For outsiders, SIWA oasis in Egypt is a wonderful place to visit precisely because “civilization” has been so slow to arrive there. But for locals, the gift of a new 20MW solar energy plant will be received like a mountain of gold.
Just 30 miles east of the border of Libya, the oasis is remote, but its curious earth architecture, productive olive groves, and vibrant cottage goods – not to mention the nicest, friendliest people you could ever wish to meet – makes it a fairly popular destination among tourists intrepid enough to visit Egypt.
But as Dr. Richard Leakey once told me, living among the Cliffs of Dover is hardly as romantic as visiting; in other words, life is not always so easy in this corner of Egypt, which has access to only the most rudimentary goods and services, and a lot of people still rely on unhealthy sources of energy to maintain their a basic standard of life.
The United Arab Emirates has promised to build a 20MW solar energy plant, according to Egypt Independent. Such a plant can produce 7,000 hours of clean energy per year, which would benefit a large percentage of the population of roughly 23,000-25,000 residents.
Of Berber origin mostly, the people of Siwa are very different than the Gulf Arabs, who have pledged their support to the poor, remote, mostly agricultural community, so there are tribal implications associated with this gift, but Egypt is in no position to turn down any help – regardless of its source – at this turbulent time.
“The governor [of Marsa Matrouh province, Badr Tantawy] expressed his gratitude to the UAE for its support of Egypt,” writes Egypt Independent, “especially after the 30 June protests that resulted in the army ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy.”
SIWA Oasis can be reached on an overnight bus ride from Cairo, though a car, in this case, might be both cleaner (environmentally speaking) and safer for those who can afford it.
Every time I’ve traveled from Turgoman Station to the sleepy oasis village, the miserable travel experience was made worthwhile by the destination. It is far and away my favorite place to visit, and I am very pleased to know that the UAE has bestowed this gift.
Such philanthropy and good will forms an important part of the Emirati identity.
Although some of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, most notably Abu Dhabi, are spoiled by their oil and natural gas riches, they are quick to share their good fortune in the form of renewable energy generation plants.
Masdar, for example, has built small solar and wind energy plants not only in the Middle East, but also in the Seychelles, Mauritania, and elsewhere. (They are also responsible for some of the world’s largest clean energy plants in Abu Dhabi, England, and Spain.)
The new plant will be a welcome addition to Siwa Oasis. Even though outsiders would like to see limits to development in order to preserve the special ambience, a 20MW solar plant is not so obtrusive and could greatly enhance quality of life – particularly if the energy produced is fairly distributed.