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Arab World

Egypt mourns eco-activist Mindy Baha El Din

Egypt's environmental community is in mourning following the sudden death of activist Mindy Baha El Din. Local journalist Arwa Aburawa knew Baha El Din personally and gives her thoughts on the passing of a hero.

I first met Mindy Baha El Din during an interview back in 2011. The first thing that struck me about her was her positive outlook on things. It seemed like, on environmental issues, she was immune to becoming cynical about anything.

Born Mindy Rosenzweig, the Chicago-born American initially came to Egypt in 1988 with a mission to highlight the importance of conservation. In the end, it turned out that it was such a big task that she never left.

Instead, she fell in love with Egypt's nature, met and married bird expert Sherif Baha El Din and became one of the country's leading green campaigners. She was also the Secretary of the 'Nature Conservation Egypt' organization, which is dedicated to conserving Egypt's environment.

"Over the years, we have witnessed massive changes and degradation to Egypt's natural heritage," she told me back in 2011. "It is shocking how one generation made decisions about natural resource use, affecting present and all future generations of Egyptians."

A newly-planted forest outside of Cairo, Egypt.

New environmental projects are sprouting up across Egypt, thanks to Baha El Din's groundwork

"The nation is blessed with amazing nature, cultural heritage and traditional communities which need to be protected."

Campaigning on different fronts

During my environmental reporting on the Middle East, I would regularly receive tweets from Mindy about everything from campaigns to stop development projects near Lake Qarun, to efforts to end fishing in Ras Mohammed National Park.

Mindy Baha El Din wasn't shy about making the most of social media and was proud of all the international support she managed to garner for her campaigns.

"We are new to environmental activism," she confessed to me following the revolution in Egypt which saw the overthrow of the dictator Mubarak in early 2011. "It was not tolerated in the past but seems to suit the current atmosphere in the country."

Indeed, following the Arab Spring, Mindy seemed to go into top gear with an even greater belief in the need to keep people informed and the importance of openness.

Still, at the same time, she was very proud of being Egyptian and told me she considered herself lucky to call Egypt her home.

"Living here is like being on a permanent vacation," she had said.

A husband and wife team

Working with her husband, she led international campaigns against bird hunting, helped inform government environmental policy and campaigned to conserve any precious piece of nature that came under threat.

Environmental journalist Arwa Aburawa in Cairo

Environmental journalist Arwa Aburawa first met Mindy Baha El Din in 2011

"We both have a strong sense of civic duty," she explained. "We have tried our best to make a difference, but it has been an uphill struggle."

The one thing that struck me whenever I interviewed Mindy Baha El Din was just how optimistic she was. Even after the revolution which toppled Mubarak threatened to push environmental issues further down the political agenda, she saw new opportunities and new potential in the young people who flooded the streets.

"What is very exciting after the revolution is all these creative, talented and bright young people," she said. "They are the nation’s capital and future. They want to be involved in improving their nation. It is up to us environmental campaigners to find ways to engage and channel their energies," she said.

Last Thursday (14.03.2013) Mindy suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. During an operation a later later she fell into a coma. She passed away early on the following Monday morning. Her wake will be held later this week in Cairo and is open to the public.

Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist specialising in environmental issues in Cairo, Egypt.

DW.DE