The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Environment
Dubai has glitz but no real sewage system

Dubai

Quite astonished by this:

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It's located in Dubai, a city with a lot of other skyscrapers. What Dubai doesn't have: A central sewage infrastructure that can accommodate the needs of a bunch of skyscrapers.
You see the problem.

To solve the issue trucks come and collect wastewater from separate buildings, and then can queue for up to 24 hours to deliver it to treatment plants. Perhaps before building the next mega-mall, Dubai might invest in the unglamorous basics.

Egypt's filthy canals

This always astounds me when I'm in the countryside — the simply horrendous condition of the canals in a country where government long meant, essentially, the maintenance and upkeeping of irrigation canals. I don't think there's a better illustration of the extent to which Egypt has been badly run for decades.
Climate change and the Syrian uprising

Climate change and the Syrian uprising | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a fascinating piece on climate change and drought as a cause of the Syrian uprising by Shahrzad Mohtadi:

From 1900 until 2005, there were six droughts of significance in Syria; the average monthly level of winter precipitation during these dry periods was approximately one-third of normal. All but one of these droughts lasted only one season; the exception lasted two. Farming communities were thus able to withstand dry periods by falling back on government subsidies and secondary water resources. This most recent, the seventh drought, however, lasted from 2006 to 2010, an astounding four seasons -- a true anomaly in the past century. Furthermore, the average level of precipitation in these four years was the lowest of any drought-ridden period in the last century.

While impossible to deem one instance of drought as a direct result of anthropogenic climate change, a 2011 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regarding this recent Syrian drought states: "Climate change from greenhouse gases explained roughly half the increased dryness of 1902-2010." Martin Hoerling, the lead researcher of the study, explains: "The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone. This is not encouraging news for a region that already experiences water stress, because it implies natural variability alone is unlikely to return the region's climate to normal." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that global warming will induce droughts even more severe in this region in the coming decades.

It is estimated that the Syrian drought has displaced more than 1.5 million people; entire families of agricultural workers and small-scale farmers moved from the country's breadbasket region in the northeast to urban peripheries of the south. The drought tipped the scale of an unbalanced agricultural system that was already feeling the weight of policy mismanagement and unsustainable environmental practices. Further, lack of contingency planning contributed to the inability of the system to cope with the aftermath of the drought. Decades of poorly planned agricultural policies now haunt Syria's al-Assad regime.

[Thanks, J.]

A Revolution of the Thirsty

✚ Egypt's Arab Spring: A Revolution of the Thirsty

Great article by Karen Piper in Design Observer on Egypt's water crisis and the disparities in access to clean water between slums, gated communities, and everyone in between:

When Tahrir Square erupted in the winter of 2011, the international news media proclaimed a “social media revolution” spurred by pro-democracy Egyptians seeking to overthrow the repressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak. To a large extent unreported was the fact that the country was also in a water crisis, having dropped below the globally recognized “water poverty” line of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, down to 700 cubic meters per person. It is no exaggeration to say that the January 25 Revolution was not just a revolution of the disenfranchised; it was also what some have called a “Revolution of the Thirsty.” In a land almost without rain, the Nile River supplies 97 percent of renewable water resources, and these days an increasing share of that water is being directed to the posh suburban compounds — where many of Egypt's political elite lives — to support that "greener side of life." Meanwhile, in the years before the revolution, the state water utilities had dramatically hiked rates for residents in downtown Cairo, where some 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

All of this stems from the policy to develop exurbs  — and especially gated communities based around golf courses — that began in the 1990s, with the state subsidizing the cost of bringing water to the new developments while neglecting existing settlements. These new communities, almost always developed in the desert, often advertised themselves as green areas away from the dusty town centers. 

All the while, as water was flowing and taxpayer money shifting to the exurban oases, millions of residents of old Cairo struggled with little access to sanitary facilities. The ostentatious water wealth that made possible the "greener side of life" was becoming a symbol of government corruption. The Revolution of the Thirsty was gathering strength.

Tuaregs, climate and guns in the Sahel

Strife in the Sahel: A perfect desert storm | The Economist:

"Low precipitation may seem normal near the Sahara. In fact, much of the Sahel normally gets enough rain to allow modest farming. But a rise in water temperatures in the nearby Gulf of Guinea has shifted the flow of rain clouds southwards, meteorologists say. Livestock have died in droves. Long-term overgrazing and fast population growth have made the problem worse.

