A candlelight vigil was held in Cairo Saturday evening as part of an international effort to raise awareness about the threat of global warming. The event, organized by online environmental-awareness campaign "350.org," was timed to coincide with the COP15 climate conference currently underway in Copenhagen, Denmark. According to 350.org, this weekend witnessed thousands of similar vigils in over 150 countries around the world.
The event, held at El Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek, began at 8:00PM with a small group of local organizers distributing both candles and printed statements calling on world leaders at Copenhagen to reach "a real deal" on international climate change protocols. An hour later, a group of twenty-something activists posed, candles in hand, for pictures. The crowd dispersed not long afterward, with some attendees scrawling environment-related messages and slogans on a poster on their way out.
“I wish more people had come,” sighed 350.org representative and vigil organizer Aiman Elsayed. “I was expecting a bigger turnout, but–considering the circumstances–I’m still happy with this.”
Initially, three separate vigils had been scheduled in Cairo over the weekend, with the main one set to take place at the Cairo Opera House in Zamalek. Organizers were taken aback, however, when State Security officials refused to grant permission for the tripartite event.
“They said they wouldn’t have enough time to process the necessary paperwork,” said Elsayed. “I told them it would only be a bunch of people with candles; that it was something good for Egypt and the whole planet.” Nevertheless, Elsayed ultimately failed to convince the authorities.
In the end, organizers found a venue for the vigil at Zamalek’s El Sawy Culture Wheel, where–despite the modest turnout–the message was delivered loud and clear.
“Industrialized countries are obliged to pay their debts to the climate,” said American environmental activist and blogger Marion Dixon, who attended the event. “It’s our job to stop them from bullying the rest of the world. It’s not just about climate justice, it’s about the corporations that rape and pillage and displace people.”
Despite the seriousness of the issue at hand, an upbeat vibe hung over the young crowd. Although modest in size, the gathering represented somewhat of a novelty in Egypt, highlighting a vocal desire on the part of a new generation to improve not only their country, but the world. Those who look upon the future of Egypt with foreboding would have doubtlessly found a flicker of hope in the enthusiasm shown by both organizers and attendees.
“Something like this really goes hand-in-hand with what we do; we’re here to support this," said cycling enthusiast Mohamed Saad, who–together with a group of spandex-clad friends–rode his bicycle to the event. "I think we made our message clear. I just hope it catches on. ”
“It’s not a ‘success’ in terms of a huge turnout as much as it is voices being heard from around the world, especially from developing countries,” agreed vigil-goer Sara el Sayed. “Unfortunately, with meetings and conferences like COP15, the voices of those really being hurt by climate change aren’t being heard."
"We don’t want this conference to yield regulations that are merely imperialistic or unrealistic. After all, the developed world has been the most abusive in terms of industry and emissions and so forth," el Sayed added. "Climate change is a problem we need to work on collectively. But at the same time, we need to help each other out.”
After the event wrapped up, Elsayed thanked everyone involved, shaking hands and patting people on the back. Participants said their goodbyes with words of encouragement and plans for bigger, more ambitious events in the future.
"Yes, it could have gone better, but it also could have gone much worse–or not at all," Elsayed smiled. "We just have to keep trying."