Egypt’s fossilized forest given new lease on life

The Petrified Forest, 30 km from Cairo, has been given more protection after years of campaigning. (AN photo)
Updated 14 February 2018
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Egypt’s fossilized forest given new lease on life

CAIRO: Environmentalists in Egypt have finally succeeded in putting a 30 million-year-old fossilized forest under special government protection.
The Petrified Forest — also known as Gabal Al-Khashab, or Hill of Wood is located outside Maadi district, 30 km from Cairo.
The area is a natural heritage site in a 7-km square area, which holds fossils, stems and trunks of trees that have been completely fossilized.
The forest was declared a protectorate in 1989. But for more than a decade, efforts led by environmentalists have failed to force the government to fully safeguard the site.
That was until a group of activists called “Narges Volunteers” managed to save it.
The group presented its vision for the forest two years ago and asked for support from the parliament and the forest administration to protect the area from neglect, looting, and dumping of garbage piles.
The first phase of the project for the forest was launched on Saturday at a cost of less than half a million US dollars, according to Minister of Environment Dr. Khaled Fahmy.
“When I came to learn about the treasures inside this forest, I decided to fight, with my neighbors, to protect it from looting. Our dream came true… it is now a destination for families”, said lead volunteer Noha Ezz.
More than a year ago, the government seized about one-third of the protected area, claiming it was no longer valuable — an act that enraged both residents and environmentalists.
The forest is not only holding petrified wood but also fossilized mammals, as well as plants, flowers and fruit from nearly every geological time period.
“This is the starting point, there is a long road ahead and we need to attract tourists, protect and develop the forest further,” said Dr. Ibrahim Hegazy, a member of parliament who has been leading volunteers in the transformation of the forest.
“This is a successful model of collaboration between residents, parliament and the government,” said Tamer Atef, one of the primary environmentalists of the project.
The Petrified Forest, which was once a branch of the Nile River, was formed over millions of years ago during the Oligocene era. Its rich geological heritage attracts tourists, scientists and students, and is home to rare plants, distinct reptiles, birds and animals such as the red fox.
Similar forests around the world — like the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, the US, or Curio Bay in New Zealand — receive hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.


Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

Updated 23 May 2018
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Erdogan picks ministers for Turkey parliamentary race to boost his AK Party’s chances

  • Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week
  • The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force

ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has picked prominent ministers to run for parliament next month, strengthening the ruling AK Party’s chances of winning a majority but putting their future role in government into question, party officials say.
Many cabinet members including the energy, defense, foreign and interior ministers were named this week by the party to run for parliament in the June 24 poll, where the Islamist-rooted AK Party faces a stiff challenge from an opposition alliance.
While boosting the list of candidates, the move could affect the shape of the future cabinet because lawmakers will not be able to hold ministerial posts under the new presidential system, unless they resign their seats.
The party, in power since 2002, remains Turkey’s most popular political force, but recent opinion polls have suggested it could struggle to win an absolute majority, even with the support of its nationalist MHP ally.
The latest fall in the lira, which has lost more than a fifth of its value against the dollar this year, could also work against Erdogan if voters fear the government is pushing prices and the cost of living higher.
Erdogan is still widely expected to win the presidential election to be held the same day. While the presidency will take on greater executive authority afterwards, an opposition-controlled parliament could vote down legislation.
“Erdogan wants to win a parliamentary majority in this critical election with a strong list,” said one AK Party member running for parliament.
A survey by MAK pollsters, viewed as sympathetic to the ruling party, showed on Wednesday that the parliamentary race is absolutely balanced, with the AK Party together with the MHP winning exactly 50.0 percent. In the presidential vote, it saw Erdogan winning 51.4 percent.

MINISTERIAL CHANGES
The move to throw high profile ministers into the parliamentary race could have a major impact on the composition of next cabinet.
“Under normal circumstances, those who are in the (parliamentary) list will not be appointed ministers,” a senior AK Party official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Finance Minister Naci Agbal was not named as a parliamentary candidate, and three sources said he was expected to remain in the post-election cabinet.
However, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci is expected to leave the cabinet and run for a mayoral office, the sources said, while the future of Mehmet Simsek, deputy prime minister with responsibility for the economy, was undecided.
Investors have been watching closely for signals about Simsek’s role. As a former investment banker in New York and London, he is seen as one of the most investor-friendly members of a government at odds with economic orthodoxy.
The Turkish lira, already one of the weakest emerging market currencies this year, has lost another 13 percent against the dollar since Erdogan said in London last week that he planned to take greater control of the economy and that the central bank would not be able to ignore signals from the new executive presidency.
“Erdogan will make the last call on Simsek. Although Simsek’s policies are sometimes criticized, everyone knows that it’s hard to replace him,” an AK Party official said.
Simsek congratulated those on the party’s parliamentary list on Tuesday, adding in a tweet: “Onwards, no stopping.”
Officials say economic management is expected to be overseen by one of five vice presidents in a cabinet made up of 14 ministers — down from the current 21.
The changes have not yet been finalized, however, and may not be completed before the election, one of the AK Party officials said.