Could the Middle East face further unrest without a green revolution?

Gulf Research Center expert tells RTCC social injustice linked to fossil fuel heavy economy is driving regional anger

Protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square saw dictator Hosni Mubarak deposed in 2011 (Pic: Mona/Flickr)

Protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square saw dictator Hosni Mubarak deposed in 2011 (Pic: Mona/Flickr)

By Sophie Yeo in Cancun

Stable Arab countries could face violent revolutions unless they make the transition to a green economy, while those experiencing an Arab Spring could face further uprisings.

That’s the warning of Mohamed Abdel Raouf, an environmental researcher at the Saudi Arabia based Gulf Research Center, and author of a new publication: ‘Environment in the Age of Revolution’.

He says that Arab region must reshape its fossil fuel heavy economy, replacing them with clean renewable energy, if further revolutions are to be avoided.

“This is the only way for the Arab region,” Raouf told RTCC in an interview on the sidelines of the fifth assembly of the Global Environment Facility, an international development bank which invests in clean energy and conservation projects around the world.

“If they manage to shift their brown economy to the green economy, they’ll solve the problem because they’ll achieve social justice and improve the economic conditions.”

But he warned that the situation so far suggested that further uprisings could be on the horizon, as governments had done little to jumpstart a transition since the Arab Spring began in 2010.

He said: “Unfortunately I still see no progress in this area. The same practices are there and one clear example of this is recently in Egypt, where they had electricity cuts, and the government chose coal as the solution. Still the brown economy is there.”

Raouf’s book critiques the idea that democratic and social complaints provoked the uprisings that have reshaped the Arab region over the last four years.

“I think that real cause are environmental issues, and of course climate change make these worse,” he said, adding that in many of the countries that have witnessed an Arab Spring since 2010, including Libya, Syria, Egypt and Yemen, environmental issues have been the “root cause”.

Protests over the misuse of natural resources, which provide the basic necessities of life for populations, then provide an outlet for dissatisfaction over political issues, he said. “If you don’t provide the basic lifelines, people will definitely protest, and then they will ask for social justice.”

Security is a growing concern in discussions over the impact of climate change.

In the UN’s recent science report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists agreed that climate change can “indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

A recent collection of essays by the Center for American Progress NGO on the links between the Arab Spring and climate change also highlighted the potential for instability in a warming world, arguing that there is a “compelling case that the consequences of climate change are stressors that can ignite a volatile mix of underlying causes that erupt into revolution.”

Syria and Egypt

In Syria, for instance, over three years of conflict between supporters of the Bashar Al-Assad regime and rebels trying to overthrow the government has created a humanitarian crisis. But the spark for the crisis was not political but environmental, says Raouf.

The River Barada, which provided water to villages near the capital city of Damascus, has dried up over recent years due to low levels of rainfall in Syria. With farmers forced to relocate to the city, economic conditions deteriorated as pressure increased on the energy and water infrastructure.

“When the uprising came in Syria, a lot of regional powers, a lot of ethnic groups, saw a chance to take over, so it’s not a matter now of environment issues, but the environment was the main driver, the main cause,” says Raouf.

Similarly in Egypt, dissatisfaction over the depletion and mismanagement of the country’s natural resources was at the heart of the uprisings that eventually led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, he added.

The failure of the replacement Muslim Brotherhood government to fulfil their pledges to resolve many of the country’s environmental issues within the first 100 days in power also caused the revolution that led to the downfall of President Morsi in 2013, says Raouf.

“He promised to provide basic needs—water, energy—and he couldn’t solve it. Of course there is a political struggle, but if you don’t fulfill these basic needs, whatever regime comes, people will complain.”

Read more on: Living | Middle East |