The case of the disappearing article

 An article on the potential of solar energy in Egypt written by professor of agriculture Nader Nour Eddin mysteriously found its way in and out of both Al-Ahram and masrawy.com last month. First published in Al-Ahram on 24 December in the first edition, it was scrapped from the second edition. The article was republished by masrawy.com the next day, and was then removed from the site within hours. The questions is why.

In this elusive piece of writing, Nour Eddin argues that Egypt has huge solar energy potential, enough to boost the economy by around US$90 billion. The article also mentioned the interest that German companies have taken in establishing Desertec, a massive project that would create solar farms across North Africa to produce electric power and for European consumption. Desertec believes that a 90,000 square kilometer solar farm in the North African Sahara is enough to provide 100 percent of the annual global demand for electricity.

The article also compared the abundant, sustainable, green and clean energy that could be produced from solar farms, with the less sustainable and far riskier potential of nuclear energy.

When masrawy.com published the article, the website mentioned that it had been suddenly removed from Al-Ahram.The article disappeared from masrawy.com hours after being published and it is unclear if it was removed as part of the routine circulation of articles, or because the website was instructed to do so. I managed to salvage a copy of the article on my Blackberry, which I believe is the last electronic copy available.

A close look at the article indicates two reasons it may have been banned.
First, the article compares the solar energy potential in Egypt, which is not a top priority for the government at the moment, with the nuclear energy project, which is at the top of the agenda. Second, the article talks about a possible US$90 billion a year in revenue, leading the reader to wonder why this is not being adopted as a national strategy. The government is, if indirectly, being called inefficient.

The first reason seems the more likely. Dr. Nour Eddin mentioned in detail some of the previous accidents related to the operation of nuclear power plants in Europe and elsewhere. The article clearly takes the position that solar energy fits better with the Egyptian conditions than nuclear energy and it demonstrates that sustainability and safety are far better with solar energy.

For a government that is currently trying to market its nuclear power program, it makes sense to worry about the implications of the article. But banning it completely was an overzealous response. Public debate is necessary when talking about major projects, such as a nuclear power plant. Silencing the advice of experts is not the best way to go.

As far as the second possible reason for the story’s dismissal, it is easy to imagine that the editors at Al-Ahram, or maybe the censors who supervise them, judged that this article audaciously dictates what the government should adopt as its energy policy. In that light, it was decided that the article could interfere with the government’s unchallenged decision making process.

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