The Ironic Lady: Margaret Thatcher, Supposed Champion of ‘Freedom and Democracy’, and Her Dictator Friends
Margaret Thatcher died Monday, April 8, 2013, at the age of 87. While there is no dearth of hagiographic profiles of the former British Prime Minister in the mainstream press and scathing vitriol elsewhere, it should be remembered that, throughout her career, Thatcher was a staunch supporter of many of the world’s most brutal regimes, propping up and arming war criminals and dictators in service to Western imperialism, anti-Communism and neoliberal hegemony.
Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s government backed Iraq during its war against Iran, funneling weapons and equipment to Saddam Hussein in contravention of both international law and British policy, all the way up until Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. She even sent Christmas cards to both Saddam and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 1981.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a review of some of her other pals…
In April 1978, prior to her ascension to Prime Minister, Thatcher visited the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in Tehran where she praised him as “one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled.”
Despite the popular protests against the Shah occurring across Iran with increasing frequency, Thatcher said of her host, “No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.” Exactly one month before her visit, street protests in over 55 Iranian cities resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians, when police opened fire on the crowds.
Iran “holds a key strategic position in the defence of the Western World,” Thatcher continued, “Her strength and resolve are vital to our future.” She added, “Iran has been the West’s most resolute and stalwart ally in this crucial region.”
Upon his overthrow the following February, the Shah expressed his desire to seek asylum in England at his lavish country estate in Surrey. While the British government at the time wound up secretly helping the Shah make his way from Morocco to the Bahamas, it rejected his request to enter the UK.
Thatcher, who became Prime Minister soon thereafter, respected the decision of her predecessor for political reasons, but was “deeply unhappy” that Britain could not offer sanctuary to Pahlavi, whom she called a “firm and helpful friend.”
A longtime supporter of the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, Thatcher once received a memo from the UK Foreign Office referring to Mubarak as “no intellectual but… always friendly and cheerful,” noting that while “apt to express simplistic views, he has become an experienced and accomplished political operator.” The brief continued, “His affable exterior evidently conceals a degree of ruthlessness since it seems likely that he has conducted some successful political infighting to maintain his position” having “succeeded in ousting or at least surviving all other prominent figures in the government or armed forces.”
“Nevertheless his reputation is free of any taint of corruption or malpractice and he is not thought to have made many enemies,” the memo said of Mubarak, adding that he was “eager to improve relations with the Royal Air Force and to buy British [military] equipment.”
Thatcher was only too happy to oblige.
Over the years of her leadership, Thatcher routinely commended Mubarak for his “courage” and “strength.” In 1985, at a banquet in Cairo, she said she “admire[d] particularly, Mr. President, the leadership which you personally… have shown.” Five years later, while hosting Mubarak and his wife at No. 10 Downing Street, Thatcher declared, “You are among our very favourite visitors because we all know you as particularly good and close friends of this country, as we are of Egypt,” and once again expressed her admiration for the Egyptian president, this time for his “incredible energy.”
“You are as full of beans as ever,” she said. Unfortunately for the Egyptian people over the next 11 years, thanks largely to American and British largesse, she was right.
Thatcher was a steadfast defender of Augusto Pinochet, whose unspeakably brutal dictatorship of torture and repression terrorized Chile from 1973 to 1990. She visited Pinochet in 1999 during his house arrest in England, saying that her country “owed” him ”a great debt” of gratitude for his help during the 1982 Falklands War.
Without any sense of irony, Thatcher added, “I’m also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile.”
Never one to mention his appalling human rights record, Thatcher expressed her “outrage at the callous and unjust treatment” of Pinochet during a speech that October at the Conservative Party Conference, called him “this country’s only political prisoner,” and hailed him as Britain’s “staunch, true friend in our time of need” and “who stopped the communists taking Chile.”
The next year, upon his release and return to Chile, for which she fought tirelessly, Thatcher sent Pinochet a silver Armada dish as a gift, condemned his detention in England as “a great injustice” and wished the deposed dictator and his family “all good wishes for a peaceful and secure future.”
When Pinochet died six years later, Thatcher said she was “deeply saddened” by his passing.
Subsequently, Robin Harris, a former official in Thatcher’s administration, wrote in The Telegraph that Thatcher “took a positive view of Pinochet’s 17 years in power” and “would not have spoken up for him if she had believed him a monster. She could not judge the merits of every allegation. But, clearly, the legal case against him was weak and the motivation of those involved suspect.”
Harris similarly praised Pinochet for “[leaving] behind a stable democracy,” concluding that “Margaret Thatcher has nothing to be ashamed of in defending Augusto Pinochet, when others refused to do so” and that Pinochet “was lucky to find such a champion.”
In March 1987, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, visited Thatcher. Beforehand, Thatcher said in an interview, “Relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain are excellent. We have common interests in peace and stability in the Middle East. The Al Yamamah Project for the sale of Tornado and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia has done much to focus Saudi attention on Britain and British attention on Saudi Arabia.”
The Al Yamamah arms deal, signed a year and a half earlier, was “the biggest export transaction in British history, estimated by a British Aerospace executive in 2005 to be worth £83 billion in past and future sales to Saudi Arabia of military hardware including aircraft ranging from Tornado fighters and Hawk trainer jets to Eurofighter Typhoons,” in addition to a wide range of arms, naval vessels, radar, spare parts, and a pilot-training program.
The deal was largely the result of Thatcher’s own lobbying initiative on behalf of the British defense industry and weapons manufacturers and, ever since its signing, allegations of corruption, fraud and bribery have abounded.
In 1993, in a speech to a Chatham House Conference on Saudi Arabia after leaving office, Thatcher maintained that “[o]ne of Al Yamamah’s achievements has been the training and equipping of the Royal Saudi Air Force by Britain. Both training and aircraft were put to the test of wartime combat far sooner than anyone expected. As we now know, both the aircraft and their RSAF pilots performed superbly in Operation Desert Storm.” She continued, “The Al Yamamah programme has continued steadily since the conflict. When this year’s new order of a further 48 Tornado aircraft for the RSAF has been executed it will be safe to say that Saudi Arabia will have one of the strongest and most effective Air Forces in the world.”
Beyond this, Thatcher described the kingdom as “a peace loving nation” and a “modern miracle,” touting its “domestic achievements” and the “stable framework” and “solid rock of a well established and respected monarchy.”
“We are strong partners in trade and defence. We share great strategic interests,” she said.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Thatcher was silent. “I have no intention of meddling in that country’s internal affairs,” she insisted. “It is one of my firmest beliefs that although there are certain basic standards and goals we should expect from every member of the international community, the precise pace and approach must reflect different societies’ cultural, social, economic and historical backgrounds. And Saudi Arabia, in particular, is a complex society which Westerners do not often fully comprehend.”
Again, without even the slightest hint of irony, Thatcher – in the very same speech – noted, “It is the surest signal to other dictators that the West lacks the resolve to defend justice. We have yet to see its full consequences — our lack of effective action will return to haunt us.” She was talking about Bosnia.
While Thatcher maintained throughout her political that she “loathe[d] apartheid and everything connected with it,” she referred to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, as “a typical terrorist organization” and refused, alongside Ronald Reagan, to back sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. ”In my view, isolation will lead only to an increasingly negative and intransigent attitude in the part of white South African,” she said in December 1977.
In 1984, Thatcher invited South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha to visit London, the first such visit in 23 years, sparking understandable outrage in the anti-Apartheid movement. The next year, the Associated Press reported that she “rejected demands by the opposition Labor Party that she meet with Oliver Tambo, leader of the African National Congress guerrilla movement, who is visiting Britain…on grounds he espouses violence.”
