Problems on hold
If we desire that everyone should respect the law and abide by it, we must ensure that the law applies to all without exception or privilege. It should be passed following serious studies that secure its effectiveness and establish monitoring mechanisms to guarantee violators are taken to account. This is the essence of a State of law and order, and our legislative and executive authorities would do good to heed it. Passing laws is no big deal; imposing them firmly and indiscriminately is what really matters, because only then can justice and equality be served. Citizens must not find themselves in the predicament of either having to respect the law but feel oppressed, or neither respecting the law nor answering to it.
In Egypt, we are brilliant at putting together plans and defining objectives and courses. Accordingly, decisions are taken and regulations and laws passed which, on paper, appear to ensure the attainment of objectives. Yet we never take time to study the means to effectively apply laws. The result is that justice is dissipated, and Egyptians no longer abide by the law; they rather loathe it and attempt to outsmart it. They see it as a vicious beast on the prowl; the herd in its majority may escape, but individual prey fall one after the other.
Some two weeks ago, we woke to a surprise decision by Cairo Governor Atef Abdel-Hamid imposing an ‘environment fine’ of EGP10,000 on car owners or residents who use water hoses to wash their cars or streets. He stressed that Egypt is facing a water crisis, and that Egyptians should collaborate to face it. The same day, the Cairo upscale district of Zamalek witnessed the first application of the governor’s decision: a report was filed against a resident who was caught washing his car with a water hose.
Everyone in Egypt is well aware of the magnitude of the threat of water scarcity, so much so that it has become a national security issue. It has warranted the revision of policies and practices in use for centuries on end when Egypt basked in an abundance of water. Today, an increasingly growing population and reduced water resources have led to a sharp decline in Egypt’s per capita water quota, with fears of further decline should these trends persist. The government has revised agriculture and irrigation policies to rationalise water consumption. Drip irrigation has been adopted and crops that require copious amounts of water have been outlawed. Citizens have been called upon to rationalise their water consumption. Such moves require firm supervision by the government, and conscientious cooperation and commitment by all Egyptians.
I am definitely convinced of the imperativeness of rationalising water consumption, and I approve in principle of Cairo Governor’s recent decision. But I have followed up on it during the past two weeks, and came up with the following observations:
• The national objective of rationalising water consumption through outlawing the use of water hoses to wash cars or streets has been decreed in Cairo alone. Does not it apply to all Egypt?
• Throughout these two weeks, I repeatedly came across the usual scenes of streets and sidewalks, public and private gardens, and cars being hose-washed. I detected no measures to stop these practices or warn against them. I have no knowledge of any report filed with the police on that matter.
• All fuel stations offer car wash among their services, which uses large amounts of water to wash car engines and bodies. These work at full capacity all day long.
• If water rationalisation practices have not been implemented in places that are open for all to see, what can we expect in areas not open to the public eye, such as such as private villas, residential compounds, or even public and private bus parking lots?
• How about State-owned institutions or facilities, should not they too come under control regarding water consumption?
Following Cairo Governor’s decision, a letter issued by the environmental affairs department of Cairo’s Nozha district, dated 2 January 2018, went viral on social media. The letter was addressed to the head of Cairo Traffic Department, asking him to halt renewal of licence to six privately owned cars including one SUV, and three taxis, until the owners pay at Nozha District Office fines for hose-washing their cars. The plate numbers of all nine vehicles were cited in the letter, in addition to a clause that declared the action to be in compliance with Law 4 of 1994.
Cairo Governor’s decision and the manner in which it is being implemented gives rise to countless questions and concerns. Is it legal for the Traffic Department to refrain from renewing vehicle licences on demand of the local district’s environmental affairs department? Is the decision open to abuse, as in case an individual hose-washes the parked car of a personal adversary for him or her to be lodged with a hefty fine? Given the near-chaos on Cairo streets, can there be control over the fair, indiscriminate application of the Governor’s decision?
Could the decision, restricted to Cairo governorate and riddled with countless ambiguities, achieve the objective of rationalising water consumption?
25 March 2018