Egypt cuts off Israel’s gas deal

May 1, 2012

AMID THE great mist of uncertainty that surrounds post-Mubarak Egypt, the Egyptian government has announced that it will terminate a long-term deal to provide gas to Israel. Contention has alighted over the motives--chiefly, whether it is a political decision or of a business-related nature--but the cancellation is a sign of post-revolutionary progress.

The pipeline from Egypt to Israel supplies roughly 40 percent of Israel's natural gas, its primary source of energy. Israeli officials say the country will face rolling blackouts this summer due to the energy shortage.

Since the January 25 revolution that brought down Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, the pipeline, which cuts through the essentially lawless Sinai Peninsula, has been attacked over 14 times.

Many Israeli officials are already claiming that the cancellation, which the Egyptian officials say is a business decision and not a political one, is a breach of the fragile peace treaty between the two countries. The Israeli opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, commented, "This unilateral step requires an immediate American response."

Yet the gas deal has nothing to do with the 1979 peace treaty--it was a business agreement negotiated behind closed doors between Israeli business and a quasi-private Egyptian Energy Company that was cozy with close friends of Hosni Mubarak.

The cancellation of the contract is a first step in the process of resituating post-Mubarak Egypt's relationship with Israel. While in Cairo recently, I asked a 21-year-old Al-Azhar University student, Mohammed, about his feelings towards Israel. "We have been in two wars," he said. "They killed five of our border guards last year. Mubarak sold Israel the material to build the separation wall between Israel and the West Bank."

He thought the pipeline, however, constituted Mubarak's worst act of betrayal. He said, "Israel pays much less for gas than they should, and we have a fuel shortage right here in Egypt."

POTENTIAL POWER outages in Israel simply do not compare to the appalling state of poverty in which many Egyptians live. The blackouts that Israeli officials warn of have already been occurring in Egypt for several years. (Meanwhile, Gazans have been suffering a fuel shortage which has caused at least one hospital to cancel its "non-essential operations" to conserve energy.)

The gas deal was a scam that only benefitted Israel, Mubarak and his cronies--at the expense of Egyptians. Mubarak's rule was despotic, and he never had the right to squander away Egyptian resources for well below the market price, while he and his business partners trimmed billions of dollars that should have been used to alleviate the wretched conditions in which large swaths of Egyptians live today.

The Israeli government may try to redress the termination of the gas deal as an attack against the peace treaty. It is nothing of the sort. Rather, the gas deal was an attack on the Egyptian people. From the outset, the citizenry overwhelmingly opposed an agreement that diverted money into the pockets of a few ruling thugs, while the masses trudged on in squalor.

Undoubtedly, there remains a long struggle in front of Egypt. Now that Mubarak is gone, there is no unified spirit of Tahrir Square: It is an ideological battleground for the future of a politically and economically shattered country.

The gas deal with Israel can be renewed only after a fair price is agreed upon, one that does not rob Egyptians of their basic right to improve their lives through their own resources. Until then, its termination ought to be considered a positive development that was only possible because of the revolution.
Patrick O. Strickland, Tel Aviv, Israel

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