I spent about a month and a half in Cairo back in the summer of 2010—not a terribly long stay, but enough time to become well-acquainted with Cairo’s environmental struggles. In what seems to me to be a very conservative figure, the CIA World Factbook estimates that 10 million people call Cairo home. If the city’s sprawling suburbs are taken in to account, however, the number is probably closer to 20 million. With 14 million cars in the city, it doesn’t take much imagination to conceive of the devastating toll these numbers take on the environment.
Here, for instance, is a picture I took in 2010. Can you spot the pyramids?
Aside from pollution, Cairo also, like many mega-cities, has a garbage problem—hence the McDonald’s trash cans in Reem’s tweet. Ex-chairman of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Salah Hafez, spoke to this point in 2009, writing:
Culture in any country is judged by the nation's commitment to certain civilized issues in life, and one of them is cleanliness. Yet, our best residential areas in all cities, towns and villages are disgracefully filthy to the extent that not only does it destroy our image and reputation but it threatens the health and welfare of the whole population.
There are many Cairenes who share Mr. Hafez’s sentiment and are attempting to beautify their city. One such group is “Keep Egypt Clean.” “What we want to do is start a ‘Green Revolution’ in Egypt,” their profile on Egyptian Initiatives reads:
We want to make people environmentally aware of their surroundings, make this country a better experience, not just for the people living here, but also for the millions of tourists that come here every year. We are always looking for people to help, give us ideas, or even just a simple encouraging comment to motivate us. You can either write on this project's wall, send any of the admins a message, or just be a fan of this project. So, whatever you choose to do, thank you for supporting us.
Our mission is to change the mindset of the average Egyptian citizen, making him a cleaner person, and having a more positive attitude towards his hygiene, and the community's hygiene. We are going to achieve that by starting with school children, teaching them the basics of being a clean person, something that a lot of people don't have, especially the lower classes.
The “project’s wall,” of course is on Facebook, where 112,580 people of this writing “like” the group.
I haven’t been able to find out whether Keep Egypt Clean was behind the McDonald’s trash can initiative. In any case, it’s heartening to see Cairenes stepping in where their government has failed them, and not only cleaning up their city, but attempting to change the attitudes of its inhabitants. Here’s one such attempt, a Youtube video in Arabic with English subtitles, in which “ModernPharaoh77” offers a number of practical suggestions (some more than others). Here’s my favorite:
When you see someone throwing garbage in the street SAY SOMETHING, you can kill them with kindness, say “I can pick that up for you and throw it in a trash can if you like”—you will make them feel very ashamed…say what you want to say but DON’T STAY QUIET, be polite yet MAKE YOUR POINT.
I’ll let ModernPharoah77 have the last word:
Please EVERYONE CARE for your country… Egypt is beautiful we MUST appreciate Egypt, her Nile, her people, her environment. Together for a cleaner Egypt!By Nathan Patin, Aslan Media Columnist