Environmental Voices: Egypt’s survival depends on a greener agenda

The following article is part of Al-Masry Al Youm's weekly "Environmental Voices" series, in which issues related to the environment–whether local, regional or international in nature–will be discussed from the point of view of environmental experts.

Environment, climate change and global warming have become buzz words in recent years–whether internationally or locally. But how seriously are such issues being taken on the ground?
As a follow up to the Rio Conference of 1992 and, more recently, in response to calls from the Johannesburg Earth Summit of 2002, green movements spearheaded by environmental activists have led to the formation of Green parties in a growing number of countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Many of such Green political parties–The Greens, Les Verts, Die GrĂ¼nen, De Groenen and Los Verdes, as they are called in various languages–have joined a Global Green Coordination and Global Green Network, founded in 2001 in Canberra, Australia.
The Green Party of Egypt, ‘Hizb al-Khodr’, was established in 1990 by the founder of the Papyrus Institute in Egypt, the late Hassan Ragab. This means that awareness of the need to give priority to the environmental agenda existed in the country even before international calls for action were heard.
Hizb al-Khodr is a minor liberal party among 12 parties registered under the liberal grouping (other political parties are classified as left-wing or right-wing, in addition to other political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communist Group and Kefaya). Hizb al-Khodr was put on hiatus in 1995, but was revived in 1998. It is represented in the  Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament) by its president, Abdul Munem al-Aasar, although by presidential appointment rather than by election. The party puts out an e-newsletter called “Al-Watan” or "The nation."
The party is committed to the protection and promotion of the environment and optimal use of resources. While adopting a free market as Egypt's main economic system, it calls for striking a balance between incomes and prices and drawing up solutions to the problems of poverty and under-development by rendering social justice to all citizens. It also swears allegiance to the principles of liberal democracy and looks to religion as a main guideline for solving daily problems.
However, as is commonly known, political parties in Egypt–other than the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak–wield little weight in the realm of public affairs. This is perhaps one of the reasons why little is known about the mission of Hizb al-Khodr–or how they plan to translate their ideas into action.
State machinery for environmental affairs was established by the government in 1997 with the creation of the Minister of State for the Environment. However, this state machinery lacks authority, as the minister enjoys neither an executive role nor the necessary political leverage to enforce environmental laws.
The sad situation is that twenty years after having a full-fledged green political party–and thirteen years after the creation of a ministerial portfolio devoted to the environment–a major gap still exists between intent, legislation and policies on the one hand, and practice on the other. This denotes a lack of respect for the environment and low levels of social responsibility–by individuals, institutions and corporations, whose convictions seldom transcend naked self interest.
The evidence lies in the high levels of air and water pollution prevailing in the country; soil degradation; unchecked urbanization; inadequate waste management; coastal erosion; and other environmental hazards.
What, then, is to be done?
We could consider granting executive power to the Minister of State for the Environment and greater political leverage to the relevant ministries and the business sector. Or provide the greens with greater representation in parliament. Upcoming elections in November could–in a best-case scenario–achieve this outcome.
Either or both solutions, however, do not only require national awareness of the philosophy underpinning the environmental agenda, but also of its implications, as these include the precepts of good governance and respect for the public good over mere self interest–individual or institutional.
In parallel, including environmental concepts in educational curricula is also a must in order to foster an environmental culture among new generations.
Lastly, we Egyptians have to admit that green has hardly been a motto in our daily lives. Perhaps the consequences of climate warming–from which we have already begun to suffer–will force us to think differently.
Green politics isn't a luxury, but a question of national survival.

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