E-Agrium and environmental-social protest in Egypt

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It's great to see that someone has written an analysis piece about the protests against the E-Agrium plant in Damietta, and put it in the context of Egypt's diffused wave of social protest. Where else but MERIP:

The Damietta protests may well mark a watershed for environmental mobilization in Egypt. The coalition that emerged to oppose the EAgrium plant crossed class and occupational lines, and included representatives of voluntary associations, members of Parliament, businessmen, university professors, landowners, and members of unions and professional syndicates. These groups employed a diverse repertoire of protest tactics and mobilizing strategies, including coordinated statements, petitions, marches, vigils, litigation and strikes. The coalition also framed its concerns in ways that resonated with the vast majority of Egyptians struggling to cope with the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the Delta. Mobilization against the factory emphasized the health threats posed by polluting industries, the subsidy of foreign investors, pervasive government corruption and the lack of environmental enforcement. These concerns were diffused through Egypt’s increasingly lively public and media sphere, including new independent newspapers, private TV stations and well-known regional satellite channels such as al-Jazeera.

The diverse protest tactics employed in Damietta are part of a larger wave of social protest that has washed over Egypt in recent years. Strikes, sit-ins, petitions, road closures and demonstrations of all kinds are increasingly employed by a dizzying array of actors, including textile workers, ambulance drivers, public sector employees, syndicate members, farmers and others. Egypt’s authoritarian regime has responded with a mixture of repression and accommodation. While the regime has ringed striking workers with security personnel, often leading to arrests and skirmishes, it has also sought to placate them with wage increases, bonuses and other economic benefits. In stark contrast, protesters making political demands have invariably been met with force.

The Damietta protests proved effective in part because they did not simply pit civil society against the state. Local economic elites and politicians played key roles in articulating a different developmental vision for the city and its environs than that promoted by the central government. To wit, they argued that the area’s economic development should rest on its natural advantages of sun and surf, capitalizing on the traditional status of Damietta and Ra’s al-Barr as premier summer resorts for Egyptians. This case was bolstered by the input of respected environmental scientists, whose opinion was solicited as part of a broader government commission of inquiry. And the movement was not merely local. When the idea of relocating the plant to Suez or Port Said surfaced in the press, protests erupted in these cities as well.

For reporting on the E-Agrium, see this BT piece.

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Podcast: Max Rodenbeck on Iran

As part of a plan to return to more prolific blogging and revamp the site over the next few months, we are starting a series of regular podcasts about the Middle East. The aim will be to carry out interviews with informed commentators on various regional issues, and hopefully eventually carry out some interesting discussions about the issues we regularly cover on this blog. This is partly due to the fact that I recently left a job which severely constrained my ability to blog, and made me remove my name from the blog. Long-time readers perfectly know who I am, but if you're newer to this site my name is Issandr El Amrani. I've lived in Cairo for nine years, am Moroccan-American, and my professional background is mostly in journalism and political analysis. This is my first attempt at podcasting, so be patient as we iron out the kinks (and I try to improve my radio voice). The first podcast in this series is basically a long interview with my friend Max Rodenbeck, the Middle East correspondent for The Economist and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books on regional issues. Max, whose book Cairo: The City Victorious is one of the best works on our great city, has made several trips to Iran in the last year and recently returned from covering the elections and following protests. Our conversation covers the elections themselves, the politics behind the protests, Max's impressions of the popular mood in Iran, and more. Some recent pieces on Iran Max wrote: ✩ Demanding to be counted (The Economist, 18 June 2009) ✩ Is the dream already over? (The Economist, 25 June 2009) ✩ Why the turbans are at odds (The Economist, 25 June 2009) ✩ The Iran Mystery Case (NYRB, 15 January 2009) ✩ An American in Iran (NYRB, 17 January 2008) And here's the podcast: Play / Download The podcast (and subsequent ones) should be listed on iTunes for subscription shortly - we'll update the page with that link when's it available.
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Turkey's Supreme Court hears case to ban AKP

From Supreme court threatens Islamic party's government in Turkey:

Turkey was thrown into crisis yesterday when the country's supreme court moved to oust the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and close down his political party, the country's biggest and most successful.

The 11-judge court, a bastion of the secularist establishment, decided unanimously to hear a case calling for the closure of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) as well as banning the prime minister and president from politics for five years on the grounds that they are trying to impose Islamic law in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 70 million.

The decision followed a failed attempt by the country's military leaders to mount a coup by stealth last year against the prime minister and to stop Abdullah Gul, the former foreign minister, from becoming president and head of state.

Erdogan, backed by many domestic and international politicians, argues that the court and state prosecution moves are anti-democratic and that his opponents are attempting to overthrow Turkish democracy through the courts because they cannot win at the ballot box.

"History will not forgive this," he said yesterday. "Those who couldn't fight the AKP democratically prefer to fight with anti-democratic methods."

How this case turns out could have wide-ranging ramifications for Islamist movements across the region. Thus far Turkey has been a model for the peaceful and gradual integration of Islamist parties into mainstream politics, and it would be a real shame to see that country thrown into a political crisis if the AKP were banned. I don't know much about Turkish politics, but one wonders whether this is really motivated by ideological opposition to Islamists or by the fact that the country's secular establishment now finds itself out of power, and therefore unable to access the resources of the state for their own purpose.
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