Does Egypt have a Green Party?

Apparently it does: "The establishment of the Egyptian Green Party was a direct response to the milk powder scandal in 1987," explains retired General Abdel Moneim Al Aasar, current head of Egypt’s Green Party. "After Chernobyl, a batch of damaged baby formula was on its way to Egypt and the German Green Party protested, lying down on train tracks to stop the train from transporting the milk shipment to the port."

According to Al Aasar, the Egyptian government felt that if the green party in Germany was so concerned about Egypt, there should at least be an Egyptian green party to follow up on issues here. So the party was pulled together, headed by Dr. Hassan Ragab, founder of the Pharonic Village and the Papyrus Institute, and powered by 3000 members.

As the years passed, the party saw a number of different heads–Abdel Salam Daoud, a journalist; Kamal Kira, a doctor; and finally, Bahaa Bakry, a professor of environmental studies at Cairo University. Bakry is still involved with the party today, despite having left its management to Al Aasar in 1999.

Although most of us may never have heard of the party, according to Al Aasar it is behind many of the sanitation and environment related projects that have been going on in the past few years–from the Wadi el-Kamar rat problem and a plumbing crisis in Arish, to the protection of a rare collection of trees at the Mohamed Ali Palace in Manial. The party has even backed the establishment of a committee to tackle the removal of mines from 600,000 feddans in the desert, although, says Al Aasar, "the plans for the committee were submitted and then buried somewhere in a drawer."

These days, the party is involved mainly in holding talks–there has been one on avian flu, one on planting roof gardens (a campaign to make the rooftops of Cairo more beautiful), and another on involving youth in keeping Egypt clean. "When we were young," explains Al Aasar, "we were taught to wash our hands, shower, keep ourselves clean, etc. But today, there is no concept of cleanliness."

Al Aasar doesn’t blame the Egyptian population since, he says, Nasser’s socialism "taught the Egyptian people that the government was their parents, [and] told the people that they should just have children and that the government would feed them, educate them and find them jobs. So people had children and Cairo, which had a population of one million in the 1940’s, has now exploded." Al Aasar also believes that environmental issues are difficult to communicate to the Egyptian public while the government doesn’t provide them with a clean environment in which to live.

Al Aasar would like to do more but he points out that a number of forces keep the party from becoming more involved. "The NDP overpowers every other party," he explains. "Its members are millionaires." According to Al Aasar, the Egyptian Green Party receives LE100,000 a year from the government and after paying rent for their headquarters in Dokki and their offices in the various governorates, as well as paying salaries for the staff, less than LE20,000 is left–not enough for bigger projects. He also explains that the Green Party’s lack of a presence at Copenhagen was due to an inability to find accommodation there.

About global warming and the eminent threat of flooding of the Nile Delta, Al Aasar says, "A one-meter increase in sea level will drown half the Delta." He explains that a number of ideas are on the table, including setting up a system of dikes similar to those in the Netherlands, closing off the Mediterranean by blocking the Strait of Gibraltar, and channeling water from the Mediterranean into part of Egypt’s western desert which is below sea level.

Al Aasar also points out that there are many people who believe that everything from global warming to ozone depletion is part of the environment’s wider life cycle, and that humans have no effect on this cycle. Even Al Aasar admits that to him, this is the most plausible explanation for the state of the environment.

A final note–if you look for the party online, you’ll be directed to a site run by someone who was asked to leave the party. The Egyptian Green Party is not responsible for the site and they are suing the man who continues to pretend to represent them.

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