“I do not accept that apartheid is the root of violence… nor do most other people,” Thatcher insisted and, during a speech before Parliament, stated that Botha’s “South African government has taken more steps to start dismantling apartheid than any of their predecessors.”
“I can see little point in sanctions creating more unemployment in this country only to create more unemployment in South Africa… It seems to me a ridiculous policy that would not work,” she added.
In response to her death today, Oliver Tambo’s son Dali told the press, “My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father was the leader of a terrorist organisation. I don’t think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy,” adding, “It’s a shame that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle. Normally we say that when one of us goes, the ANC ancestors will meet them at the pearly gates and give them a standing ovation. I think it’s quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion.”
In the midst of the bloody Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Thatcher visited genocidal Indonesian dictator General Suharto, praised Indonesia’s “agricultural and industrial development” and, although East Timorese had been killed, starved, disappeared and herded into “resettlement camps” as part of Suharto’s “encirclement and annihilation” campaign, dismissed allegations of human rights abuses, explaining that East Timor was none of Britain’s business and that Suharto himself has “assured me that the International Red Cross not only had access to East Timor, but was very welcome there.”
She told the press, “Trade brings us together and identifies our interests, and I am sure that trade between Indonesia and Britain will increase as a result of the very friendly and warm atmosphere created by my visit here. We are clearly the best of friends and there is no sounder basis on which to construct future collaboration.”
In 2008, veteran journalist John Pilger recalled that Thatcher referred to Suharto as, “One of our very best and most valuable friends,” and how, “[f]or three decades the south-east Asian department of the Foreign Office worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler & Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica ‘riot control’ vehicles.”
“A Foreign Office speciality was smearing witnesses to the bombing of East Timorese villages by British-supplied Hawk aircraft – until Robin Cook was forced to admit it was true. Almost a billion pounds in export credit guarantees financed the sale of the Hawks, paid for by the British taxpayer while the arms industry reaped the profit,” Pilger adds.
With this kind of record, it is clear that Thatcher’s constantly pledged support for “freedom and democracy” was really a violent, imperial campaign waged for free markets and domination.
History books will cite January 25 as the moment of undoing for the dictatorial rule of Mohammad Hosni Mubarak. What we don’t know is what will be said about the scale of the change brought about by the uprising.
It is impossible to make confident predictions at present. Questions only raise more doubts as to the ability of Egypt’s new rulers to bring about major change. But as social theorist Samir Amin points out: “The Egyptian people are brave and will not be afraid to start a second and a third uprising.”
The events of the past two years prove that Amin’s assessment is realistic. The ongoing struggle over Egypt is the clearest sign that the country’s new rulers have not managed to establish a strong enough hold to last as long as their predecessors.
A formidable media machine continues in its efforts to restrict the Egyptian people’s uprising. Many people inside and outside Egypt wanted to persuade the masses that the underlying goals of their protest movement could be reduced to a mere change of president. These people have assumed powerful influence within the state’s institutions and seek to re-establish their control over the public and private sectors of the economy. They want Egypt and the Arabs to behave as though change has been accomplished.
This takes us back to Amin, who noted the menace posed by foreign powers in Egypt. He referred to a cooperative endeavor by the US, Israel, and Gulf states to ensure Egypt’s continued reliance on a policy of “begging from abroad” so as to better maintain its “assistance for US policies in the region.”
He observed that while “Mubarak’s Egypt supported the US invasion of Iraq…today’s Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood assists the policies on Syria.” The end goal is for Egypt to acquiesce “to the Zionist scheme to eliminate the Palestinian presence within the occupied territory.”
There is no need to repeat Amin’s views on economic policy. The evidence that Egypt’s new rulers are resuming past economic policies is overwhelming. There will be no change in how the country’s economic, social, financial, and monetary policies are shaped. Hence the cruel joke that “Khairat el-Shater is Gamal Mubarak with a beard.”
Nobody can deny the Egyptian people’s massive achievement in bringing down a corrupt and tyrannical ruling clique that was subservient to the colonial West and submissive to the Zionist enterprise. But the story doesn’t end with the Muslim Brotherhood winning a narrow majority at the polls and claiming legitimacy to do what it likes with the country. Whatever misgivings there may be about the condition of the new opposition in Egypt, it has tough questions to face.
– What became of the legacy of Mubarak’s rule? What does the Islamic mantle mean when it is donned by rulers who pursue the same policies that they once said caused poverty, ignorance, and misery?
– Freedom of expression cannot be deemed a gift from the country’s new rulers. Egyptians are demanding guarantees that the gains made so far are not reversed. Can we expect a rotation of power in a few years time? Will Egypt’s new rulers help to recover its unified national identity, or will we see more ugly images of sectarian divisions?
– What real change has there been in the country’s foreign policy? What role does it play in reviving collective Arab action? Or has that been surrendered to the medieval monarchies of the Gulf? Is Egypt acting to regain its rights, sovereignty, and freedom with regard to supporting the people of Palestine?
– Can anyone provide any evidence that the money stolen by the National Democratic Party under Mubarak and his clique is being recovered? Or is the looted national wealth merely passing from one regime to the next?
Lynne Stewart is a New York attorney who is serving a 10-year sentence in the federal penitentiary for being a supporter of terrorism.
Two years after the 9/11 attacks, she read the following message from her client, convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman, at a press conference in New York City:
“I [Omar Abdel-Rahmn] am not withdrawing my support of the cease-fire, I am merely questioning it and I am urging you, who are on the ground there to discuss it and to include everyone in your discussions as we always have done.”
What’s criminal about that message?
The U.S. federal courts construed the message as exhorting the members of Abdel-Rahmn’s Islamic organization in Egypt, which U.S. officials had labeled a terrorist organization, to use violence to overthrow the Egyptian government. They said that made Stewart a supporter of terrorism.
The case is fascinating on several levels, not the least of which was that many Egyptian citizens were of the mindset that the Egyptian government was one of the most brutal, tyrannical military dictatorships in the world, one that had long oppressed the Egyptian people. It was, in fact, that deep-seated discontent among the Egyptian citizenry that ultimately led to the ouster of Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
So, why is that important?
It’s always been a belief of Americans that people everywhere have a right to use violence to overthrow tyranny. Stewart was convicted for going one step further and actually exhorting the Egyptians to use force to overthrow the tyrannical regime under which they had long suffered.
Let’s assume, hypothetically, that what Stewart did at that press conference was stand up and read the Declaration of Independence, specifically the following section:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
If she had done that, there is no way that the federal courts could have convicted her. After all, the Declaration of Independence is part of America’s heritage of freedom. It’s not against the law to read it in public.
Suppose she had added the following sentence: “The principles of the Declaration are not limited to Americans. They apply to people in every nation on earth who are suffering from tyranny.”
Could she then have been convicted? Again, I think that it would have been very difficult to convict her for supporting terrorism by simply extending the principles of the Declaration to people everywhere.”
Where Stewart crossed the line was in exhorting Egyptians to actually do what the Declaration says they have a right to do — use force to overthrow the Egyptian government.
So, why is that against the law? After all, one could rationally think that under principles of free speech, a person should be free to exhort people to do anything they want. After all, this is America, not Russia under Vladimir Putin, where people are being convicted for saying the wrong things.
There is one big reason why Stewart is in jail today for exhorting Egyptians to violently overthrow their government: The Egyptian government was a longtime ally and partner of the U.S. government and, therefore, wasn’t considered by U.S. officials to be a tyrannical regime that would trigger the right that Jefferson enunciated in the Declaration. Any American (or Egyptian) who would use violence to overthrow a non-tyrannical, pro-U.S. regime or exhort others to violently overthrow that regime is considered to be a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism.
