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Levi Ben-Shmuel Headshot

Envisioning a Green Egypt

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The stunning news that the Egyptian people successfully removed Hosni Mubarak through peaceful means offers tremendous opportunity in many respects. One of them is to begin transforming the Middle East into something that is hard to image: a green oasis.

The book How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth includes my essay "Envisioning a Green Middle East." I noted that the efforts of the world community have fallen short in bringing an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A more effective strategy would be to devote ourselves to going green. Energy independence from Middle East oil would dramatically change the balance of power and cause a shift in the countries' thinking. Once petrodollar revenue declined, financial support for terrorist organizations would wither, and the regional players might see that it is time for a new way of relating -- one based on shared human interests rather than age-old conflict.

Having lived in Israel for nearly a decade and broken bread with Palestinians numerous times over those years, I know firsthand what the potential is for peace between Arabs and Israelis. I also spent time in Egypt in 1983; just four years after the Camp David accords were signed. Traveling from Israel to Egypt at that time was quite the adventure; I had no idea how welcome a young Jewish-American would be by the Egyptians, many of whom were skeptical about the peace agreement.

There was nothing to fear. I found the Egyptians to be gracious, open and extremely hospitable. While traveling on a train from Cairo to Luxor, I got up to stretch my legs and walk to the back of the car. A small group of men eating lunch repeatedly motioned for me to sit down (we couldn't communicate with words). They insisted I share their meal of pita and foul (a staple fava bean-based dish). I was amazed by their generosity and willingness to share with a foreigner.

Egypt is a deeply stratified country. I have read estimates that 20 to 45 percent of the Egyptian people live below the poverty line. Unemployment, particularly among youth, is high. There is also an affluent class, stable industries and a strong financial sector.

Egypt can become a model country for green economic development. If the Egyptian people decide to go green, the world community can support building factories to produce solar panels and related products. An army of Egyptians can be mustered to rebuild their country as an energy-efficient dynamo. The talents of scores of proud Egyptians can be unleashed to make the most of their lives and their ancient land, and inspire the region to resolve conflicts within and between countries.

These are days to dream big. Let's do what we can to realize a vision of what a heaven on earth can be starting in, what was until recently, a most unlikely place.

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