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Egypt

In Egypt, Taking Democracy To The Next Level: Local!

The Arab spring hit its zenith in Tahrir Square in Cairo, but the next challenge is just as important, if not quite as glamorous: bringing real democracy to local politics, from trash collection to schools to health care.

Rana Khazbak

GIZA - Protests in Tahrir Square might be slowing down for now, but the struggle for dignity, freedom and social justice isn't over. It has just moved to Imbaba.

In this sprawling poor quarter of the city of Giza, just to the southwest of the capital, members of the popular committees that came together to provide neighborhood protection during last winter's uprising, are now taking the demands to the local level. The campaign they launched, called "Know Your Rights," is already making headway. Its goal is to mobilize people to be active in their communities and unite to demand their rights from their municipal government.

"We didn't want a small group of people to do this. People have to ask for their rights," says Ayman Youssef, coordinator of the popular committee of Imbaba. "Everyone must know that as long as he pays taxes, it's his right to lead a decent life – and the government has to provide basic services."

Popular committees meet to discuss what they believe are the most pressing problems facing their neighborhoods. Then they devise strategies on how to pressure the government to respond. Similar initiatives took place in nine other areas in Greater Cairo, each focusing on specific local problems.

The idea behind the campaign is that communities know their own needs better than any politician or civil society organization that arrives from outside of their neighborhoods. And in post-Mubarak Egypt, people feel that their demands should be heard.

"This is true democracy. It's the popular democracy, not elite democracy. Voting in parliamentary and presidential elections is not enough. The main stakeholders have to be the decision-makers all along, even after electing members of Parliament," said Ahmed Ezzat, a lawyer who is the general coordinator of the Popular Committees to Defend the Revolution, a national coalition of local popular committees.

First, know your rights

The popular committee in Imbaba was the first to kick off its campaign. Members of the "Know Your Rights' campaign are now focusing on pressuring the government to remove garbage from the streets. Currently, municipal services like garbage collection do not operate in Imbaba.

At a recent event, members of the popular committee held signs that read: "Remove the garbage. You will kill us;" "How will our children get educated when the garbage is blocking the school gate?" and "Where does our money go when the garbage drowns the streets?"

The campaign, which uses the slogan "We'll visit all of Egypt's streets," aspires to deal with other social and economic issues such as housing, minimum wages, health care, education, and transportation by bringing them to the attention of the authorities.

A week after the campaign's first event in Imbaba, the governor of Giza visited the neighborhood and promised to remove all the garbage in a week. The campaign organizers celebrated the success when a day later a truck arrived to take away the garbage in one of the areas. Still, the problem still lingers in the rest of Imbaba.

The campaign has been gaining momentum in the past week and organizers are communicating with popular committees outside of Cairo to widen it.

"We decided to go to people where they live," says Ezzat. "We want every neighborhood to be Tahrir Square."

Read the full version of the story in Al Masry Al Youm

photo - Ryan Q

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Fading Flavor: Production Of Saffron Declines Sharply

Saffron is well-known for its flavor and its expense. But in Kashmir, one of the flew places it grows, cultivation has fallen dramatically thanks for climate change, industry, and farming methods.

Photo of women harvesting saffron in Kashmir

Harvesting of Saffron in Kashmir

Mubashir Naik

In northern India along the bustling Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Pampore — known as the saffron town of Kashmir —people are busy picking up saffron flowers to fill their wicker baskets.

During the autumn season, this is a common sight in the Valley as saffron harvesting is celebrated like a festival in Kashmir. The crop is harvested once a year from October 21 to mid-November.

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