In 2011 residents of the fishing town of Idku close to Egypt’s northern city of Alexandria gathered to oppose British Petroleum’s (BP) plans to pump gas onshore where they would process it for onwards shipment. There were many parts of the project which angered activists including the proposition that the gas plant would be built on Idku’s sandy strip of beach.
Local farmers and fishermen already had to contend with sewage canals, industrial wave breakers which limited their access to fishing areas, and an existing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export plant. Now BP’s facility would further endanger their livelihood and likely kill both the fish and the agriculture they were heavily dependent on.
Popular assemblies formed on the streets and locals vented their anger about the project. They began to document other environmental disasters, drawing comparisons with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and warning people that the same could happen to them.
Their efforts paid off – after 18 months of continuous delays BP announced they were withdrawing. Activists packed up their banners and the fishermen concentrated once again on tending to their boats. Empowered by the 2011 uprising, the town of Idku declared victory.
In the two years that followed, Mohammed Morsi was voted into government, removed by a military coup and replaced by the former head of military intelligence, now President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi. Between the coup and Sisi’s ascension to power a new law was introduced, the Protest Law, which seriously curbed citizens’ right to demonstrate, enforcing a fine of up to EGP 30,000 ($1,700) and lengthy prison sentences if demonstrators failed to notify authorities before a protest.
Not long after it was introduced BP’s plans slipped back onto the agenda. On a recent visit to Egypt the UK’s trade envoy to the country included Idku on his list of places to visit.
Perhaps nothing sums up the nature of current politics in Egypt better than the story of Idku and BP: investments made by multinationals are protected by the Egyptian government, and encouraged by the British. The saddest part of it all is that the people of Idku, much like the rest of Egypt, will see very little, if anything, of the benefits of these deals.