Oxfam, an aid agency, warns of a humanitarian disaster, with more than 1m children facing severe malnutrition. Villagers in Chad already dig up ant hills to gather grain the ants have stored. But the worst-affected place is now Niger, a landlocked country of 15m people which, even in normal times, accounts for a sixth of global child deaths from malnutrition. Save the Children, another aid agency, says that the situation in Niger has worsened since September, when a lack of rain led to crop failures of up to 80%.

Misery has made the Sahel’s thousands of unemployed an easy target for recruiters from extremist groups. Their main base lies across Niger’s badly patrolled border with Algeria, where the Sahel becomes outright desert. A two-decade-old Islamist insurgency there has adopted the mantle of global jihad and renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Having failed to dislodge the military regime along Algeria’s densely populated Mediterranean coast, these extremists are increasingly focused on the sandy hinterland.

In January they kidnapped a provincial governor near Niger’s border with Libya. They also hold at least 18 Europeans hostage. Several of these are in the custody of a new splinter group that announced itself in December. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa is led by black Africans, rather than the Arabs who typically dominate jihadi circles. To set themselves apart they strive to be even more radical. Modern weapons flow to them from Libya. After the collapse of its government last summer, some former rebels have been selling off the contents of looted armouries."

Great rare piece on the complex range of factors that are making the Sahel more explosive than ever. If course the spread of weapons from Libya was something many warned about before the civil war there. But impact of climate change may be more serious in the long run.

The big picture for Egypt's future

Maria Golia's latest al-Masri al-Youm column, on developmental choices Egypt faces, makes a case for prioritizing environmental considerations. It's a sobering reminder that there are so much more important things at stake that the micro-debates over elections or constitution first and how much Sharia law there should be in the constitution:

Egypt’s scientific community has finally jump-started the debate over the country’s post-Mubarak developmental direction. Several high-profile figures have proposed large-scale projects -- Farouk al-Baz’s “Corridor of Development”, Mostafa Amer’s “Map of Hope” and Ahmed Zewail’s “Science City” – each with its features and drawbacks.  The ensuing critique of these projects has raised issues whose importance cannot be overestimated, including land and water use, energy production and education. Significant arguments have been raised; some are reaching the ears of the public and transitional government.  

But the debate still fails to convey the urgency for broad-based action, perhaps because the realities are so daunting. Rhetoric is typically a distant ancestor of change, and we are being drowned in it now, at a time when the lifeboats should long since have been launched. Today’s developmental discourse betrays a degree of the same denial and misreading of the headwinds that has already come at a heavy cost.

. . .

But after decades of mismanagement such fine-tuned planning is a luxury Egypt can scarcely afford. The population will double within the next 30-40 years. Where will these people live, and how, given the country’s limited resources?  In the absence of adequate water, food and energy it’s hard to imagine Egypt surviving another 100 years at all, much less happily engaged in one pursuit or another. Under these circumstances, the priority is land and water usage, balancing food and energy production, and it cannot wait out the rhetoric.  

Egypt’s desertification is proceeding more rapidly than anywhere on earth. With coastal erosion and urban encroachment, arable land is literally disappearing beneath the feet of a burgeoning, hungry population at a mind-boggling rate of 3.5 feddans per hour.  The hardship already suffered by millions due to water shortages, the loss of livelihood owing to land grabs, the impact of land and water misuse on food production – these realities are all but ignored, except for a smattering of disconnected projects and fragmented media coverage. Candidates for parliament or the presidency who fail to outline a plan to remedy this situation should not be taken seriously.  

Despite the dire statistics and visual proofs there is virtually no public discussion of the gravity of Egypt’s environmental condition. Land and water losses in the last two decades alone are staggering, but so is the lack of responsible action by the state or private developers to reverse or at least slow them down. Some years ago Egypt boasted 18 golf courses – notoriously huge water consumers – and less than a thousand golf players. The number of lushly-landscaped residential communities and resorts has since multiplied.  

Just read the whole thing.

Amer Group and the threat to Fayoum

Fayoum seen from the desert

Environmentalists currently represent a small subsection of activists in Egypt, but like everybody else they've received a boost from the revolution, as well as more problems to deal with. The former comes in the sense that people are generally more willing to pay attention to the kind of political, economic, ecological and community problems environmentalism attempt to deal with — everyone is more empowered and has a great sense of community belonging. Yet, at the same time, the partial collapse of the state has led to many abuses (most notably illegal construction) and many people prioritize security or party politics ahead of environmentalism. Many are trying to bring attention to this issue oin political gatherings, on Twitter and blogs, and elsewhere.

