzing planners’ agendas and officials’ implementation through the lens of local women’s experiences, this study opens up new ways to systemically understand the links among empowerment, gender, and land access in the Middle East.