An American environmental activist who shone a piercing light on environmental negligence in Egypt, Mindy Baha el Din died suddenly last week after suffering a brain stroke, leaving behind a husband, two daughters and a large community of grieving eco-warriors.
Born and raised in the United States, Mindy first moved to Egypt in 1988 and married a renowned ornithologist, Sherif Baha el Din, a quiet, intelligent man. She was outspoken and direct, the very opposite of her husband, and yet they persevered, united in their shared passion for nature. Confronted with an opportunity to return to the United States, Mindy once said to me, “what will I do there?” Instead she stayed, and fought for Egypt until the very end.
I didn’t know Mindy as well as some, since most of our correspondence took place online, but she left such an impression on me that when the news came through that she had succumbed to the brain stroke, it was hard for me to concentrate on anything else for several days.
Mindy was a cautious admirer of what we do here at Green Prophet.
While many Egyptians are uncomfortable with our policy to treat all environmental issues in the Middle East equally, whether in Israel, Syria, Iran or Dubai, she seemed to understand as we do that nature knows no borders, and that peace has to start somewhere.
So, she often fed us stories, a public relations service she volunteered to a handful of publications that cover environmental issues in Egypt. Although, as an insider, she was measured about the kind of information she shared and with whom.
For a little while we had someone writing for us that had fallen out of favor in Egypt, so it had been a while since I heard from Mindy. I didn’t hold it against her of course because politics in this region is complicated. It is a reality we all have to live with.
But one thing is for certain, if Mindy cared about an issue, everybody knew about it.
Some American activists come to Egypt wearing rose-tinted glasses, unable to recognize the cultural and political subtleties that underly the country’s environmental problems – pollution, apathy, the dire need for greater wildlife protection, etc.
But Mindy was different, in part because she had lived in the country for so long. She had great empathy for the exigencies that delay Egypt’s environmental enlightenment, but that didn’t stop her from confronting problems head on, armed with scientific integrity, transparency and a boat load of passionate conviction.
In so doing, she amassed a small army of fellow nature lovers as part of her work for Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) to rise above cultural and political restraints to achieve justice for Egypt’s fauna and flora.
Together they raised concerns over the impact that renewable energy generation projects will have on migratory birds, the only people in the country paying sufficient attention to this important issue, and spoke out against the government’s failure to adequately enforce protection of wildlife-rich areas of the country that contribute so richly to biodiversity.
They also arranged conferences every so often to promote education and dialogue among regional stakeholders, and basically kept their finger on the pulse of every major environmental concern in the country.
Mindy’s successors at NCE can never replace her, but they will ensure that her legacy will never die. And we at Green Prophet will miss her keen guidance.