Hopefully they'll be able to achieve more than they ever could have under Mubarak. This could be the case of Nature Conservation Egypt, a NGO that is currently focusing on plans for the Amer Group, a major developer, to build a resort on Lake Fayoum, an area of outstanding natural beauty that is a major waypoint for bird migration between Africa and Europe. It's also geologically very rich, with the desert plateau behind the lake full of fossils. The Amer Group has been in the news lately as part of the investigation into corrupt land deals under Mubarak — it has already returned some of the land it has acquired. But what it threatens to do to Fayoum's desert shore may be worse than what it has already done to the North Coast with its gaudy resorts:

The Amer Group, the Egyptian real estate developer responsible for Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna, massive tourism developments along Egypt’s North and Ain Sokhna coasts, plans to build “Porto Fayoum” on 650 acres in the Lake Qarun Protected area near Fayoum Oasis.

Former President Hosni Mubarak’s government sold the Amer Group this land for only $28,000 ($.05 per square meter), according to Egypt’s American Chamber of Commerce. This is the first development of such huge proportions to be allowed in an Egyptian protected area.

This and other tourism developments planned for a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land along the northern part of Lake Qarun will undoubtedly wreak untold damage to this pristine, scenic desert area, known as Gebel Qatrani. This area contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals and remains critical to our understanding of mammalian–and human–evolution.

Read more about it here, where you can listen to a podcast featuring NCE activists.

The Arabs and nuclear energy

A few years ago, nuclear power was all the rage in the Arab world. Gamal Mubarak tried to boost his own statesman credentials by announcing that Egypt would build its first commercial nuclear plant. Soon most of the GCC followed suit, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria began feasibility studies, and it looked like the entire region would get on the nuclear bandwagon. Much of this nuclear talk had a whiff of nationalism about it, as if nuclear plants were as much prestige projects as an answer to skyrocketing electricity consumption (that for instance caused rolling brownouts last summer in Egypt and could very well do so again). The context of Iran's nuclear weapons program led to a spate of stories about how this was a preliminary to a region-wide nuclear arms race, even though the two issues are quite separate.

The US and other Western powers, as well as countries with solid nuclear experience like Russia, Kazakhstan or South Korea, generally rejoiced at this news because the Arab countries would be concluding juicy contracts with their firms. They began to compete for who would get the contracts. When Egypt's own $160m feasibility study was carried out by an Australian firm called WorleyParsons rather than Bechtel, as initially planned, it was said it was because the firm's local consultant was Mounir Thabet, the brother of Suzanne Mubarak (others joked it was because Bechtel had recently hired David Welch, a former US Ambassador in Cairo that Mubarak could not stand.) The US in particular was hoping to sell General Electric and Westinghouse's latest type of nuclear reactor, which they said made the misuse of spent fuel to generate weapons-grade material impossible and would grant control of the fuel cycle to the West. (This may or may not have been a selling point of the reactors for a depressed American nuclear industry had lobbied for with Dick Cheney's secretive energy task force and produced the Bush administration nuclear-pushing GNEP.)

Then the revolutions came. It's not clear whether Egypt or other countries outside the GCC will pursue their nuclear policies anymore. For one, they are facing serious fiscal problems and may not have the resources to invest in plants that cost multiples of billions of dollars. The political (and economic) motives for the nuclear project may also change. And of course, there's Japan. I don't know enough about what happened in Japan to tell whether it's a universal risk: the plants affected, after all, were all 1970s models and it's been reported newer models do not have their safety flaws. Nonetheless, it's quite a warning for those of us who thought nuclear energy, overall, was fairly safe.

I have been a big fan of nuclear energy, as used by France for instance. It makes sense for Middle Eastern states to develop electricity production that does not rely on burning fossil fuels they could be exporting or using in plastics plants or refineries. Of course that could be renewables — if you can eventually get them to be more productive. There remains a strategic argument for developing the indigenous technology know-how behind nuclear power, too: it will make a nuclear weapons program substantially easier to start. Any country would bear that in mind, especially in a region a war-prone as this one and in which a theological state already has a substantial arsenal which the current foreign minister has threatened to use (i.e. Israel.) 

