Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Egypt's Disenchanted Youth

A brilliant article from the BBC. Too many times have I had conversations with people about the "failed" revolution. I've had even more conversations with people who are waiting to see the Egyptian people again become so disenfranchised with their leadership that they rise up in revolt again. But I always wonder, at this point is that too little too late?

In this sixth and final report of the series, Egypt's Challenge, Shaimaa Khalil explores the effects the revolution has had on the very people who were at its forefront - the youth. More than two years on, is this the Egypt they had hoped for?

El Borsa is a big pedestrian area, full of cafes, near Egypt's stock exchange and right in the middle of central Cairo. It is a two-minute walk from Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 revolution.

It has become known as the activists' hang out, where many revolutionaries come to talk politics and discuss the latest events. I've come to Borsa many times since the revolution, met many young people and heard numerous heated debates.

The loud conversations of the cafe-goers compete with the sounds of the numerous TV screens all around, some showing football games, others talk shows on Egyptian satellite channels.

Walking from Borsa into Tahrir Square, however, you can feel the mood change.

"When I enter the square now, it does not feel the same. It's not the same vibe. You don't feel safe or secure anymore. You feel like everyone has given up on this square," Tariq Mustafa, a young human rights activist, told me.

Walking around the square with Tariq, I can see what he means.

The square is a shadow of its January 2011 self. I remember well when the square was a sea of humanity. Thousands of people were drawn to it, making it hard to move around, find a place to sit or even stand, especially on Fridays.

For the first few months after the revolution, Tahrir felt like the safest place in Egypt.

Not any more.

Now, the square is virtually empty. Small groups of people gather here and there, and everywhere there is evidence of violence and destruction.

Depression and disappointment

One stark change, for me, is the graffiti on the wall of the American University just off the square.

The wall once carried motivational slogans, nationalistic song lyrics and poems.

Now, all I can see there are the faces of dead people, of those killed during the two years of the revolution.

Some of them are quite disturbing. The faces have been deformed, apparently beaten up. Police brutality is alleged.

Most of the faces on the wall are those of young people.

I am surprised to see a young woman leaving the American University building.

Women can be a rare sight in Tahrir Square nowadays
Women have stopped coming to Tahrir now, especially after so many incidents of sexual harassment in the square.

But Manal is here for a language course and tells me she walks with male colleagues for protection, especially at night.

"We're so tense and on edge all the time. There's a general sense of depression and disappointment," Manal says.

When I ask her if she regrets the revolution, her answer comes without hesitation: "One hundred per cent, I regret it".

"What is freedom and democracy? It's about making life better," she says, "traffic better, jobs better and more things available. That hasn't happened. Nothing has happened. Everything's changed for the worse."

Rising costs

Back in my home town Alexandria, I'm sitting on the beach with my friend Ahmed Attiya.

He travels between Cairo and Alexandria for his work.

Ahmed had a chance to leave Egypt for the US on a scholarship two years ago but when the revolution happened, he cancelled his trip.

"It was history being made in my country and I wanted to be there" he told me.

He sighed when I asked him if, more than two years on, he regrets his decision to stay.

"I'm very confused about it. I don't regret my decision. I fought a battle and I lost it," he said.

"But if I'd known everything would get worse, I'd have packed my bags and gone."

And like millions of young people in Egypt, Ahmed's problems come down to the deteriorating economy.

"I'm planning to get married and all the prices are rising , it's getting increasingly hard to live." Ahmed said.

'Frustrated generation'

Of all Egypt's problems, mass unemployment is the most pressing and it is the young who are hit the hardest.

Samer Atallah, an economist at the American University in Cairo, explains; "The majority of the unemployed are the people that are in the age bracket of 15 to 29. That's nearly three quarters of the unemployed."

Half of Egypt's population is below 24 years old and, despite that, Egypt is not using this youth and energy to its benefit.

"We're creating a frustrated generation. They cannot find a job, they don't have enough skills to acquire any job that will give them a decent living", Mr Atallah says.

There is often a downbeat feel to daily street life at the cafes of Tahrir Square.

