In the past two years since a popular uprising ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the question of sustainability, energy and overall environmental awareness has been as evident as a clean street in Cairo. Basically, it has been nonexistent. Actually, it had been nonexistent until recently. Over the past few months, Egyptians have been inching, ever slowly, toward recapturing the environmental spirit that had catapulted to the forefront of social issues in 2010.
Earlier this month, a small group of activists took to the streets here in Cairo to begin the uphill battle of educating the 90 million strong population on how to better approach the environment. For the first time in a long while, Egyptians took the goal of teaching people about the use of plastic, electricity and trash to the public.
It was an inspiring, albeit short, event which showed that the idea of change is once again fomenting in this country on developing a broader environmental policy that includes a bottom-up approach.
As one activist told me earlier this month ahead of the event, the future of Egypt’s environmental movement will not be won, or gain strength, from demanding the government implement new policies that are unlikely to be followed; it must begin from the grassroots level where individuals take control of their own destiny and their surroundings.
“Creating a public space that people believe in is the most important thing that we must shoot for,” Mohamed told Green Prophet.
Nevertheless, putting words into action might be a lot more difficult in a country where citizens have little desire to think environmentally.
Take for example my own street – and the neighboring streets – in downtown Cairo. In early October, dozens of trees that created one of the rare canopies in a city of urban desert sprawl began to be cut down. It was a curious yet not surprising event and it wasn’t the first time it happened.
When I asked the supervisor on site why the trees were being cut, he said simply: “Because people complained the trees were blocking their view.”
So for Mohamed and others who are pushing for environmental action and a more conscientious population, they have some work to do, but a Nahdet el-Mahrousa event focusing on the environment shows that Egyptians are not short on ideas. A few of those promoted and discussed included recycling, garbage clean-up, reducing energy consumption and biofuel.
This is a good start.
It is all-too-easy to become frustrated and cynical about the future of environmentalism in Egypt given the numerous challenges, but with dozens of young people already looking for solutions to better society, there is growing optimism that there can be a future without streets littered with trash and where trees are allowed to grow unharmed by those who demand a better view.
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