Among the things that the Egyptian people hated most about Mubarak’s military dictatorship were the “emergency” powers enforced by Mubarak and his military, police, and intelligence forces. Such powers had come into existence some 30 years before, when Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated. The “emergency” enabled Mubarak, who was a military man, to use the Egyptian military to arrest people without warrants on suspicion of being terrorists, incarcerate them, torture them, and execute them — all without due process of trial or trial by jury.
These extraordinary powers were supposed to be temporary. They were to expire when the “emergency” arising from the assassination had expired. But some 30 years later, they were still in existence. And they were employed brutally against the Egyptian people, especially those who dared to challenge Egypt’s military dictatorship, military supremacy over the civilian population, and Egypt’s military dictator himself, Hosni Mubarak. Most Egyptians learned to just keep their mouths shut.
Not surprisingly, the Egyptians considered the exercise of such powers to be the hallmarks of a tyrannical regime. Indeed, such powers have long been the most distinguishing characteristic of a tyrannical regime. It was mainly the exercise of those “temporary, emergency” powers that drove Egyptians into the streets, risking their lives at the hands of the military dictatorship to bring fundamental change to their society.
In fact, one of the principal demands of the protestors throughout the protests was that Mubarak relinquish those “temporary, emergency” powers that came into existence 30 years before. Mubarak refused to do so, arguing that his temporary, extraordinary powers were more necessary than ever, especially given the global war on terrorism that came into existence on 9/11.
For those entire 30 years, the U.S. government took the side of Mubarak and his military dictatorship. Those temporary, emergency powers weren’t tyrannical, U.S. officials believed. They were instead the essential prerequisite for protecting Egypt’s “national security” and for maintaining “order and stability” in the Middle East.
After all, don’t forget that immediately after 9/11, President Bush did precisely what Mubarak had done during Egypt’s terrorist emergency some 30 years before. Bush decreed that the terrorist emergency that America was now facing meant that Bush, as commander in chief, now wielded those same extraordinary powers — the powers to arrest people as suspected terrorists without judicially issued warrants, torture them, incarcerate them indefinitely, and even execute them, perhaps have some sort of kangaroo military tribunal. Later, President Obama would expand those powers with a widespread assassination program.
Thus, how could U.S. officials look upon the Mubarak dictatorship as a tyrannical regime, since it was a loyal, pro-U.S. regime that was doing nothing more than what U.S. officials would do in similar circumstances?
It goes without saying, of course, that throughout those 30 years, U.S. officials continued plowing billions of dollars in cash and armaments into the coffers of the Egyptian military dictatorship, helping build it up and fortify its omnipotent military control over the Egyptian people. In fact, it came as no surprise when the U.S. government made the Egyptian military dictatorship one of its principal rendition-torture partners in its global war on terrorism.
Throughout the Mubarak dictatorship, if anyone called for the violent overthrow of the Egyptian government, the Egyptian government, not surprisingly, considered him a “bad guy” — i.e., a terrorist. But as Lynn Stewart found out, so did the U.S. government.
Now, one might point to Syria, where U.S. officials are doing precisely what Stewart got convicted of — exhorting the Syrian citizenry to violently overthrow the Syrian dictatorship.
Ah, but they would be missing an important point. Syria is no longer a partner and ally of the U.S. government. It used to be — i.e., when President Bush and the CIA entered into a secret torture partnership by which the Assad regime agreed to torture Canadian citizen Maher Arar for the U.S. government. But once that partnership was dissolved, it became okay for U.S. officials to exhort Syrians to violently overthrow the tyranny under which they have long suffered.
For exhorting the Egyptian people to violently overthrow their tyrannical regime, Stewart got sentenced to serve 28 months in jail, a fairly lengthy term for a 73-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer. Unfortunately for Stewart, however, in a public statement to the press after her sentencing, she scoffed at her sentence, declaring that she could serve it “standing on her head.” Her statement garnered the wrath of federal prosecutors and federal judges and earned her a resentencing, one that sent her away for 10 years instead of 28 months.
I wonder if Stewart has learned her lesson, one that the Egyptian people learned during the 30 years of the Mubarak dictatorship. In the age of the national-security state and never-ending emergencies, it pays to keep your mouth shut.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said the visit Egypt’s leader to Beijing “will increase mutual understanding and trust” between the two countries, local media reported on Wednesday.
Xi’s remarks came during a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who arrived in China on Tuesday for a three-day state visit.
Mursi held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, on Tuesday.
Mursi’s visit to China, a rising global power, comes ahead of a scheduled visit to the United States, the key ally of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian leader is said to have put Chinese investments high on the agenda of the talks, as a means to inject much needed cash into Egypt’s ailing economy, as well as lessen Cairo’s dependence on US aid.
Mursi reportedly suggested increasing Egypt-China flights from two per week to ten, and requested that China build a high speed train route between Cairo and Alexandria.
According to Xinhua, Mursi called Egypt-China ties “strategic” in the meeting and commended the traditional friendship.
He described his talks with Hu as being “of significance for consolidating Egyptian-Chinese strategic relations.”
“I, along with the delegation of ministers, officials and investors, convey to you and all Chinese leaders and your people all respect and appreciation for your civilization and your pioneer experience in the modern age,” Mursi said.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Xi as affirming the visit “would inject new impetus into bilateral relations and will open a new chapter in the friendship between Egypt and China.”
Xi said that the development of Sino-Egyptian relations is due to both being developing countries that “share common goals of maintaining state sovereignty and social stability.”
He cited other common interests as “the promotion of peace and stability in the region and all over the world.”
In an interview last Monday with Reuters news agency, Mursi stated he will seek solutions to the Syrian issue with Chinese leaders. China, along with Iran and Russia, is one of the prominent supporters of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Following his visit to China, President Mursi will make a quick visit to the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Thursday where he will formally hand over chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.
(Xinhua, UPI, Al-Akhbar)
- Egyptian president heads to China for investment talks (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Egyptian Minister Asks for Direct Flights between Tehran, Cairo (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Mubarak era tycoons join Egypt President in China (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Several of the businessmen who travelled with Morsi to China were prominent supporters of Mubarak and former members of the NDP
A delegation of Egyptian businessmen who travelled to China on Monday, one day before the visit of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, was made up of many figures who were close to the former regime of Hosni Mubarak, and who were members of Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP).
In his first state visit outside of the Arab world, Egypt’s president headed a delegation of seven ministers and 80 businessmen to China.
One the most prominent NDP figures who was invited to accompany the new president was Mohamed Farid Khamis, chairman of the Oriental Weavers Company, one of the world’s largest carpet companies. Khamis was member of the political bureau of the NDP and a member of parliament.
Another prominent name is Sherif El-Gabaly, chairman of Polyserve Fertilisers and Chemical Group, and a member of the administration of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, who was also a member of the political bureau and was known to be close to Gamal Mubarak, son of the former president.
Other members of the NDP present in the delegation included Khaled Abul-Makarem chairman of Fibertex, Walid Hela vice president of heavyweight plastic producers Al-Helal wel Negma and Farid El-Tobgui chairman of Bavarian group.
Hassan Malek, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a well-known businessman, heads the delegation and is responsible for the choice of members. Malek, president of a committee for communication between businessmen and the presidency, told Ikhwan Online, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood, that the group was comprised of businessmen who had existing business ties with China.
The delegation also included some businessmen who have close ties with the Brotherhood, such as Ahmed El-Sewedy, chairman of El-Sewedy Electrics and Abdel-Rahman Samir El-Naggar, chairman of Daltex Food Industries.