To reduce the unemployment, Egypt has to create between 800,000 and a million jobs a year. And in the current economic climate, the country is not achieving anything close to that number.

Egypt's official statistics agency says unemployment is now at 13%, but few take that figure seriously.

Most economists say the real figure is much higher. No-one, however, seems to be able to give an accurate figure - not even those in power.

"We don't have the latest unemployment figures. I think it would be very difficult to find someone who can say with assurance that they have [them]", says Gehad el Haddad, the national spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood.

"There's a huge gap in the accuracy and availability of such information", he adds.

Despite the depressing statistics Mr Atallah still thinks there's room for optimism

"The Egyptian people have changed; the next generation more than ours. It's definitely a very positive sign. I think this is our opportunity."

**Photos taken from the BBC article**

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Egypt's Usual Summer Woes

As has sadly become the norm in Egypt in the summer time, power outages are again an almost daily occurrence. While the government continues to bleat that they are working hard to overcome the energy shortages, it's one excuse after the next as to why the power continues to black out. Ramadan falling in the height of the summer heat this year will only further add to this electricity burden...and may end up causing state-wide unrest.

Back to Blackouts (Source Daily News Egypt)

After last year’s wave of summer blackouts sparked a public outcry in Cairo, the seasonal electricity challenges have returned to the capital in force.
On Sunday, outages spread across Cairo districts due to a fault in the electrical lines connecting stations, said an official source preferring to remain anonymous.
“We haven’t yet started to apply the energy rationalisation strategy yet,” the source explained. “Electric stations in Egypt are unable to withstand high temperatures, and must be shut down to avoid burning out.”
The source also confirmed that the new budget and subsidies plan for electricity has yet to come into effect.
“We have a fuel shortage, especially in natural gas, used by 70% of electric stations to operate due to low diesel quality,” the source said.
The source explained that the government organizes citizens into clusters based on levels of consumption, providing the basis for its distribution of subsidies. If the consumption exceeds this predefined amount, the subsidy decreases accordingly.
“The electrical load in peak hours has noticeably increased since the beginning of summer,  leading to several outages in a number of regions,” the country’s Electric Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency (EUCPRA) said in a statement, adding that it “has been careful not to cut power in any region for more than half an hour to an hour”.
For the last two years, Cairo has experienced repeated power outages due to fuel shortages. Blackouts are expected to continue during summer 2013 as the national electricity network is estimated to be overloaded by around 2,500 megawatts on peak days.
Meanwhile, operations at Egypt’s North Cairo Electricity Distribution Company (NCEDC) have been shut down, as workers entered a fifth day of strikes, demanding  the release of their 17 arrested colleagues.
The striking workers are threatening to cut off electricity to districts of Cairo supplied by the state-run company, protesting worker Ahmed Adel told Ahram Online on Friday.
On Monday, the head of the Egyptian Electric Holding Company, called on a number of endowment imams to use their pulpits to boost citizen awareness of the need to eliminate wasteful consumption.
“If we rationalize 10% of electricity consumption, it will provide us with EGP 60m in fuel daily and prevent outages suffered by Egyptians during the summer period,” he said.
“It’s disappointing,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, an architect. “I work in Maadi, and during the last period of outages, we suffered blackouts three times a day, sometimes for an hour. It severely disrupts our work.”
Meanwhile, many have laid the blame at the feet of President Mohamed Morsi, citing his strategy as the main reason for the blackouts.
Outages have occurred in various governorates throughout the country. In Beni Suef on Friday, an hour-long blackout sent residents fleeing the baking temperatures in their homes.
In Gharbia last month, the governorate’s head of electricity, Ahmed El-Meassel, had warned of an upcoming four-hour outage from 8am to 12pm due to maintenance, according to state-run news agency MENA.
Kafr El-Shiekh, Minya, and other governorates followed suit. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dolphin World Makadi Bay

HEPCA is on a roll at the moment with naming and shaming. I've tried to ask a few pertinent questions on the Makadi Bay facebook page (which I will not share here) about the deaths of the dolphins in their care, the conditions they were being kept in, and about their sunburnt skin, yet my questions were promptly deleted. Anyhowwwww, here's HEPCA's article. And please, read here for more information on how this entire scandal erupted.

