19.05.2011In Dialogue: Khaled Al-Khamissi – Stefan WeidnerThe Arab Spring
Cologne, 25 June 2011
I would, of course, be very happy to send you my umbrella, but unfortunately I am now back in Cologne, and at the moment it is raining here as if it meant never to stop; so you see, I need my umbrella every bit as much as you do, but just for the opposite reason. If it were only possible, I would send you the rain clouds themselves; that would be of more use to us both than the very best umbrella. But here's a thought. Maybe you have not realised it yet, but the heat in your country is quite a financial asset! We – that is German industry – already have our eye on your sun, and very soon it is going to be as coveted a resource as Arab oil.
You don't believe me? Just take a look at the sun-seeking tourists who come to your country searching for the very thing you are complaining about. Then there is the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who really has his hands full at the moment saving the euro from the spendthrift Greeks, who now have to begin saving their money and at the same time getting their economy into gear.
According to Schäuble, the best way to save the Greeks now would be to buy their sunshine. This would also constitute a gesture of inner-European solidarity. The Greek euro-sun is of course much more expensive than the Egyptian pound-sun, particularly at the present time, when your economy is also on its knees. Schäuble, however, just mentions the Greek sun – a blatant case of Euro-centrism, if ever there was one!
In order to make things clear, I now have to explain to you just why it is that we need the southern suns. Have you heard? We have decided to "get out" of nuclear energy (within the next ten years)? I know this sounds almost as if nuclear energy were a train or a taxi that one could get out of, and which then continues on its way without us. Well, actually, that is pretty much the case. The Germans are "getting out"; everyone else is staying on for the ride. So, we will soon need to find more energy than the others, and where better to find it than in the Greek sun!
Brilliant, is it not? The Germans save the Greeks, the euro, and, indeed, all of Europe, just by turning their backs on nuclear energy. One might almost believe they were doing it for the good of Europe. The truth is rather different, however. They are getting out a) because they are afraid and b) because they are clever.
I am not being the slightest bit ironic when I say that the Germans have done the right thing. They have acted reasonably, in the strictest sense of the word. They have learned the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima. One can mock this decision, as I have done here, but it is a truly Utopian policy, not the usual application of political realism that by definition is always rather short-sighted.
Interestingly, it is also a populist policy. Nuclear power is unpopular in this country, so much so that we are willing to pay a high price to get rid of it and replace it with other forms of energy.
I believe that this is one of those rare cases where populism is not primitive, where a populist policy is also an idealistic one; one that is aimed at the future and at benefitting future generations rather than offering quick-fix superficial advantages (if anything, it will bring short-term disadvantages) that pander only to current selfishness.
Perhaps a policy such as this is only possible in a land of plenty, a rich, sated country such as Germany. But the fact that it is possible to unite populism and reason at all gives us perhaps some grounds to hope for the future of Egypt, which, if I understand you properly, is currently very much in the grip of a particularly crude and extremely short-sighted populism.
Dear Khalid, you asked me for a poem. I have one for you. It is very short, but it does have some relevance to our topic, energy. It is, in fact, a rather moving poem on the unlikely subject of coal.
At first huge mountains buried us
A thousand years
A hundred thousand years we were not worthy of mention
Then they sought our warmth.
The poem is by Fazýl Hüsnü Daðlarca (1914–2008), the grand master of modern Turkish poetry. It is so short, yet says so much. The coal is all of us: the forgotten poets, who one day will be rediscovered; the oppressed peoples, who one day will be free once more; the intellectuals, to whom no one now wants to listen, or wanted to listen to earlier, when they were warning of the dangers of atomic energy. And now, all of a sudden, their warnings have become popular…
However it is interpreted, the poem gives consolation, it is itself the coal. Let it be a source of warmth to you, and I hope you like it, even in your present state, when you might be rather more in need of an air-conditioner than extra heat.
We have come full circle, back to the weather. There is so much that I wanted to say, but I am afraid that the readers will have had enough of my chatter, so I will content myself with waiting for your reply.