Slouching towards Sharm El-Sheikh by Joe Warren
Blog entry by Joe Warren, November 6th, 2022
I’ve spent the past few days in Cairo. It buzzes and honks and at the end of the day you’re covered in a light layer of dust and a vast sense of relief that you didn’t get run over. Cars are everywhere and the gas price is 9.75 Egyptian Pounds per liter – about a quarter of what I currently pay in Minnesota. Sahl, my pyramid tour guide, sardonically tells me the government is doing its best to make Egyptians pay similar amounts to the rest of the world. I’d like to believe he wants the government to institute a carbon tax, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the dire economic circumstances of much of the population. No fear Sahl, I read that a bloc of African energy ministers (including my own from South Africa) have confirmed that they will assert African rights to use our fossil fuel resources in order to develop. A ploy to try force a substantial climate financing commitment for the global South, perhaps?
Cairo, like many cities in global South countries, is many things, but it is especially part decrepitude, part ritzy glamour, and many billboards of developers promising to convert the former into the latter, mostly in the form of luxury apartments. Years ago, Deborah Posel wrote an article which I hazily remember arguing that previously oppressed (read: non-white) South Africans (still mostly oppressed, by the way) have used post-Apartheid freedom to conspicuously consume as a way of asserting their freedom. I wonder if, more generally, we have so restricted the array of possible human dreams that capitalist consumption and its counterpart ‘development’ (recently sustainable) is now the only available option.
Between crumbling downtown Cairo and the Citystars Heliopolis Mall you pass through many worlds. Khaled, my taxi driver and a carpentry teacher, takes particular pride in pointing out important landmarks on this ride. It is in this spirit that I point out a COP27 sign and say, “I’m going there” followed by a badly pronounced “Sharm El-Sheikh”. He reads the Arabic, and I don’t know how he feels about what’s written – does it say anything about climate change? If it does, does he know about it and does he care? He does assure me that the city is ‘very nice’, an opinion corroborated by Sahl who informs me that it is indeed beautiful, “built just for tourists, almost no Egyptians”. I want to joke: “kind of like the pyramids – just for the royals!” but instead I just smile and nod. I think of the criticism of the Egyptian government’s record on human rights and the many thoroughly armed police I have seen on the streets. I’ve not felt threatened, but I have the sense that if any protests against the government and/or about the economic situation were to break out, I’d run and hide in my Hilton immediately. Is the Egyptian government trying to hide aspects of themselves from the world by hiding us in Sharm? Or, like us all, do they just want to be seen in the best light possible?
The queue to board creeps forward again. Women on the left, men on the right; slouching our way to Sharm El-Sheikh.