Aide resigns over appointing of new environment minister

Mahmoud Kaissouni, formerly an advisor to the minister of state for environmental affairs resigned in protest Tuesday after Khaled Fahmy was elevated to the position of environment minister, replacing Laila Iskandar.

“I have to believe in the person I am working with,” Kaissouni told Mada Masr by phone from the UK. “It would be against my principles to continue working there.”

Fahmy previously served as environment minister under Mohamed Morsi’s Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, though he resigned before Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

Kaissouni told Mada Masr he resigned because of Fahmy’s enthusiastic support for coal imports, which former environment minister Iskandar, along with many civil society groups opposed.

After months of debate, the cabinet voted on April 2 to allow coal imports for industrial use, including in cement production, although regulations for environmental standards and taxation of the fuel have not yet been finalized.

Kaissouni says he became aware of Fahmy’s stance on the issue four months ago, at a meeting for civil society groups and experts to discuss the impact of allowing coal. “He was very clear, he said ‘I’m with it,’” recalls Fahmy. “This was a shock for everyone.”

“It’s a catastrophe,” Kaissouni says. “It’s impossible for me to work with someone who believes that.”

Although he has submitted his resignation to the environment ministry, Kaissouni plans to stay in his post at the Ministry of Tourism, where he serves as an environment advisor to Minister Hesham Zaazou, who has held the post since August 2012. That position, Kaissouni says, is still “an honor.”

When Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb announced his new cabinet yesterday, the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs was one of eleven or so ministries put under new leadership.

Iskandar, who frequently drew controversy for her staunch opposition to coal imports was transferred to the newly-created Ministry of Urban Development. According to Ahmed Droubi, coordinator of civil society group Egyptians Against Coal, this is a sign Iskandar would have been kept in her post if not for the coal issue.

As environment minister, Iskandar has been active in efforts to improve waste management, especially in informal areas, and the new position will allow her to continue those efforts while removing her from the more controversial task of setting guidelines for coal imports and use. “They created a new ministry for her just to keep doing her job.”

As for Fahmy, Droubi told Mada Masr, “this is a guy that is coming back specifically to allow coal.”

In a statement released via the ministry’s Facebook page, Fahmy denied that his return to the ministry was connected to his support for coal. The statement, which summarizes Fahmy’s comments on the television program “Il-Hayat Al-Youm” says that such suggestions are “not true” and are part of an effort to exaggerate the controversy over coal imports.

Furthermore, Fahmy argued “the use of coal will be used in cases of necessity” and that some industries, by virtue of technology, can burn coal efficiently and without side effects. “In every country in the world, the cement industry uses coal,” he said. “Trembling hands will not allow us to do anything.”

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