Must watch: Egypt's lost power

Al Jazeera English does a great first dig into the EMG gas deal between Egypt and Israel –theft from the Egyptian people involving many who are still in power in Egypt today, and with the blessing of the United States. It underplays the extent to which Hussein Salem was a key member of the Egyptian intelligence establishment, close to Field Marshal Abu Ghazala (Mubarak's chief rival in the early 1980s) and granted some protection from the Reagan administration after being caught in one of the scams in the US-Egypt military aid relationship. It's a story at the heart of how corruption, power, and strategic interests interact in the Middle East – very much worth watching.

The Egypt-Israel treaty and the gas deal, cont.

A couple of days ago I blithely stated that Egypt's decision to cancel the agreement it had to supply natural gas to EMG was not a violation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. I am now cautiously walking that back; I am not so sure anymore. There was a memorandum of understanding signed between Egypt and Israel in 2005 that guarantees Egyptian supply of natural gas not just to Israel but to EMG specifically, in quite precise terms. I am reproducing the relevant portion below:

Here is the full copy of the MoU in PDF, which is also available on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website. It's signed by then Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy and then Israeli Minister of National Instructure (and Mubarak's best friend in Israel) Benyamin Ben Eliezer. I am not sure what relation it bears to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, which it recalls in its preamble, as it does not seem to be an addendum to the treaty.

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On the tear gas being used in Tahrir

A lecturer in neurology at Ain Shams University, Ramez Reda Moustafa, issued the following statement via Twitter:

To the doctors in the field (tahrir and elsewhere), my experience with the gas used by the police: It causes extra-pyramidal symptoms (involuntary jerks in extremities and trunk mimicking a convulsive seizure, occulo-gyric crisis, etc.) and little respiratory distress. The jerking is relieved by low-dose (3-5mg) diluted diazepam given slowly IV.

The type of gas used is still uncertain but it is certainly very acidic and is not the regular tear gas used in January. Please try to capture as many videos as possible of the symptoms for documentation (and eventually legal action).

There is mounting indication that it might be CR gas as opposed to normal tear gas which is CS gas:

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The case against Egypt selling gas to Israel

For what must be the third or fourth time since the Egyptian revolution began on January 25, the Sinai gas pipeline that takes Egyptian gas to Israel has been attacked. These attacks are not particularly dramatic, but are enough of a bother that it takes several weeks to restore the flow of gas to Israel — and often Jordan, which is affected by the pipeline. The people behind the attacks are thought to be Sinai-based Islamists who oppose the sale of gas to Israel, but we don't really know for sure. The attack took place only 60km east of the Suez Canal, and it could very well be people from the Nile Valley carrying out the attacks — and they don't have to be Islamists, either, since plenty of other people oppose the gas deal.

Since the revolution, the interim government has reviewed gas prices but thus far everything indicates that the sale of gas will continue. From what I've been able to gather (and I'd like to write something longer on this one day), Egypt was selling the gas to Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG), the private firm that then sold the gas to the Israeli National Electricity Company, at around $3 per mbtu (that's million British thermal units — the standard measurement for these things). EMG then sold it to the Israelis for around $4.5 per mbtu, pocketing a 50% profit margin for no more than the transaction costs and some of the infrastructure between the two countries. The market price for gas (which is not as fungible as oil since it tends to rely on pipeline infrastructure unless shipped as LNG) is currently around $4.40 for futures in North America, but spot markets in recent years passed the $10 per mbtu mark. Either way, there is no doubt that the price of the gas sold by Egypt to EMG was well below market prices, and that the company made an easy profit without investment of its own (I'll leave the issue of whether EMG sold the gas to Israel at a fair price aside.)

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Get that gas!

If anything positive is to come from rumored Saudi-Qatari reconciliation, I would love it to be a fast-track project to set up a rig on Lebanon's shore to get this gas out before the Israelis suck it all up. After all the Gulf states have a stake in Lebanon and the money and expertise to pull it off.

Trouble is brewing in the waters off the coast of Lebanon and Israel about the future of one of the largest discoveries of natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

A field known as Leviathan might contain 16 trillion cubic feet of gas – enough to serve Israel’s domestic needs and make the country a substantial exporter.

But Lebanon is eyeing some of that income, badly needed to pay off its $50bn national debt. Some Lebanese politicians say the field may extend into their country’s as yet undeclared maritime zone.

Israel and Lebanon are still formally at war and the two neighbours have never agreed a maritime boundary.

Another problem is that Lebanon has not even passed an oil and gas law that would regulate drilling off its coast.