Killing Dolphins for your Entertainment 

Killing Dolphins for your Entertainment
HEPCA and the Red Sea community are once again caught in the middle of a dolphin captivity scandal, brought to you by none other than Dolphin World Egypt – Makadi Bay. 

On April 19, 2013 HEPCA was informed that 2 live dolphins had arrived to the Hurghada airport at about 12:30am. The dolphins were being discreetly transported to the dolphinarium in Makadi under the cover of night. Yet despite Dolphin World's attempts to hide this activity; everyone will still know that Dolphin World Egypt is profiteering of the backs of dead dolphins.  

Just over 2 years ago in August of 2010, our community exposed another dolphinarium company holding 4 captive dolphins in a tiny swimming pool in a residential area of Hurghada. The Sharm El Sheikh based company "Dolphina" was looking to expand their business into the Hurghada region. Much of the local community was outraged by the situation and we decided to take action. A massive community campaign then ensued against the dolphinarium, which culminated in the arrival of world renowned dolphin activist Ric O'barry. 

Following our campaign, the Red Sea Governor issued a decree; which explicitly bans the import of any mammal, whether marine or terrestrial, caught from the wild. 

Yet despite the governor's decree and our communities protesting and warnings about the inevitable death of these captive dolphins; the Sharm el Sheikh based "Dolphina" continued on with no regard to the dolphins, or our community's objections.   

The establishment of dolphinariums in the Red Sea, where dolphins are sighted on almost a daily basis, makes absolutely no sense. The dolphinarium industry funds the bloody massacre that goes into capturing dolphins, as well as the inevitable demise of the poor animal once in captivity. 

Dolphin World Egypt is now dealing with the deadly consequence of holding a dolphin in captivity. They are importing two new dolphins to replace the ones that recently died while under their care, which is the ultimate end for most of the cetacean that are kept in captivity.  

 "Capture of wild cetaceans, regardless of methodology, is undeniably stressful (NOAA Fisheries 2002; Curry 1999) and animals can face as much as a six-fold increase in mortality risk in the first month after capture." (Small R.J. and D.P. DeMaster 1995. Acclimation to captivity: A quantitative estimate based on survival of bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. Mar. Mamm. Sci. 11:510-519.)

The criminal cartels that make up the dolphinarium industry provide the funding for the brutal massacre of thousands of dolphins every year in places like Taiji. Dolphin trainers from around the world are flown to these locations every year to take their pick from terrified dolphins, which are captured in the most brutal ways. The dolphins are aggressively chased into shallow water and then encircled or trapped by boats or net. Dolphin trainers then take their pick separating desirable specimens from the rest of their pod, while the rest are brutally slaughtered in pools of their own blood. 

HEPCA and the Red Sea community have had enough and we can’t stand by silently while 2 more dolphins slowly die. We know that the 2 dolphins that were just brought into Hurghada were purchased from Ukraine and most likely originated from the Black Sea. The CITIES certificates that came with the dolphins indicated that they were purchased while already in captivity, and we've also confirmed that they made a transit in Antalia, Turkey before making their final stop in Hurghada. Egypt has fully supported the CITIES agreements, but what’s the point when loopholes still exist that allow the dolphinarium industry to continue its massacre of cetaceans all across the world. 

According to Governmental Decree 314/2010; the import of any mammal caught from the wild, whether marine or terrestrial is illegal. We are urging the governor of the red sea and minister of environment to help us put a stop to this and we need stricter legislation to ensure the protection of endangered species. 

In regards to these poor dolphins currently being held captive in Makadi; our options are limited and we are running out of time. We can’t simply release these dolphins into Red Sea waters without the potential of risking serious contamination to our local dolphin species. 

We are holding Dolphin World Egypt personally responsible for the safety and well being of these dolphins and will continue to update you with the developments. In the meantime, HEPCA will be lobbying the government to enforce a complete ban on the importing of any cetaceans into the Red Sea regions (whether they are born in captivity or not). 
Dolphin World Egypt - we have one message for you; NO TANK YOU!

