Mega-dams might not be worth the trouble | 

Construction on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
Construction on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Egypt and Ethiopia are at odds over the construction of the $4-billion hydroelectric Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam along the Nile River. The project is slated to complete by 2017 and Egypt is worried that it will affect its water supply.

Similarly, another dam project in Ethiopia’s Omo River Basin has sparked concerns by human rights groups. The project and the government’s move to clear land in the region put 500,000 indigenous people in Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya at risk, warns Human Rights Watch. Some 150,000 indigenous people will be relocated from the Omo Valley as a part of the nation’s controversial ‘villigization’ program.

“Ethiopia can develop its land and resources but it shouldn’t run roughshod over the rights of its indigenous communities,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people who rely on the land for their livelihoods have the right to compensation and the right to reject plans that will completely transform their lives.”

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What’s next for the Egyptian revolution? | 

Families protesting near Tahrir Square by Flickr user Zeinab Mohamed

This has been a tumultuous week in Egypt. Huge protests on against the elected president Muhuammed Morsi were followed by what many are calling a military coup d’etat. Now, two and a half years after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, some are saying the Egyptian revolution is “back to square one.”

But Morsi had a 78% approval rating when he took office only a year ago, according to polling data. What accounts for the drastic decline in his popularity? Was it really a coup? Who makes up the country’s military and what are their interests? Why are people still protesting in the streets?

Is there still promise and hope for Egypt’s revolution?

Who better to answer these questions than Tarek Dawoud, a community activist in Seattle’s Egyptian-American community and a keen observer of Egyptian politics, and Hatim Aiad, who lives in Washington but is currently in Cairo where the protests are ongoing.

They don’t agree on everything – one is more pro-Morsi than the other – but they both are confident that Egypt’s younger generations will keep fighting for democracy. Aiad says the youth are “global, not local” in their political outlook. And Dawoud says they’re increasingly well-organized, even learning how to deal with opportunist politicians. “I think you’re going to see great things from Egypt,” he says.

But first, Tom Paulson and I discuss this week’s headlines, among them: Failed children’s water pumps (Playpumps!), the fickle nature of private investment as a driver of growth in the Global South, and “the rise of Middle Class militants” in Egypt and elsewhere.

Listen below. And if you’re interested in development and global health, you owe it yourself to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Message from Egypt: Neither Morsi or the protesters represent most Egyptians | 

Egypt Protests 2012
Flickr, El Mosquito Queretaro

My good friend and Cairo-based journalist Nadia El-Awady is a lovely person, very gentle in manner and soft-spoken. But she is also an incredibly forceful and insightful thinker who never minces words, or suffers fools. Here is a blog post from Nadia about the current, disturbing, state of affairs in Egypt.

Nadia El-Awady
Nadia El-Awady

Nadia supported the original revolution, Egypt’s Arab Spring, that deposed the dictator Hosni Mubarak. She has not been happy with President Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet she is not supportive of the current protest movement aimed at forcing Morsi from office. Nadia sees chaos ahead if that happens:

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday. It was quite impressive. But what of the tens of millions of Egyptians who did not? The only way to know what Egyptians really want is to go back to the ballot boxes and ask them. It is those ballot boxes that I fought so hard for during the January 25 Revolution. Do NOT take them away from me.

What most Egyptians want is rule of law and a functioning democracy. The revolution, she argues, was to establish democratic rule – not perpetual mob rule, or military rule. Read her post today in full here….

At Seattle Town Hall, the Google executive who sparked the Egyptian revolution | 

In 2010, Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim used Facebook to coordinate a protest of the torture and killing of a man by dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak’s security police.

It was the beginning of a revolution, the explosion of the Arab Spring movement in Egypt — a popular revolt which forced Mubarak out of office but continues its struggle today under a military regime increasingly at odds with its own people and one of its biggest supporters, the U.S.

Tonight, at Seattle Town Hall, Ghonim will speak on being Inside a Revolution. Moderating the panel will be D Parvaz, a reporter for Al Jazeera based out of Qatar and, before that, a colleague of mine at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Parvaz received international attention last spring when she was arrested and held for weeks in Syria after entering the country to attempt to report on the protests there.

