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.