- Egyptian president heads to China for investment talks (alethonews.wordpress.com)
An Egyptian court has sentenced the country’s former oil minister and a fugitive businessman to 15 years in prison each over selling natural gas to Israel at below-market rates.
The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced former oil minister, Sameh Fahmi, and fugitive businessman, Hussein Salem, to 15 years in prison each over the (Israel) gas deal,” a judicial source said on Thursday, AFP reported.
According to the source, five other former high-ranking oil and gas officials also received jail sentences ranging from three to 10 years on similar charges.
Salem, who fled to Spain after Egypt’s popular revolution in February 2011 that toppled his close friend and the country’s then dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was also sentenced in absentia in October 2011 to seven years in jail for profiteering.
Gas exports to Israel were launched in 2008 and came under heavy criticism at the time from Egypt’s then banned Muslim Brotherhood.
In December 2010, Israel signed a 20-year contract with Egypt worth more than $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) — much cheaper than global prices — to import Egyptian natural gas.
Egypt accounts for roughly 40 percent of Israel’s gas supplies.
The masks dropped. The cards are shown.
For over a year, Egyptians have wondered who was leading the efforts to frustrate and obliterate their nascent revolution, or what was dubbed in the local media as the “third party” or the “hidden bandit.”
But the mystery is no more.
It was none other than the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the same body that took power from deposed president Hosni Mubarak under the guise of leading the transitional period towards democracy. It was a masterful work of political art.
The final act was on display on Thursday, June 14, 2012, when Egypt’s High Constitutional Court (HCC) not only ruled against banning the military’s candidate and Mubarak’s last Prime Minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, but also dissolved parliament, the only institution that represented the political will of the people in post-revolutionary Egypt. It is important to note that all the justices on the HCC were appointed by Mubarak, and that most if not all are considered regime loyalists.
Incidentally, last March, Parliamentary Speaker and MB leader, Dr. Saad Katatni, said that he was told, in the presence of SCAF’s deputy commander, Gen. Sami Anan, by SCAF’s appointed Prime Minister Dr. Kamal Ganzouri, that the order to dissolve the parliament was in the drawer but would come at the appropriate time.
This dramatic announcement was therefore followed by the parliament passing a law banning most of the former senior officials of the Mubarak regime (including Shafiq) from politics on the grounds of corrupting Egypt’s political life and institutions for decades. Nevertheless, Shafiq was shortly reinstated by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) even though it had no jurisdiction on the matter. It is perhaps important to note that the head of the PEC is also the Chief Justice of the HCC. He declared on the same day that the parliamentary elections’ law (that resulted in the victory of the Islamic parties, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), winning seventy five percent of the seats) was unconstitutional. It was the same law that several of the same justices assured all political parties last summer that it passed constitutional muster.
With this brazen act of thwarting the political will of the Egyptian people, the emerging Islamic and revolutionary parties have now been totally stripped of their political ascendency, less than five months after their rise to power. This was accomplished simply by utilizing the institutions of the deep state crafted by a regime that was controlled for decades by corrupt officials, senior military officers, and intelligence agencies. Further, a Mubarak era military man is now on the verge of being “elected” president using the assorted tools of the democratic process.
One of the major demands of the revolution was to end the three-decade old emergency law that allowed the security agencies and the military to arbitrarily arrest and abuse the civil and human rights of any activist at will. But under tremendous public pressure throughout last year, these laws were repealed at the end of last May. But what was kicked out of the door crawled back through the window. Egypt’s Justice Minister announced this week, less than two weeks after the repeal went into effect, that he was empowering all military officers and intelligence personnel to arrest indefinitely any person deemed a security threat to public order.
In a transparently coordinated fashion, before parliament could react to this shameless challenge to the essence of the revolution, it was dissolved within 24 hours by the High Court. Further, within minutes of the decision to dissolve the parliament, hundreds of military and security officers occupied its buildings, preventing any member to enter or even clear their offices. In short, Egypt has come a full circle, the transition to democracy was aborted, the process hijacked, and its remarkable revolution put on life support.
The final act of quietly killing the hopes of Egypt’s youth and the aspirations of its people is coming this Sunday when the presidential elections end in the declaration of a Shafiq presidency. The other candidate in this charade is represented by the MB’s Dr. Muhammad Mursi. For weeks, the MB has been warning against elections fraud perpetrated by the institutions of the deep state and led by its security and intelligence services.
For example, the Elections Commission has refused to hand over the voter lists, which it had no problem doing last winter during the parliamentary elections. But the problem is that these same lists have now increased by a whopping 4.5 million voters, raising suspicions of multiple registrations of regime loyalists who might vote multiple times in different provinces over the two-day elections process (for example 200 thousand regime loyalists voting in twenty different precincts.) Furthermore, elections officials announced that they would refuse to allow elections’ monitors to stay in the same rooms where the ballot boxes are left unattended for 12 hours between the first and the second days of the elections, although they were allowed to stay in and watch the boxes overnight in the previous parliamentary elections last winter.
In addition, the government announced that it is giving all its 6 million employees a two-day vacation and free public transportation to boost participation (an indirect prodding of government employees and their families to vote for Shafiq). In a blatant violation of elections’ laws, hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on media propaganda to boost SCAF’s candidate, as well as payments to local officials especially in the delta region, to secure the peasants’ votes.
In a nutshell, the intense involvement of the security state is now in the open. But most Egyptians are frustrated and feel that they have been robbed of making a choice consistent with their sixteen-month popular uprising. Before their own eyes they see how the Mubarak regime is slowly being re-invented with the full backing of state institutions under the direction of SCAF, the same military that promised to fulfill the objectives of the revolution.
Most pro-revolution groups, activists, and public intellectuals have called on MB’s candidate Mursi to withdraw from the presidential elections so as to deny the military’s candidate any claim of legitimacy once he is “elected.” But in its desperate attempt to show any achievement in its one-year dalliance with SCAF, it appears that the MB is pressing ahead with the elections. Once again the Islamic group has demonstrated its inability to join in, let alone lead, any revolutionary path, even though its leaders understand fully the determination of SCAF and the state institutions to manipulate the elections and force their candidate on the rest of the people.
During his final interview before the elections, Mursi understood the stakes and his long electoral odds as the elections are being manipulated. Although he believed that he would easily win in free and fair elections, he admitted that elections’ fraud were certain to take place. He further said that he was recently told by President Jimmy Carter that Mubarak was for decades “sleeping in Israel’s bed,” and that “Shafiq would follow in his footsteps.” The former president, who raised many concerns about the first round elections, had earlier stated that he did not believe that the military would hand over power to civilian rule.
Meanwhile, Shafiq, who does not deny his admiration for Mubarak and considers him a role model, has brazenly declared that his first state visit would be to the U.S. in order to signal that he was its preferred candidate. He also said that he would not only keep the peace treaty with Israel, but would also deepen it.
Thus, the MB’s delusion that SCAF will allow it to contest power will soon be exposed. Sooner or later the group will realize that it simply can neither outmaneuver nor win against the military or the deep security state on its own. It will have to fundamentally change its strategic choices and genuinely adopt the revolutionary path in order to defeat the entrenched interests of the deep state. Even if by some miracle their candidate wins the election, the past year has demonstrated that in every state-controlled institution, including the judiciary, no real change will take place unless all the counter-revolutionary elements are purged, a concept that is lost on the MB’s leadership that is used to slow approach reforms or behind-the-scenes questionable deals to preserve its interests.
Disappointed, yet again, with the MB’s attitude to ignore their consensus, most of the revolutionary groups have vowed to press on with their revolution that has been deeply, but not yet gravely, wounded. Former presidential candidate Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a favorite among many revolutionary and youth groups, has declared that the latest decisions by the High Court allowing the candidacy of Shafiq and the dissolution of parliament were nothing short of a soft coup d’état orchestrated by the military. He called for the immediate establishment of a revolutionary leadership council comprised of all pro-revolution groups and leaders to challenge the military hold on power and Shafiq’s inevitable presidency.
