This Friday, Ukrainians will be dancing in Kiev’s main square while students in the Dominican Republic will paint the country’s first ever bike lane. The Egyptians won’t be outdone: they are planning to cycle, walk or roller-skate under the slogan "Enough cars! We want cycling, walking and public transport!"
Moving Planet, billed as "a day to move beyond fossil fuels", is a rally happening in 150 countries all over the world on 23 and 24 September. In Egypt the event will take place Friday, 23 September in Cairo, Alexandria and Mansoura.
Sarah Rifaat, the local coordinator of the Moving Planet event, says the idea is to create both global and local awareness. “Environment issues are global, but they’re also local. This is something that has an impact on people’s everyday life: The air quality in Cairo is bad, and people spend hours in traffic jams every day,” she says. “A better transportation system is an important part of the solution here.”
Car exhaust causes a third of the carbon dioxide-release on a global scale. In Cairo, the number of private cars is increasing with an average of 200,000 additional vehicles each year. The air pollution in Cairo is terrible and getting worse. In fact it’s so bad it’s deadly.
“People die from air pollution here, that’s no news,” says Ahmed al-Dorghamy, an environment expert, pointing out that now is a good time to act: “The novelty is that people in Egypt are now prepared to change their habits. This transformation is already underway.”
“People call for equality, but there’s nothing equal about the current urban planning. Car owners in the middle and upper class are the only ones who are actually taking into consideration the way the transport is planned in this city. Subsidies are spend on lowering the prices of gasoline and diesel, but the money would be much better spent otherwise,” Dorghamy says.
“Other countries manage to have a public transportation so clean and efficient that even ministers ride the metro. There is no security issues so young girls can travel on their own. Of course we can have that here as well,” he says. In his opinion there’s nothing to lose.
“It’s not really a matter of sacrificing anything. We get rid of our cars and instead we have better possibilities of transportation, better air quality and nicer public spaces. Happier lives altogether.”
According to Rifaat, more Egyptians are realizing this, and the issue now exceeds the circle of aware environmentalists.
"People were excited when we presented the idea of this event. They say it’s an important matter in Egypt, and are happy that we are drawing attention to the issue," she says.
In Cairo, the official Moving Planet event starts at 9 am in front of Merryland Garden in Heliopolis, but participants are encouraged to get an early start and walk, cycle or use public transportation or car pool to get there.
"We have organized meeting spots in different places in Cairo, which can be found on the event’s Facebook page," Mona Abd-El Aziz, media coordinator of the event, says. “Of course it would have been easier if we just all could meet up at Tahrir Square, but these days you never know what the square will look like on a Friday.”
From Merryland Garden the participants – dressed in blue T-shirts to symbolize the life-giving river Nile – will be marching or cycling together to Korba, where there will be an open mike stage set.
Some participants are already signing up to sing, dance or read poetry on environment-related themes. The event will end by 1 pm. The coordinators are expecting between 1000 to 5000 participants in Cairo and say everyone is welcome to take part.