The Heinrich Boll Stigtung, the think-tank and NGO arm of the German Green party, has recently translated a book on the risks of nuclear energy into Arabic. You can get it here (as well as in English). The latest issue of their magazine, Perspectives, has a debate on the issue of nuclear energy in the Arab world (again from the critical angle.) I'm not sure that it's worth abandoning nuclear power altogether (that's a debate the world is having post-Japan) but it's an issue that is worth having a wider debate about in the Arab world, learning from the evolution of the debate in Europe and elsewhere since the 1950s. 

Is Egypt's Delta going to drown, or not?

Yesterday was too packed a day to continue the short post I put up.

But I do want to report on one highlight of yesterday's conference at the Biblioteca Alexandrina on the UNDP's latest Arab Human Development Report, on human security, and specifically the challenge of climate change and water management in the Arab word.

For a few years now scientists have warned that rising sea levels in the Mediterranean threaten the sea's coastline, and Egypt's Delta in particular. We've seen dire predictions — 4500 km2 of land flooded, 6-14 million people displaced — as well as the threat of infiltration of seawater into aquifers, making agriculture in areas not affected by the floods more difficult.

What I had not quite realized is that while some have said the predictions are a bit too alarmist, there is actually quite a healthy debate among the specialists about the nature of the threat. Two diametrically opposed views were presented yesterday, delving into issues of sea level rise, currents patterns, erosion patterns, possibilities for mitigation and a lot more stuff that a non-specialist like me can't fully appreciate.

 

The first view, endorsed by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says that the threat is very real and good parts of the coastline (mostly around and Alexandria and towards Port Said) are at risk. It also stresses that the impact on aquifers is extremely serious, and that climate change will almost certainly have a devastating impact on Egypt's agricultural heartland, with 15% of the country's arable land affeted. It proposes the construction of a LE20 billion (about $3.5 billion) underground wall by the shore, made of a substance called plastic concrete, that will protect underground freshwater from seawater, as well as as protection for land, and other drastic measures to face the possibility that seawater may rise by up to 1.5m by the end of the century. 

The other view says that the data that IPCC endorsed is flawed, and that newer and more complex models exist that suggest that while a rise in sea levels is a real prospect, its impact on Egypt's coastline can be much more easily controlled. It points out that there are a lot of natural defenses, most notably dunes, on the coastline and focuses on preserving them and funding research to understand them better. It argues that one (overground) wall near Port Said built in 1820 by Muhammad Ali still exists and has done its job fine. It says there are a few problem areas, and these need to be addressed, but that the focus of efforts should be understand patterns of erosion, currents, etc. on the coastline and have more systematic monitoring to be able to address the problem.

I can't evaluate the science of either claim. The IPCC regularly reviews new data as it becomes available, and the next review of this question will be in a few years. Perhaps new data will change the prediction, or confirm them. Either way there is a serious problem to deal with, and there is general agreement about risks of groundwater penetration. What the first view has in its favor right now is its endorsement by the IPCC, and that the alternative scenario has yet to be peer-reviewed. 

But the conference was a really good example of real debate about climate change, away from the recent controversy over emails by IPCC scientists. It's grounded in a very specific area, and the researchers on both sides are Egyptians who have a real, direct concern for their country's environment.

There is also growing civil society involvement around this, trying to mobilize the government to dedicate appropriate resources to the problem. The problem is also being internationalized institutionally (naturally the problem is international by definition), with a Mediterranean Action Plan backed by the EU about to go in action for coordination between the 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. One way or another, the time to act is now, first with more research, and then with solutions. We may be a few years away from starting a megaproject of dikes and underground walls, but efforts to preserve natural defenses (for instance by stopping construction companies from taking sand from the shore) can be implemented now. And that means tackling issues of corruption and governance — Egypt's perennial, overarching problem.

In Alexandria

For a conference on the latest Arab Human Development Report, which focuses on the environment. Hope to blog about it, but I'm already seeing some interesting papers on global warming and overpopulation.

Some interesting and worrying stats:

- there are 369 million Arabs today; in 2050 there will be 598 million.
- 90% of land in the region is classified as arid or dry sub-humid.
- 15 of the 22 arab states are among the world's. Most water-stressed countries.
- Temperature increases in the region due to global warming will be of 2C over the next 15-20 years and up to 4C by the end of the century.
- Droughts have already become more frequent, notably in Morocco.
- Mediterranean will rise by 30cm to 1m and will flood parts of Egypt's north coast.

More later.