Friday, May 10, 2013

HEPCA Names and Shames

I'm so happy to see the power of social media being put to good use in protecting the environment. It seems there have been a rising number of dive guides on facebook posing with sharks, fish, and other marine life on the decks of their dive boats. Unfortunately for them, yet fortunately for the Red Sea environment, behaviour like this is not only completely unaccepted but called out on in public. For any dive guide taking photos with animals that belong in the water, you can almost guarantee their name will make the rounds quite rapidly on facebook, ultimately ending up on HEPCA's name and shame list.

From HEPCA's page, this is an example of the
recent flurry of 'posing' pictures
Taken from HEPCA's site, read on.

Over the past few days, our supporters have been flooding our network with reports and photos of a certain dive guide named Mahamad Shabana. Mr. Shabana came up with the great idea of decorating his face book profile with unsavory photos of himself; one of which depicts him sarcastically biting into the corpse of a dead white tip reef shark.

We just have one question for you Mr. Shabana; what planet are you living on?

Mr. Shabana has single-handedly destroyed his reputation, as well as his possibility of ever working in the Red Sea diving industry again. We're already coordinating with the coast guard and CDWS to make sure that he will be prohibited from working as a dive guide in the Red Sea.

We would like to close off by saying that this whole incident is indicative of a serious and growing problem within our community. It is becoming blatantly apparent that there are still tourism stakeholders that are not carrying out their responsibilities of properly educating their staff on the importance of environmental protection. These same stakeholders are profiting from the Red Sea resources and the least they could do is ensure that their guides are completely aware of the need for protecting the Red Sea.

Month after month we are receiving these troubling reports and we are dismayed that such ignorant activity is still taking place.

The good news is that our community has proven time and time again that we are perfectly capable of dealing with the challenges facing our precious environment. It no longer matters who continues turning a blind-eye towards the destruction and depletion of the majestic Red Sea.

We will not.

We would also like to thank every single person who took the time to report this incident, and a special thanks to Mostafa M. Elabd from blue o two.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cattle Trade Cruelty Exposure Needs to Reach Far Further

To anyone who's worked in animal welfare in Egypt, the shocking new allegations of abuse that has caused a halt in live exports from Australia to Egypt is not new news. Even in this blog I have covered stories that have exposed the shocking treatment of the animals sent via live export, most recently with the cattle that were stranded in the Suez Canal. In this one incident alone over 2500 cattle perished. Yet live exports continued.

Tonight, ABC news is promising a report that will "expose the live export industry in Egypt" and hopefully work towards putting a stop towards the process. I hope that it works towards opening the eyes of many individuals, but I'm sure I don't stand alone when I say "It's about bloody time." You can read / watch more about their report here, but be warned, it's very graphic.

I'm also fairly sure that I wouldn't stand alone in saying Hey ABC, while you're at it, check out the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and their "teaching practices" too would you?

To coincide with the horrific exposure of cruelty with cattle, 3 American black bears mauled each other to death fighting over a male. Al-Ahram reports it as though it was an 'everyday' situation that just got out of control, after all mating season is just around the corner. What's overlooked is the fact the bears are kept in cages - not even enclosures; cages - far too small, and are left all day with people poking and prodding at them with sticks. Occasionally people may spear some food to the end of said stick, and taunt the bears hoping to get any reaction. But of course, they were just fighting over the male, no external circumstances to impact their stress levels at all. (see My Experiences at the Giza Zoo for more detailed descriptions and photos of how the bears at the zoo are kept.)

Finally, as though this wasn't enough, animal activists learned that DESPITE the death of two dolphins in the Makadi Bay Dolphinarium, another 2 have just been imported. Dolphins in Makadi Bay have been subjected to a host of inhumane actions, from skin blackened as a result of sunburn, to being unceremoniously ripped from their natural habitat and transported half way around the world, to spending weeks in a RESIDENTIAL pool in the desert, to now being made do circus tricks for their dinner.

I hope and pray that with the current exposure focusing on the live export trade in Egypt, that other outrageous acts of human cruelty and lack of animal welfare is also called to light. It's not only the cattle trade that's steeped in blood.
From SPARE'S facebook page