In spite of late night negotiations this week between Saad Hariri, the prime minister, and Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, the passage of any such legislation may still be months away.

In the meantime, Israel has unilaterally placed a line of buoys extending two miles into the sea off the two countries’ land border for what it describes as “security reasons”. Lebanon’s government has raised this with the United Nations, fearing that the floating line of Israeli-placed markers may encroach on its maritime territory.

Hizbollah, the armed Shia movement, and its allies have taken up the cause of what they call the defence of Lebanon’s natural resources – and they charge their western-backed political opponents with weakness in regard to the issue.

Mr Berri, from the Shia Amal movement, an ally of Hizbollah, has urged Mr Hariri’s government of national unity to counter what he sees as Israel’s designs on the country’s gas.

“Lebanon’s army, people, and resistance will be ready to thwart any attempt to steal its natural resources,” he said during a visit to neighbouring Syria.

In the meantime, things looking better in Lebanon — for now. I was there a few weeks ago, it looked positively bustling! Let's hope there not another summer war as some are predicting

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for Jan.06.10 to Jan.07.10

Video: Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy | guardian.co.uk | Another good video about clashes between Viva Palestina and Egyptian security. ✪ Rebuilding Afghanistan « London Review Blog | Narcotecture = Drug-financed ugly houses in Kabul. ✪ Israeli television confrontation is ‘a metaphor of the moral crisis in which Zionism is found today’ | Fascinating video argument - must watch. ✪ Israel to deploy Gaza rocket interceptor by June - Haaretz | So no more need for blockade, I guess? ✪ Ainsi disait Laroui à propos de la politique. Extraits politiques « min diwan Assyassa ». « Des maux à dire | On new book on M6 era in Morocco. ✪ Security Experts: Administration Overstates Domestic al-Qaeda Threat « The Washington Independent | Sounds familiar. ✪ Pro-ElBaradei campaign seeks collective proxies | Al-Masry Al-Youm | Interesting list of backers for ElBaradei campaign, includes Amr Moussa! ✪ Palestine Vivra! The French Heroes of the Gaza Freedom March | A nice account. ✪ Jerome Slater: On the US and Israel | New blog by academic. ✪ The Settlement Freeze That Isn't | The American Prospect | "The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth." ✪ BBC News - Egypt police clash with Gaza aid convoy activists | Unbelievable - Viva Palestina convoy sent through Kerem Shalom. ✪ Egypt to import natural gas from Iraq | Al-Masry Al-Youm | I wonder how much it costs compared to the gas sold to Israel. ✪ Saudi Arabia backs Egyptian plan for renewed peace talks - Haaretz | This peace plans sounds dodgy, esp. in its treatment of settlements. ✪ t r u t h o u t | Egypt: Rooftops Empower the Poor | Nice story on clean energy for the poor on Cairo's rooftops. ✪ Support the Cairo Declaration of the Gaza Freedom March Petition |
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Links for 11.16.09 to 11.18.09

ضغوط أمريكية لزيادة الغاز المصري لإسرائيل وخفض أسعاره - بوابة الشروق | al-Shurouk reports that US is asking Egypt to increase gas deliveries to Israel, and at cheaper price. ✪ US rebukes Israel on settlement plans - Yahoo! News | ... but will do nothing about it. ✪ Nubian fury at 'monkey' lyric of Arab pop star Haifa Wehbe | World news | The Guardian | The Haifa Wehbe / Nubian scandal. ✪ The Obama admin is selling the peace process, but the press is not buying it. | Phil Weiss has surreal transcript from State Dept. over new settlements. ✪ Readability - An Arc90 Lab Experiment | Very nice bookmarklet for reading long articles. ✪ Palestinians say they will ask UN to recognise state - Yahoo! News | Doesn't the UN already accept previous resolutions with the 1967 line? Regarding my previous comment on US senators' call for a veto, the Palestinians do appear to want to take it to UNSC, not UNGA. ✪ Le Figaro - Conjoncture : Le grand Monopoly mondial des terres agricoles | Nice chart accompanying this article on the sale of arable land to food importing nations. ✪ U.S. "would veto" Palestinian state move: Senators - Yahoo! News | I suspect recognition by the UN would take place by the General Assembly, not the Security Council, so that turncoat Lieberman can take his veto and shove it... ✪ The pro-Israel lobby in Britain: full text | openDemocracy | Report on UK Israel lobby by documentary filmmaker Peter Oborne. ✪ FT.com - Inflation rears its head again in Egypt | Mostly affecting food prices ahead of Eid. ✪ Egyptian Blogger Beaten | "During the mayhem of a major soccer match, Egyptian blogger Kareem el-Shae’r was kidnapped and beaten. El-Shae’r moderates the Free Egypt blog and is a member of Ayman Nour’s el-Ghad party and the April 6 Youth movement. For his activism, el-Shae’r has been arrested several times and beaten before. The Egyptian interior ministry refused to comment on the incident." ✪ Gaddafi hires 200 young Italian women – to convert them to Islam | And tries to convert them to Islam. ✪ Israel must end Gaza blockade, evictions, alleged abuse of Palestinian children - Ban | "Israel should end the blockade of Gaza, cease evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes, and ensure that the rights of children are respected and that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an annual report released today." ✪ Yemen Finds Dreamland of Architecture - NYTimes.com | On Yemen's traditional architecture. ✪ The Arabs by Eugene Rogan | Book review | The Guardian | Robert Irwin reviews this book, which I am currently reading.
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Links for 10.28.09

