“Where are you from?” a curious local asks.
“I’m from Egypt,” I respond.
“Oh wow! So do you live in a pyramid?”
Almost every Egyptian traveling abroad has experienced a similar scene. Around the world, the image of Egypt is often conflated with that of its ancient heritage. But this historical perspective, while reflective of one aspect of Egypt’s identity, does not offer the full picture. What, then, is Egypt’s identity? And how is Egypt portraying itself on the COP27 stage in Sharm El Sheikh?
Egypt as a Nation: An Individual and Collective Perspective
To answer these questions, it’s important to take a step back and understand what makes up a nation and how these elements translate into a particular image. While governments might run and represent nations, a country is first made of its people. These are individuals born on a land, have inherited it, lived on it for a certain period, or however else a nationality is accorded to a population.
Demographically, Egypt constitutes over 100 million inhabitants. With more than 60% between the ages of 15 and 64, the population is very young. Now, youth conjures ideas of renewal because it boasts opportunities for novelty. And this is reflected in the growing start-up scene in Egypt. Year on year, fresh graduates strive to develop their innovations across various sectors, such as technology or environment. Such dynamism is translated in numbers: Egypt has the fourth largest start-up ecosystem in Africa according to the 2021 Egyptian Startup Ecosystem Report published by Disrupt Africa. Moreover, the country’s demographic potential can be channelled in people-based industries such as energy, logistics, technology, or financial services.
The interest in innovation is being capitalized in the energy sector, especially in the search for renewable energy sources. By fostering innovation hubs, more job opportunities in research, hydrogen production, and other areas of the sector are created. Solar parks are emerging in the desert and wind farms multiplying along the Gulf of Suez. In fact, the country aims to produce 42% of its electricity from wind and solar power by 2035. These efforts led by Egyptians are attracting international investments, especially in green hydrogen. Conceived and implemented by Egyptians, projects in this area are today inaugurated around the Red Sea. In addition to national benefits, energy can be exported to support climate crisis mitigation, suggesting Egypt’s potential to develop sustainable solutions.
Community Action in the Fight Against Climate Change
This reinvention of the Egyptian people is equally visible at the community level. Civil society organizations are sprouting to address key development challenges in the country. For instance, Very Nile is a widely acclaimed initiative that aims to clean Egypt’s Nile River and raise awareness on pollution’s negative impact. More than a national emblem, the Nile is the country’s lifeline, a precious resource on which millions of lives depend; protecting the river is interlaced with people’s future. Even the informal sector is involved in tackling climate change problems. Egypt is famous for its informal yet effective waste collection. In cooperation with multi-national companies, CID Consulting conceived DORNA (meaning our role in Arabic) - a reverse credit system that incentivizes informal waste recyclers to increase their recovery and recycling rates of post-consumer PET plastic. This is a recognition of the community’s part in a global issue.
Working towards the same goal, such initiatives and official strategies unify disparate people into a population: the individual is bound to a collective.
It is this unified entity that is then ready to represent itself internationally. Indeed, a cohesive nation can project a clear and defined image of itself. And COP27 is the global stage where this image will be displayed. Occurring in Sharm El-Sheikh, the yearly Conference of the Parties gathers world leaders and other stakeholders to discuss environmental concerns and, hopefully, design a road map with clear implementation actions.
Egypt’s Identity as COP27 Host
The choice to hold the conference at Sharm El-Sheikh is a strategic one as it has recently become a hotspot for high profile events. Several national ones have been held in the coastal city, including the World Youth Forum where young and passionate reformers and changemakers around the globe are annually invited to visit, meet and converse. This posits Sharm El-Sheikh as a locus of change, preparing it for the larger event that is COP. In fact, this year’s conference will debut a Children and Youth Pavilion, recalling the city’s and nation’s concern for future generations and linking it to a global audience.
A second benefit to hosting COP27 in this city is tourism, and especially eco-tourism. With over 35,000 visitors registered to attend the event, this is a chance to highlight the city’s diverse marine landscape and environmental consciousness. For instance, the Ministry of Environment has launched a ‘Blue Lagoon’ campaign to raise awareness on the importance of natural reserves, while the transportation of choice during COP27 will be electric vehicles. This environmentally friendly image can potentially attract more international visitors to the country in future.
Such tangible efforts are echoed in this year’s Solutions Day, which celebrates innovation by highlighting local grassroots solutions from all over the country. Thousands of projects applied to participate; over 680 offered large-scale solutions and about 1,000 were run by women. This event exemplifies the urgent need for implementation if climate change mitigation is to be achieved. COP27 is a chance to promote Egypt’s new identity and re-shape the global audience’s perception of the country.
If a similar milestone to the Paris Agreement can be achieved, this could cement Egypt’s role in the fight against one of the world’s most urgent crises. After all, the Paris Agreement, which was adopted by the conference’s 196 parties, is named after the capital that it was signed in, rather than the international event that it came out of. We associate the host city with the monumental document – as opposed to the global event – underlining its political weight. If Sharm El Sheikh can achieve what Paris did, then Egypt’s identity could start becoming synonymous with innovation and cutting-edge research. No longer land of Pharoah, but hub of energy.
And then, maybe, when the next curious local hears I’m from Egypt, what will be conjured in his mind is not the image of an ancient land but that of a regenerated oasis.
This article examined the potential for Egypt to rebrand itself at COP27. In the next few months, we’ll continue to explore the concept of nation branding in more detail and, specifically, explore how Egypt can continue to reshape its identity.
Conceived by Dalia Wahba
Written by Aida Youssef