Sensing these threats dozens of such groups that have sacrificed so much since the early days of the revolution, have vowed to join in and continue the difficult struggle to dislodge the military and achieve the main objective of the revolution in establishing a true democratic civil state and ending the culture of the deep security state. Thousands have taken to the streets, while hundreds started a sit-in in Tahrir Square.
They now quietly admit that a hard lesson has been learned. This time their slogan is not “the people and the army are one.” Rather their cry is: “This time we are serious, we will not leave it (the revolution) to anyone.”
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Charade is Over
When deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons were indicted in April 2011, legal observers cynically noted that the charges were not only politically motivated in order to quiet the massive demonstrations demanding their trial, but also that they were so weak that the trial might have been designed to end in acquittals.
Initially, eleven people were indicted on two sets of charges. The first batch included Mubarak, his two sons, and his old friend and former intelligence officer turned businessman, Hussein Salem. Salem came to prominence after the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, when he became the point man in Egypt for the American aid that poured in as a result of the Camp David accords.
At the time, Hussein was acting as a private contractor, receiving tens of millions of dollars in commissions related to the American military and economic aid. By the mid 1980s, the Pentagon was so concerned with his financial corruption and over-billing that it threatened to indict him unless he was removed from the process. He was subsequently barred from entering the U.S.
Hussein then focused on domestic business ventures, constructing massive tourist resorts on the Red Sea, especially at Sharm Al-Sheikh, attracting European and American tourists. In exchange for getting prime land from the state for his projects on the cheap, he gave Mubarak and his sons five villas at practically no cost. This transaction that took place in the 1990s was the basis of the first set of charges against the Mubarak family for corruption and exchanging influence for financial gain. It should also be mentioned that it was Hussein that owned the private company that bought Egyptian natural gas and sold it to Israel at significantly below market prices, pocketing tens of millions of dollars as a result. Several former Mubarak aids believe that his sons were also silent partners on this incredible deal. For many years the Mubarak regime protected this inequitable transaction before it was scrapped this year under public pressure.
Out of the billions of dollars illegally made by the Mubaraks over the years, the state prosecutor (who himself was also appointed by Mubarak) chose this rotten but insignificant deal from the 90s to indict the former ruling family, knowing fully well that in Egypt the statute of limitation is three years for misdemeanors and ten years for felonies.
The second set of charges were against Mubarak’s security people led by former interior minister Gen. Habib Al-Adly and six of his most brutal senior assistants, including the heads of State Security, Central Security, as well as Cairo and Giza Security apparatuses. It was these security agencies, with over three hundred thousand officers, that cracked down on the protesters killing more than one thousand in the early days of the revolution in January 2011.
Although the two sets of charges on their face were unrelated, they were deliberately joined together in order to give the appearance that Mubarak and his sons were tried because of the security crackdown. But the revolutionary youth took to the streets in April and May of last year, forcing the state prosecutor to include Mubarak on the second set of charges of ordering and conspiring to kill the protesters.
Dating back to the nineteenth century, Egypt’s judiciary is considered one of the oldest modern judiciary systems in the world, earning a fine reputation and an independent tradition. However, as in every authoritarian regime, senior judges were appointed for decades by a dictatorial president so that they could rule in favor of his regime at crucial times. During the past year the world has witnessed how Mubarak-appointed senior judges corrupted the judicial process for political purposes at crucial moments.
One example was manifested this year during the standoff between Egypt’s state prosecutors and the United States after the indictment of 19 American pro-democracy workers. They were charged with operating several unregistered organizations that interfered in the Egyptian political process. In the midst of the pre-trial hearings and under tremendous pressure from the U.S. government, the head of Cairo’s Appeals Court called the chief prosecutor and pressured him to grant the Americans bail. Within two hours of the Americans posting bail, they were smuggled outside Egypt on an American military plane, escaping their day in court. Interestingly, the Republican-led House of Representatives has subsequently deducted the $5 million bail from this fiscal year’s aid to Egypt.
Another example of compromised judges is the head of the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). Constitutionally, the PEC in Egypt is made up of five senior judicial positions, and is headed by the Chief Justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court. That man is Justice Farouk Sultan. Traditionally the head of the highest court in the country is its most senior justice. But not this time. Sultan was a military judge for many years but Mubarak promoted him within a three-year period to first head a district court in 2006, and then appointed him as the head of the Supreme Court in 2009. Many legal and political experts believe that Mubarak chose him for that position in order to orchestrate the rise of his son, Gamal to the presidency that was supposed to have taken place in 2011 had Mubarak survived.
During the recent presidential elections, the PEC received some twenty appeals from various presidential candidates. But the only one accepted was the appeal of Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. As the last prime minister of the Mubarak regime, Shafiq was barred from politics for ten years by parliament in March of this year. However, Sultan and the PEC ruled that this law was unconstitutional although the commission did not have the legal authority to overturn the law, as it was administrative in nature and not judicial (despite being comprised of judges).
As Mubarak’s trial (dubbed in Egypt as ‘The Trial of the Century’) was underway, the political charade became more transparent. The Mubarak-appointed judge Ahmad Rifaat, who chaired the 3-judge panel overseeing the trial, refused to transfer Mubarak to the prison hospital and instead kept him in a military hospital where he enjoyed the perks of a former president. He allowed several senior Mubarak officials to testify, including former Vice President Omar Suleiman, military chief and Egypt’s effective ruler since Feb. 2011, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, as well as two former interior ministers.
All of these witnesses tried to absolve Mubarak from any culpability in the security crackdown on the peaceful protesters. Court records released recently show that whenever the frustrated prosecutors tried to get details by asking these senior officials probing questions or through demonstrating inconsistencies in their testimonies, the presiding judge would interrupt and not allow the questioning to proceed. As the trial ended last February, Judge Rifaat said he would announce his ruling on the trial on June 2, in the midst of the presidential elections.
Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over the reign of power in the country in February of last year promising a transition to democracy, the struggle has been between two conflicting visions for Egypt. The revolutionaries, who comprise large segments of Egyptian society including Islamic and secular groups, aspire to a new democratic Egypt, raising the slogans of freedom, dignity, and social justice. On the other hand those who benefited from the corruption of the Mubarak regime including influential politicians from the now-banned National Democratic Party (NDP), crooked businesspeople, and the beneficiaries of the security state, called in Egypt, the fulool or remnants of the former regime, long for the days when they ruled and ripped off the country with total impunity.
For most of last year, the fulool laid low waiting for a ripe opportunity for a comeback. They relied on the military council to ride the revolutionary spirit until the public became exhausted with a weary process that addressed little of their daily struggles. Meanwhile, the military allowed basically free and fair parliamentary elections, resulting in the Islamic parties gaining about 75 percent of the seats. But despite the decisive outcome, the military refused to change the government that comprised Mubarak-era ministers, while the state media relentlessly attacked the new parliament as being ineffective in solving people’s daily hardships. In fact, the economic situation became much worse in recent months as basic goods became scarce including bread and cooking oil, while gas prices hit the roof. Furthermore, security became a major problem as crime rates in Egypt jumped significantly higher than any time in modern Egyptian history.
Enter Gen. Shafiq. In February, Mubarak’s Prime Minister announced his candidacy as the person to restore security within 24 hours and return the Egyptian economy to stability and growth. Although denied by SCAF’s spokesman, he then claimed that he sought and received the backing of the military for his candidacy. Shafiq has vocally said that Mubarak was his role model and openly regretted the success of the revolution.