Links for Jan.06.10 to Jan.07.10
Video: Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy | guardian.co.uk | Another good video about clashes between Viva Palestina and Egyptian security.
Rebuilding Afghanistan « London Review Blog | Narcotecture = Drug-financed ugly houses in Kabul.
Israeli television confrontation is ‘a metaphor of the moral crisis in which Zionism is found today’ | Fascinating video argument - must watch.
Israel to deploy Gaza rocket interceptor by June - Haaretz | So no more need for blockade, I guess?
Ainsi disait Laroui à propos de la politique. Extraits politiques « min diwan Assyassa ». « Des maux à dire | On new book on M6 era in Morocco.
Security Experts: Administration Overstates Domestic al-Qaeda Threat « The Washington Independent | Sounds familiar.
Pro-ElBaradei campaign seeks collective proxies | Al-Masry Al-Youm | Interesting list of backers for ElBaradei campaign, includes Amr Moussa!
Palestine Vivra! The French Heroes of the Gaza Freedom March | A nice account.
Jerome Slater: On the US and Israel | New blog by academic.
The Settlement Freeze That Isn't | The American Prospect | "The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth."
BBC News - Egypt police clash with Gaza aid convoy activists | Unbelievable - Viva Palestina convoy sent through Kerem Shalom.
Egypt to import natural gas from Iraq | Al-Masry Al-Youm | I wonder how much it costs compared to the gas sold to Israel.
Saudi Arabia backs Egyptian plan for renewed peace talks - Haaretz | This peace plans sounds dodgy, esp. in its treatment of settlements.
t r u t h o u t | Egypt: Rooftops Empower the Poor | Nice story on clean energy for the poor on Cairo's rooftops.
Support the Cairo Declaration of the Gaza Freedom March Petition |

Links for Dec.10.09 to Dec.12.09

Daily News Egypt - Editorial: The Illusive Metal Barrier | On Egypt's denial that a wall is being built.


BBC News - Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border | Video report has some more details, but the whole thing is rather hazy.


Israel National Survey | Survery of Israeli attitudes on various topics.


Libya still jailing dissenters: Human Rights Watch | New HRW report.


'Egypt is one of the freest states in the entire Arab world' - The Irish Times - Sat, Dec 12, 2009 | Ismail Serageldin engages in apologia.


Palestinian leader speaks from prison - CNN.com | Interview with Marwan Barghouti.


Swiss Man Builds Minaret to Protest Ban - WaryaTV | Good for him.


Israel court: Deported Palestinian student can't return - CNN.com | Everyday misery from Gaza blockade.


ENVIRONMENT: Darkness at Noon Clouds Cairo Skies - IPS ipsnews.net | On the black cloud - which I thought was not as bad this year.


The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.


The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.


‘Sultan wants children to be God-fearing’ | The ridiculousness of the al-Sauds.


No real "freeze" on settlement: Israeli minister - Yahoo! News | No kidding: "JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank could grow by 10,000 in the coming year despite a declared "freeze" on Israeli building in the occupied territory, an Israeli Cabinet minister has said."


On Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Lobby: A response to Peter Beinart | Walt on Obama's Afphan policy and the lobby.


Middle East Report 253 contents: Apartheid and Beyond | New issue.

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.


Links for 08.21.09 to 08.22.09
Survey of Business Environment for Small and Medium-
Sized Enterprises in Egypt
| Survey of Egyptians SMEs, focuses on corruption perception.
Who Should Rule Egypt? | Baheyya lays out an argument between three possible types of rule in Egypt -- hereditary succession, military rule, and parliamentary rule -- and makes the point that Hosni Mubarak has unwittingly opened up the debate over how Egypt should be ruled.
Libya and Muammar Qaddafi, 40 years on: How to squander a nation's potential | The Economist | Poor Libya.
Nile Delta: 'We are going underwater. The sea will conquer our lands' | Environment | The Guardian | Jack Shenker has a great story on rising salinity levels and the impact of global warming in the Nile Delta.
Hilo Hero: H.P. Lovecraft | Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend the essay on him by the French reactionary writer (and one of my favorites, to be honest - I don't care about his views on Islam) Michel Houellebecq.

Groundwater resources in MENA
whymap_125_pdf.jpg

The map above is a part of a recently released world map that shows, in blue, the presence of the underground water. I've cropped the part that shows the Middle East and North Africa. The part that are shaded in red show aquifers that have been infiltrated by seawater, i.e. where the water salinity is high. This may be for different reasons, although generally (and specifically in Egypt's case) it is because overuse of underground freshwater is drawing in seawater.

Link to full world map.
Link to World-wide Hydrogeological Mapping and Assessment Programme (WHYMAP) site.