The Environmental Dimensions of Arab Revolutions

It has been a breathtaking show for the last couple of months, and is still open to all scenarios. The wave of Arab revolutions and public uprising has been changing the political landscape in almost all Arab countries since the beginning of the year 2011. Regime changes have already taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, while the Libyan regime (most brutal of all) is counting its final days. In Jordan and Morocco the two monarchies responded with reform promises and an opening up of the political system, while in Yemen and Algeria public protests may have ended any hopes of the current two presidents for holding on to power any longer. Gulf countries have not been spared either with Bahrain rocked by a strong wave of protest and Oman starting the feel the heat of the moment. Both countries may benefit from this trend by opening up freedom of expression and enhance governance systems. This lesson should be learned soon by Syria which seem to be defiant, for the time being!

In the heart of this wave there is a common denominator. The Arab societies have moved at last and two “driving forces” had them fed up with the current system of governance. The two factors are corruption and oppression, which are almost “universally rooted” in All Arab countries, albeit to varying degrees. It is the issue of governance or lack of it. Under the main layer of political unrest one major driving force is also contributing to public anger which is ‘mis-management of natural resources’. 

One has to look in so much anger to the pathetic state of services and infrastructure in Libya, one of the World’s largest oil producers. How can the huge resources of a country with 7 million people get wasted without providing adequate livelihood services to the population? The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi who has painted the country with green color everywhere, by promoting his “third global theory” described in his green book was not environmentally green at all. In fact he has subjected the Libyan population to a radioactive waste pile of enriched Uranium that was supposed to be transferred to Russia for disposal in 2009 and kept it in a store in Libya. The reason, according to a cable by the American Embassy was the refusal of New York city council to allow him to install his infamous tent in New York.

While Libya’s environmentally green record was not as impressive as its political green jargon, Tunisia enjoyed a reputation of being one of the most environmentally advanced Arab states, and rightly so. With a competent public sector, an active NGO movement and strong research Center Tunisia has topped Arab countries in most environmental rankings including the Environmental Performance Index. Under this image corruption was sweeping the country with the relatives of the previous first lady assuming illegal ownership of lands to turn them into luxury resorts and real estate developmental projects that did not go through any Environmental impact assessment studies. Tunisia’s highly educated, middle class youth and activists did not tolerate this situation and were forced into a revolution that targeted the corrupt elite and aspired for good governance of resources. Official statistics do not offer the real conditions in a country and even in Tunisia the spread of corruption was not reflected in statistics but accumulated and enraged the population.

Egypt, the heart of the Arab world was engulfed in the past decade with a destructive infestation of corruption in all decision making processes, including in natural resource management. The first Egyptian blogger to be prosecuted was Tamer Mabrouk in 2009 after bravely exposing the dumping of waste from a chemical company to Manzelah lake and Suez canal. This is only one example of the increasing authority of the elite business group that has controlled Egypt in the past few years and the associated support provided by the government to protect violations of law committed by such elite groups.

The success of the revolution in Egypt has enhanced the collective civil passion in the country, prompting the protestors in Tahrir square to clean up any waste remaining from the 18 days set-in. Such a behaviour was almost unimaginable before the revolution.  

All Arab countries suffer from a syndrome of Environmental corruption that is organically linked to financial and administrative corruption. This can be seen in the form the dumping of waste, illegal ownership of lands and turning them into unsustainable projects, theft of resources (i.e water), violation of the environmental legislation for the benefit of the powerful elites, mismanagement of international aid money and many other cases. Arab societies should be able to hold the private and public sectors accountable for environmental performance and the main responsibility lies on the shoulders of the media and the civil society. This should be an integral component of the reform agenda in each Arab country in the coming weeks and months.

About bwardam

Mr Batir Wardam is a Jordanian environmentalist with professional experience in disciplines of natural resource management, environmental policies and communication. He has a 15 years working experience with national academic institutions, NGOs, the government of Jordan and international and regional environmental organizations including UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. Mr Wardam is currently working with UNDP as a project manager for the third national communication report on climate change in Jordan.
This entry was posted in Civil Society, Governance, Political context, Reform options, Regional Context and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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