He flagrantly tried to exploit the rift between the Islamists and the secularists vowing to fight the religious groups. He also sent plain signals to the Christian minority in Egypt by warning against the emergence of a “religious state.” In an unmistakable message sent to the U.S. and Israel, Gen. Shafiq said that he wanted Cairo, not Palestine, to be the capital of Egypt, an implicit attack on his opponents, who publicly declared their support for the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation. In short, through Shafiq’s candidacy the fulool found their man and consequently hundreds of former NDP politicians, corrupt businesspeople, and former security chiefs joined his campaign.
Those include his campaign manager, Gen. Mahmud Wagdy, who served as Mubarak’s last interior minster under whose direction the infamous Battle of the Camel was waged on Feb. 2, 2011 by the armed goons in an effort to dislodge the revolutionary youth from Tahrir Square. Dozens of people were killed that day, while thousands were injured as a result of the vicious attacks. In addition, Shafiq’s campaign directors in every major province are former security chiefs aided by former NDP officials in those regions.
During the Mubarak era, it was the task of the security chief in each province to secure the support and loyalty of the local mayors and officials to the regime. Meanwhile the businesspeople linked to the Mubarak system of state cronyism were happy to finance his campaign (and their comeback) by spending tens of millions of pounds. Since the first round of the elections, when Shafiq came in second at 24 percent (within one percent of Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi), much evidence has surfaced about the funding of his campaign. For instance, one Shafiq bankroller turned out to be the wife of convicted billionaire and corrupt politician and businessman, Ahmad Ezz, the mastermind of the 2010 elections fraud and Gamal Mubarak’s scheme to succeed his father.
Egyptians, Arabs, and indeed the world waited for the fateful day on June 2 for the announcement of the judgment on Mubarak and his culprits. After a fifteen-minute rant by Judge Rifaat, in which he praised the revolution and condemned the former regime, he announced his appalling, but not so shocking, ruling. He sentenced Mubarak and his former interior minister Al-Adly to life sentences for the killing of the protesters. He then acquitted Mubarak, his sons, and Hussein Salem on the financial corruption charges because the statute of limitation had run out. He also acquitted the six security chiefs of all charges in regard to the killing of the protesters, citing a lack of evidence.
Western observers, including media outlets and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, did not see the ruse and initially praised the ruling where for the first time in the history of the Arab World a head of state was tried, convicted, and sentenced to what is seemingly a harsh sentence (The trial of Saddam Hussein was not considered independent because it was conducted under American military occupation.).
But Egyptians were not fooled. They immediately condemned the political nature of the rulings and took to the streets across Egypt by the hundreds of thousands, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the revolution. The consensus and unity generated by these sentences within all the strands of the revolutionary groups, as well as the families of the fallen and injured, may have been the result of SCAF’s and the fulool’s gross miscalculation that the revolutionary spirit had waned or that their comeback was imminent.
It should also be noted that in anticipation of Mubarak sons’ acquittals and the possibility of massive riots, the prosecutors indicted both sons last week on money laundering and insider trading on Egypt’s stock market. They were charged with illegally gaining as much as 2 billion pounds (about $330 million) over several years. Because of these charges Mubarak’s sons were not released after their acquittal this week. But Mubarak’s supporters still hope that when Shafiq wins the presidency in two weeks these charges would be dropped, as their dad would be pardoned.
But why are most Egyptians angry at the verdicts?
First, the political nature of the rulings cannot be overstated. Acquitting Mubarak and his sons on financial corruption should have been foreseen, as the prosecutors knew that the statute of limitation had run out. They had dozens of other criminal complaints on Mubarak and sons involving corrupt financial transactions and shady land deals worth billions of dollars over many years.
Secondly, the conviction of Mubarak and his interior minister was political because the judge declared in his ruling that he did not know how the protesters actually died since the forensic evidence was inconclusive. But in actual fact there are direct declarations from former interior ministry officials that most of the evidence was shredded and destroyed shortly after the ouster of Mubarak under the military council by the same security chiefs that were acquitted.
Many legal experts believe that by acquitting these security chiefs, who would have essentially carried out Mubarak’s orders, the conviction of their superiors would surely be ultimately overturned on appeal. In short, the judge may have sacrificed Mubarak momentarily as he saved his sons and the regime.
Moreover, during the past 16 months, not a single person, let alone any senior official, has been convicted of killing a single protester. All of the junior officers tried in Egypt during the past year have been acquitted. Even Mubarak and Al-Adly’s convictions are now susceptible to be overturned on appeal, since Mubarak himself did not kill the protesters. If his underlings are innocent then how could he have carried out the murders? And of course if Shafiq becomes president not only would he pardon the deposed dictator, but he would possibly restore to him the status of a former president.
Since February, the political process underway in Egypt has been carefully manipulated by SCAF and the fulool. The tactic hinged on dividing the revolutionary groups, and gradually restoring power to the former regime elements by convincing the majority of Egyptian voters that their security, economic stability, and future could not be trusted with such divided, inexperienced, and novice political parties. In addition, regional countries led by the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, as well as foreign international powers including the U.S, Israel, and some European countries sent unmistakable signals to the Egyptian electorate that voting for Shafiq would bring stability, security, and economic prosperity, in an effort to reproduce the old regime with a democratic façade.
But instead of bringing most Egyptians closer to choosing Shafiq, the plot has backfired. As a consequence of the verdicts, the exhausted Egyptians have been reinvigorated and their unity reestablished, in a display unseen since February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted from power. In essence, the pronouncement of the trial’s outcome has sent a loud and unambiguous signal that all the gains of the revolution are now in jeopardy. Unless the revolutionary groups unite, convincingly win the second round of presidential elections to be held on June 16 and 17, and defeat Shafiq, the SCAF’s and fulool’s candidate, the Mubarak regime would indeed re-create itself and dash the hopes and aspirations of Egypt’s youth and pro-democracy groups.
Meanwhile, the MB’s candidate in the runoff, Dr. Mursi, announced that if he were elected president, he would form an independent investigative commission headed by a senior judge with impeccable credentials in order to gather evidence and retry Mubarak and his cronies. On the other hand, most Egyptian groups in support of the revolution see the imminent dangers that would result in a fulool comeback. They have announced their support for a presidential team to consist of the MB’s Mursi as president, and Dr. Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh and Hamdein Sabahi, the runner-ups in the first round, as vice presidents. There have also been strong calls to have Dr. Mohammad Elbaradei, the former head of the UN Atomic Agency included in this team and serve as Prime Minister.
The three candidates representing different constituencies within the revolutionary groups (Mursi, Sabahi, and Abol Fotouh) received more than 15 million votes in the first round or about 65 percent of the total votes cast. It’s now up to the MB to rise to the challenge and unite all pro-revolution Egyptians. If such a presidential slate can be formed, it would be next to impossible for the fulool candidate to win. Only through such unity and a firm determination to overcome the petty differences -compared to what is at stake- can the Egyptians claim back their popular revolt. One of the most remarkable and peaceful revolutions in the history of the world.
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at email@example.com
The provision of under-priced natural gas to Israel under the Mubarak government has long been fuel for public anger, but critics predict that the current powers will not be willing to permanently sever the old deals.
Cairo – The Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation’s decision to halt natural gas supplies to Israel – not in order to end the squandering of public funds, but due to overdue Israeli payments – has failed to impress campaigners who have long demanded the scrapping of the deal under which Israel has imported 1.7 million cubic meters of Egyptian gas annually since 2008.
