DAMIETTA: After a six-day strike across the governorate, Damietta locals vow to continue their sit-in against MOPCO petrochemicals company despite a decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to shut down the plant.
In Damietta, where the Nile and Mediterranean meet, roads across the city are still blocked with burnt tires and broken palm trees, keeping workers from going in and out of the main port in the city.
One protester was killed yesterday in a military crackdown on the sit-in, according to eyewitnesses.
About 50 protesters remained in the heart of the port while another 50 were scattered around blocking off roads.
Ahmed Fekry, a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party of Damietta said that the minute residents hear that there might be a violent crackdown by security, 3,000 to 4,000 citizens can immediately hit the streets
Protesters are demanding that governorate officials finally heed their calls to shut down the factory, which they say is “deadly and hazardous” to residents, marine life, as well as agricultural.
“We want to see in the hands of Damietta’s governor a clear written statement saying that the factory will be shut down giving concise reasons,” said Fekry.
“This is what we want as residents of Damietta, and this is what strikers are demanding,” Fekry told Daily News Egypt.
However, executives from Egypt’s Petrochemical Holding company told DNE that they have indeed received orders to shut down the plant but were not given details as to why.
“The SCAF has ordered every phase of the plant to be completely shut down to respect the people’s will,” a spokesman from the ruling military council told DNE in a telephone interview.
Lawyer Essam Sultan, who represents the residents in their legal fight against the factory, said that after the decision he urged strikers to go home and open up the roads inside the city.
“We think it is practical to end the sit-in, even if people are not convinced, they can at least open the roads for residents to go on with their daily lives,” he said.
Locals, however, are still not convinced that the government is sincere about the move to close down the plant.
“Any decision taken to close down such a large company must be announced with clear reasons,” said Eman El-Basiouny, also a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party of Damietta.
During a live phone-in on ON TV’s “Akher Kalam” program, the governor of Damietta said that he recommended the shutdown of the plant pending the implementation of 13 environment compliance measures by the company.
“The decision was not even officially announced by the military council, it was announced on TV by the governor of Damietta,” said El-Basiouny
El-Basiouny said that such a statement and reasons are not exactly legally binding.
He added that the environmental issues surrounding the factory must be reviewed first.
The factory is located in the heart of the port city, surrounded by schools, farmland, and people’s homes.
Thousands of Damietta residents have been striking over the past week when work resumed in phase two of the project despite a three-year campaign to close it down due to deadly emissions and illegal practices.
Referring to Agrium, the Canadian company invested in the plant, Hany El-Saeed, previously told DNE that Damietta does not need this project because the governorate does not have an unemployment problem, adding that the plant can easily be relocated.
According to El-Basiouny, Damietta’s port, which is also a main port in Egypt has been losing around $2 million every day, with 440 hauls not allowed to pass or enter since the strike began.
Residents also said that the factory, which produces fertilizers and petrochemical products, does not use proper filters when disposing its waste which has had disastrous and deadly results in their governorate.
After an ongoing controversy that has been surrounding the plant since 2008, a popular local committee of residents and environmentalists convened in Damietta eight months ago after observing the catastrophic pollution levels in the city.
In October the committee requested that the company halt its expansion, citing the harmful environmental impact of the plant.
According to El-Basiouny, after investigations, the local committee had found that the company was dumping waste into the Nile as well as the Mediterranean causing the destruction of adjacent fruit gardens and cultivated farmland as well as the death of fish.
El-Basiouny also pointed out that MOPCO’s factory engages in illegal practices when retrieving water for their operations.
“MOPCO not only illegally expanded phase two and three of their plant despite the local town committee and environmentalists’ orders to halt operations, but any factory is required to desalinate seawater to use for operations; MOPCO blatantly uses Nile water,” he said.
As a result of the company’s decision to continue expansion despite the local committee’s request, residents across Damietta decided to take matters into their own hands, El-Basiouny said.
According to information on agrium.com, in 2008 Agrium Inc., a Canada-based multi-million dollar corporation, entered into an agreement with MOPCO, whereby MOPCO acquired the EAgrium project, and EAgrium shareholders obtained an equity interest in the combined entity.
Agrium owns a 26 percent interest in the combined entity.
MOPCO has been an ongoing controversy for Damietta residents since 2008.
Citizens had protested the building of the initial phase in August 2008 due to its sensitive location in the heart of the port where residents live, children go to school, and agricultural activity.
Under the auspices of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian government and Agrium reached an agreement in August of 2008, stating that the factory would continue being built, despite residents’ objections.
“Our request now is to completely shut down the factory,” said Fekry.
“The strike is ongoing until we have proof from the governor that the plant and the factory have closed, because we have been played before by the former regime when Petroleum Minister Sameh Fahmy was in office.”