13 March 2014, Cairo – As Egypt’s government appeared to move closer to a final decision to allow cement factories to import coal for energy, an unlikely coalition of activists from across the country met with the support of the Environment Minister to push for a campaign against what they call a “disastrous” decision.
The Arab world’s most populous nation, hit by economic instability in three years of unrest, has been cutting back on natural gas supplies to energy-gulping cement factories, hoping to forestall a looming energy crisis this summer and the likelihood of sustained gas shortages.
But allowing the import of coal may force the country into a polluting and fossil fuel dependent future where Egyptians have little control over the supply, opponents of the change argue. Most importantly, the decision could further discourage a transition to renewable energy, they say.
The import of coal has been debated for months, with opposition from the environment and tourism ministries worried about potential pollution both from coal-powered factories and during shipment of coal from Egypt’s ports on infrastructure poorly equipped for the load.
The industry minister announced on Monday that Egypt would allow cement firms to use coal, pending a review of stricter environmental regulations, but that was followed by contradictory statements from the interim cabinet. The pledge to look at stricter regulation did little to ease worries.
‘THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT COAL’
“This is not just about coal. It is about ensuring that this country has sovereignty over its own energy sources and guaranteeing that instead of moving in the opposite direction of the world, that we are working for renewable alternatives,” said activist Ahmed El Droubi, coordinator of the Egyptians Against Coal campaign.
A loose-knit coalition of youth from across the country, concerned that the public debate over coal use has been dominated by powerful businessmen, gathered with environmental campaigners and representatives of non-governmental organisations in the Red Sea city of Hurghada to strategise and agree a grassroots campaign to reverse the decision to import coal.
“Our cause is simple and that is to protect Egypt from the coming disaster. If a decision is made for coal to be imported, that won’t mean this campaign is over. We will keep working until they send it back,” Amr Ali of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) told the session to applause.