The arrangement, which provides Israel with 40 percent of its gas needs, has been a subject of public anger for the past five years. Over that time, experts estimate that Egypt sustained losses amounting to Egyptian pounds (LE) 28 million (US$4.6 million) per day, as a result of exporting gas to a number of states such as Turkey, Spain, Jordan, and Israel at a price of US$0.705 per million British Thermal Units (MMBtu) at a time when world prices were fluctuating between US$2 and US$6 per MMBtu. The gas is exported through a 100 kilometer-long pipeline from Sinai to Asqalan on the Mediterranean coast.
The gas was supplied under the terms of an agreement signed by the Egyptian government and Israel in 2005, brokered by businessman Hussein Salem, a friend of deposed former President Hosni Mubarak. It guarantees nearly 2 billion cubic meters of Egyptian gas being exported annually to Israel for a 20-year period from the Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG) Company – a partnership involving Salem, the Israeli Merhav group, the Ampal American Israel Corporation, the Thai firm PTT, and American businessman Sam Zell – at a price below half the cost of extracting and transporting it.
Despite objections raised by some Egyptian MPs at the time, the agreement was rubber stamped by parliament, thanks both to the dominance of the then-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the fact that a presidential confidant was involved (Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa were also rumored to have been paid commissions by Salem for facilitating the deal). EMG was also granted a three-year tax exemption from 2005 to 2008 by the government.
Public opposition to the deal persisted, however. Political groups held demonstrations against it, legal challenges were mounted in the courts, and campaigning organizations were set up to stop it. But the regime was undeterred, even when geologists joined political activists in opposing the agreement, warning that Egypt’s gas reserves were being depleted to dangerously low levels. Jurists, too, opined that the agreement encroached on Egypt’s sovereignty and control over an important national resource.
A later bid by the Egyptian government to improve the terms of the deal was snubbed by the Israelis, according to Judge Adel Ferghalli, former head of the Administrative Courts division. He told Al-Akhbar that in 2008, the government referred seven agreements related to the export of gas to Israel to the Council of State’s legislation department, the judicial authority which reviews agreements and bills before they are put to parliament. The government requested that the accords be reviewed with a view to raising the export price from US$.705 to US$3.65 per MMBtu. This was duly done, but the Israeli side refused to agree to the higher price and insisted that the Israeli importing companies were bound by the 2005 agreement which set prices from US$.705 to a maximum of US$1.75.
This did not prevent Mubarak’s government from concluding further agreements with Israel in late 2010 to increase the quantity of gas supplied from 1.7 to 2.9 billion cubic meters, for a 20-year period starting in 2010 and at the old prices. This was claimed by a number of Israeli companies about two months before Mubarak was ousted from office, and not denied by the Egyptian government at the time.
With the outbreak of the January 2011 revolution and the assumption of power by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), demands for an end to gas sales to Israel became more vociferous. In response, former prime minister Essam Sharaf indicated shortly after he was appointed in early April last year that while Egypt could not breach contractual obligations to export gas to Israel it could review the terms, and promised to do that so as to raise Egypt’s yearly revenues from its gas deals by US$4 billion.
But time went by and nothing was done. So Egyptians took things into their own hands, as Ibrahim Yousri, a former ambassador and coordinator of the pressure group No Gas Sales to the Zionist Entity, put it. “They started relying on themselves to express their rejection of the squandering of public funds and the export of Egyptian gas at below world prices to a number of countries, especially Israel, which they consider their enemy,” he said. The pipeline supplying the gas to Israel has been bombed on 13 occasions in the year since Mubarak was ousted.
Yousri was dismissive of the decision to halt exports, suspecting it will prove temporary.
“If the military had wanted to salvage their reputation and avoid the accusation of squandering national resources, the agreement would have been scrapped completely,” he remarked.
He said the reason exports were halted was that the Israeli company importing the gas had withheld Egypt’s dues since 2010. Otherwise, SCAF had been doing exactly what Mubarak had done since 2008, effectively donating some US$10 million dollars daily to the Israeli treasury – the value of the gas supplied by Egypt. “That is not going to make them cancel the agreement outright, but just temporarily halt exports,” he said.
SCAF’s Image Vis a Vis Israel
By Bisan Kassab
Cairo – The decision to halt Egyptian gas exports to Israel cannot be seen in isolation from the impending end of the transitional period in Egypt, or the apparent falling out between the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF.
The ruling generals are badly in need of an “image boost,” according to Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University and a former member of the SCAF’s civilian advisory council.
While Cairo, represented by the head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) Muhamad Shuaib, officially attributed the move to the Israeli side’s failure to comply with its contractual obligations, the decision “is in essence political and not commercial,” Nafaa remarked.
He said the SCAF would certainly use the announcement, which was bound to receive wide public acclaim, to try to bolster its political standing. But he judged that any additional popularity it gained would be fleeting, and would not give it a political edge over its critics – especially in light of the recent legislation proposing the disqualification from politics of senior figures in the Mubarak regime, which has narrowed the SCAF’s room to maneuver.
He added that the dispute over late payments by the Israeli side provided the SCAF with a convenient means of acting without inviting undue pressure from the United States and Israel.
Nafaa’s skepticism seems well placed.
Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga – the Mubarak-era holdover who spearheaded the recent campaign against NGOs that receive foreign funding – has said that EGAS informed the Israelis that “the Egyptian side had no objections to reaching a new contract with new conditions and a new price.”
She stressed that the decision to halt exports was not taken suddenly, but after Israel had been notified five times that it was not meeting its financial obligations under the old contract, adding that the last deadline it was given for making its overdue payments was March 31.
Husam Issa, a professor of international law and member of a group seeking to recover public funds embezzled during the Mubarak years, remarked that the Israelis had no grounds for objecting. Non-payment was clearly a sufficient reason for terminating a contract without being accused of acting out of political motives or under public pressure, he said.
- Egypt cancels natural gas deal with Israel, stakeholder says (alethonews.wordpress.com)
“What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people.”
– John Adams in an 1815 letter to Thomas Jefferson
Historians and political scientists study revolutions and analyze their impact, not only on their societies, where the political, economic, and social order is fundamentally transformed, but also on neighboring countries and beyond.
The Egyptian revolution, though still in its infancy, promises to be such a phenomenon. Admitting its historic nature was none other than the U.S. President, Barack Obama, who lauded the Egyptians as having “inspired us,” and praised their revolution, which he said represented a “moral force that bent the arc of history toward justice.”
He further added, “The word Tahrir means liberation. It’s a word that speaks to that something in our souls that cries out for freedom.” He went on to describe the momentous event and its impact on the world, saying, “And forever more it will remind us of the Egyptian people-of what they did, of the things that they stood for, and how they changed their country, and in doing so changed the world.”
Like similar great historical events, the triumph of the Egyptian revolution will have direct and significant consequences on the country, the region, and the world. Unsurprisingly some of the conditions that factored considerably in the success of the revolution have now become facts on the ground, such as the larger role of youth and women in politics and public life. Thus they are discussed here as well. Here are some of the most important consequences of Egypt’s revolution.
The role of the people: For many decades, the Egyptian people have been marginalized and their interests ignored. Since 1981, the deposed president had ruled the country based on the state of emergency law, which virtually suspended most of the people’s civil rights and political freedoms.
It had built an enormous security apparatus using a convoluted, multilayered system that included uniformed, riot, and secret police, as well as intelligence officers and the dreaded state security personnel, consisting of well over one million people nationwide. The regime ruled by fear and intimidation, employing wide use of brutal tactics including torture and summary military trials that sentenced opponents to long years of hard labor based on political beliefs.
Dr. Ahmad Okasha, president of the Egyptian Psychological Society explained that throughout the Mubarak years “the collective psyche of the Egyptian people was damaged.” Furthermore, he added, “the majority of the people were in a deep state of depression.” They felt insulted and abused by the authorities, powerless to change anything in society, literally strangers in their own country.