FT.com / Middle East - Wait goes on for Dubai’s £10bn bond | "Where is Dubai’s $10bn bond? The question has been making the rounds in Dubai business circles, as bankers and executives wonder when the emirate will bite the bullet and ask the United Arab Emirates central bank – which is bankrolled by Abu Dhabi – for the second tranche of a $20bn bail-out agreed earlier this year." ✪ FT.com / China / Economy & Trade - Qatar targets increased gas exports to China | China hydrocarbons imports from ME increase. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Standing Up To Garbage | Interesting story about garbage collection problem, reveals govt. spending very little, military stepping in with recycling. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | NDP Promotes Gamal Mubarak On Facebook | Facebook users paid LE1500 to promote Gamal. ✪ Brown: Asking the wrong questions about Palestinian elections | Marc Lynch | Makes some good points about elections in the Arab world in general and the Palestinian ones in particular. ✪ Dar Al Hayat - The “Brotherhoodization” of the Arab World | Argues MB arrests only reinforce ideological core of the group and increases its popularity, allowing them to spread their intolerant populist message rather than engage in genuine politics. ✪ Arab winds of change | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | Whitaker provides a short take on his new book, which I will be reviewing shortly: the Arab malaise is not just the regimes, but also the people. ✪ The disabled Palestinian standup helping refugees find their funny side | Stage | The Guardian | Very nice story on Palestinian disabled standupcomics: "I am officially the most oppressed person in the world," Maysoon Zayid recently told an audience in California. "I'm a Palestinian Muslim with cerebral palsy." ✪ Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water | Amnesty International | Amnesty's report on Israel cutting off water to Gaza. ✪ Envisioning an alternative Egypt, post-Mubarak - Haaretz - Israel News | Zvi Barel on Heikal and succession. ✪ bt - Waiting for a Trickle | "The boom, spurred by private and foreign direct investment, has paid off primarily for the country’s richest, according to the new report by the General Authority for Investment (GAFI)." ✪ The Race for Iran | New blog about the geostrategy of Iran, contributors include Flynt and Hillary Everett. ✪ Gaza water supply at 'crisis point' | "Amnesty International says Israeli policies and practices are denying Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip their fair share of the region's scarce water supplies" ✪ Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros: Why Are Egypt's Liberals Anti-Semitic? - WSJ.com | WTF is the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth? This argument is stupid, you take the liberals you have, not those you wish you had. And how do these people get into the WSJ op-ed page? ✪ Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll - NYTimes.com | No wonder Matthew Hoh resigned: "KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials."
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Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

A few day's worth...

Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news | guardian.co.uk

| "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | guardian.co.uk | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world.
FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - FOXNews.com | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?


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Links for 08.16.09 to 08.17.09

U.S. group invests tax-free millions in East Jerusalem land - Haaretz - Israel News | Prosecute them: "American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a nonprofit organization that sends millions of shekels worth of donations to Israel every year for clearly political purposes, such as buying Arab properties in East Jerusalem, is registered in the United States as an organization that funds educational institutes in Israel." ✪ Palestinian state is not synonym for terrorist entity - Haaretz - Israel News | "The Jewish army's work in the territories we still call "Judea and Samaria" is done by non-Jews: Arab police, American instructors, European money. How has Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it? Paradise." ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | Hamas faces Gelgelt | On links between the Salafist Jihadist group and "our son of a bitch" Muhammad Dahlan. ✪ Is the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline a Viable Project? The Impact of Terrorism Risk - The Jamestown Foundation | To me this is a ridiculous idea but what do I know? ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Tractatus Franco-Arabicus | A Wittgensteinian review of Sonallah Ibrahim's latest.
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