Here’s a recent video interview of Ghonim by the Economist:

Egypt remains in turmoil but Ghonim says he is hopeful:

“I’m very optimistic … We are basically recovering from 60 years of military rule, 30 years of dictatorship and 10 years of a very bad economic situation for most Egyptians.”

Ghonim can be expected to speak tonight in Seattle about his experience, the power and the limits of social media in popular protests and about what he believes has already been an amazing amount of positive change in Egypt. “What’s needed,” he tells the Economist, “is patience, passion and optimism.”

Arab Spring flares up | 

Flickr, Jonathan Rashad

Egypt's Tahrir Square, at the start of the uprising

The popular uprising across the Middle East has intensified this week with the eruption of violence in Egypt and the resignation of Yemen’s president President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As the Washington Post reports, the level of violence in Egypt has reached levels unseen since the original protests which nine months ago forced President Hosni Mubarak out of office. Protesters are demonstrating against what they see as the military’s attempt to hold on to power. So far, 38 people have been reported killed and the UN has condemned the interim government’s response.

Meanwhile, Time magazine says, the UN has announced that Yemen’s President Saleh has agreed to step down if he is allowed to flee to Saudi Arabia and avoid prosecution.

In Syria, the government has continued to crack down on protesters with a death toll so far estimated at 3,500. As Reuters reports, many believe Syria’s violent response to the popular uprising could foment widespread bloodshed and violence for the entire region.

The only bright spot right now is Tunisia, where the Arab Spring started, sparked by the suicide of a fruit seller long abused by the authorities. As the AP reports, Tunisia’s first fairly elected political assembly went to work this week:

Tunisia’s newly elected assembly held its inaugural meeting Tuesday, and begin the yearlong process of shaping the constitution and the democratic future of the country that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

And it didn’t take long for the legislators to feel one result of free speech: hundreds of people protested outside Parliament, demanding everything from women’s rights and a crackdown on security forces to limits on Qatar’s influence over Tunisia’s affairs.

Yeah, democracy is messy. Whether the rest of the Middle East and north Africa follows Tunisia’s promising lead remains in question.

Analysis: Could the Middle East “Jasmine Revolution” spread to America? Should it? | 

Flickr, Megan Skelly

Grass fire

The grassfire Arab revolt sparked last December in Tunisia by the self-immolation suicide of a poor, abused fruit seller is now being called the Jasmine Revolution, apparently because the media likes to color code these kind of things.

Like Iran’s green revolution (which failed) and Ukraine’s orange revolution (which succeeded).

Right now, most of the attention is on Libya where Muammar Gaddafi (or Gadhafi, or Mallomar Godzilla, however you want to spell his name) is waging war on his own people, trying to turn back the tide of political reform. Continue reading

Wikileaks on Libya, Tunis and Egypt | 


The Telegraph published a worrisome article today about Libya, based on its interpretation of a Wikileaks diplomatic cable. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the cable says, Libya’s popular revolt may be fueled by extremist Islamic elements.

Former jihadi fighters who underwent “religious and ideological training” in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the 1980s have returned to eastern towns in Libya such as Benghazi and Derna to propagate their Islamist beliefs, the cables warn

Of course, this was much the same rumor that accompanied the revolution in Egypt — with the media focused on the Muslim Brotherhood — which so far appears to have been not the case.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the Arab revolt’s launch in Tunisia may have been prompted in part by Wikileaks making public the excesses and corruption of the former regime of President Ben Ali.

Here’s a somewhat amusing 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli about Gaddafi’s children getting in trouble overseas and fighting among themselves for power.

Here’s a less amusing, perhaps revealing, 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Cairo that describes the Egyptian military as having great economic and social influence but also in decline.

Diplomat Matthew Tueller writes of the military’s “decline” in terms of its influence within the Mubarak power structure. What Tueller could not have predicted, of course, is that the military’s declining influence among the power elite may have been what contributed to the military’s identification with the popular revolt:

Recently, academics and civilian analysts painted a portrait of an Egyptian military in intellectual and social decline, whose officers have largely fallen out of society’s elite ranks….

Contacts agree that presidential son Gamal Mubarak’s power base is centered in the business community, not with the military. XXXXXXXXXXXX said officers told him recently that the military does not support Gamal and if Mubarak died in office, the military would seize power rather than allow Gamal to succeed his father.