So what the revolution offered the people was the opportunity to restore their sense of self-esteem, honor and dignity. Once the fear barrier was knocked down, they acquired a new sense of pride and empowerment that not only challenged the state monopoly on violence but also defeated it using solely peaceful means. With each passing day they became more determined to fight for their rights and quite willing to tender the sacrifices needed to gain their freedom.
Hence, once the people realized their enormous collective power and what they are capable of achieving, they never looked back and would not be disregarded again.
The role of the youth: By sucking the air out of the political space, the deposed regime employed all of its resources to divert the attention of the youth and channel their energies into non-threatening matters such as sports competitions (recall the Algerian-Egyptian conflict that consumed the country last year, lasting for months because of a soccer game) or exhaust people by encouraging mass consumerism.
But since the youth have played a significant role in setting off and sustaining the revolution, their role in society will never be the same. Egyptian youth under 35 represent over 60 per cent of society, yet before the revolution they were not taken seriously nor given much credit.
Now, not only are they part of the most significant event in their modern history but they will also have a seat at the table to determine their country’s future. Already they are a major part of every organization, coalition, and committee appointed or elected to determine the next state of affairs in the country. The ruling military council has already met with their representatives several times. All opposition groups have welcomed them in their parties, offering them leadership positions.
The role of women: Similarly, the women of Egypt have played a major role in this revolution. They demonstrated in large numbers, and were essential organizers, leaders, and spokespersons during all phases of the revolution, including during the most difficult times when they came under physical attack by the security forces and thugs of the ruling party.
They posted the calls for mobilization and uploaded their video blogs on the internet. They distributed leaflets and urged their neighborhoods to protest. They were subsequently beaten, injured, and some even sacrificed their lives. They chanted and led demonstrations against the regime.
Some were doctors, working side by side with their male counterparts treating thousands of the injured in the streets. They were part of the protection and security committees, patting down female protesters to ensure their safety. In short, they were part of every important function of the revolution. The women of Egypt have found their voices and will never return to the margins of society again.
The rejection of sectarianism: One of the most tried and successful techniques of authoritarian regimes is to exploit the major fault lines in society, sparking religious, ethnic, and racial tensions. The deposed regime has often played up and sometimes even instigated the Muslim-Coptic tension in Egypt.
The former regime is even implicated in an incident earlier this year. Egypt’s state prosecutor is currently investigating the role of the Interior Minister and the state security apparatus in last month’s bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed dozens of people. The attack exacerbated the religious divide and threatened social cohesiveness.
However, the revolution has demonstrated in no uncertain terms the popular rejection of sectarianism, as Muslim and Christian communities joined together as fellow citizens protesting the repression and corruption of the regime that has afflicted them all. They marched, sang, chanted, and prayed together. They shared meals and defended each other. Millions of Egyptians witnessed a Muslim imam and a Coptic priest speaking together on the importance of national unity in Tahrir Square.
Ahmad Ragab, a prominent columnist and political cartoonist, observed that when he saw in Tahrir Square a Christian woman pouring water to help a Muslim man make ablution in preparation for prayer, he knew then that the revolution was to succeed.
Prominent Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders praised and defended the Copts while Coptic leaders hailed them in return for their cooperation and sacrifices. Egyptians now believe a new dawn of Muslim-Coptic relations has emerged based on mutual respect and shared citizenship.
The revival of a value-based moral system: Throughout the eighteen days of protests people who were interviewed at Tahrir Square and elsewhere kept referring to a new atmosphere and new attitudes by the people. They talked with pride about the civilized behavior displayed by the demonstrators.
People genuinely cared for and respected one another. They shared their meals and helped each other without expecting any compensation. They felt like they were part of one family. Although millions of people were in the square, there were no reports of fights or robberies. Young women spoke about how young men shielded them from the batons or the rubber bullets of the security forces, or the stones and Molotov cocktails from the goons of the ruling party.
The organizers took pride in the fact that all decisions of the activities of the revolution were based on mutual consultation and democratic principles. Every organizer and group was given the opportunity to voice his or her opinion and vote.
Thus, a new code, dubbed the “revolutionary ethical code,” was established and recognized by all. It encompasses values such as freedom, justice, equality, democracy, participation, solidarity, honesty, transparency, responsibility, and sacrifice- values, which many people had abandoned before the revolution upon feeling that they had no stake in a society ruled by bullies, thieves, and crooks.
The end of dictatorship: The downfall of Hosni Mubarak is not just the ouster of a dictator, but the end of an era that was marked by authoritarianism and cronyism. Egyptians believe strongly that this era is over and can never return.
They have learned that their strength was demonstrated in the streets and they no longer fear any threats by the security forces. If need be, they are willing to go back to the streets by the millions to stand up to the repression of the state. They believe that if they were able to topple Mubarak in eighteen days, they could bring down any future dictator. But they have pledged not to allow any future leader to become one in the first place.
The appreciation of freedom: Millions of Egyptians celebrated and cried with joy when Mubarak resigned on the night of February 11. As reporters from all over the world interviewed countless people dancing in the streets one word came out of their mouths: “we are free.” There is nothing more precious in life than gaining one’s freedom after being shackled by a repressive system or enslaved by a brutal dictator.
The power of this revolution is that it freed the people of Egypt from the yoke of tyranny. Once people taste freedom, it is next to impossible to deny them that exhilarating feeling.
Spreading a culture of democracy: An important consequence of the Egyptian revolution is that, unlike earlier uprisings or protests in Egypt such as the ones in 1968 or 1977, the people’s priority from the inception of this revolution has not only been to topple the regime but also to replace it with a democratic system and a strong civil society.
All opposition parties, including the MB, but especially the movements dominated by the youth, have pledged to honor and practice the rules of a democratic system. They have displayed extraordinary examples of adhering to a culture of democracy as diverse groups came together, united in their political goals but quite different in their tactics. Despite their many differences, they were able to maintain discipline and unity. Majority rule prevailed.
Examining the demands of the revolution, it is clear that spreading a culture of democratic governance was at the center of most of them. Some examples include: a political system based on checks and balances, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, guarantee of individual freedoms, human and civil rights, free elections, peaceful transfer of power, right to form political parties, transparency in governance, and equal economic opportunity.
Asserting Independence: Since at least the late 1970s, the U.S. has declared that Egypt was its “strategic partner.” This was a euphemism for Egypt becoming a client state for the U.S. in exchange for $64 billion in direct aid over three decades, and another $18 billion in debt relief. Most of this aid did not directly help the Egyptian people but was for the benefit of the military as well as the regime’s cronies.
Egyptians saw in horror how their country’s foreign policy was subjugated to U.S. interests to the detriment of Egyptian interests or their Arab obligations. They were frustrated throughout this period to see the stature and influence of their proud country dwindle, as Egypt became a tool of American foreign policy.
In all issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinian infighting, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, Lebanon, Iran, Libya, or Sudan, Mubarak’s Egypt was sure to act as the enabler of U.S. foreign policy at the expense of its own national security.
For instance, it was Mubarak who led the efforts to block all Arab peace initiatives to end the crisis in the first Gulf war and thus enabled the U.S. to wage war against a fellow Arab country with devastating consequences. Similarly, it was the capitulation of Mubarak on nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East in order to please the U.S. that allowed Israel to maintain its nuclear arsenals cost free. He was a full partner with the U.S. and Israel in the siege on Gaza depriving 1.5 million Palestinians from basic livelihood.
In all likelihood, revolutionary Egypt will not be a U.S. client state. Once a civilian democratic and transparent government is in place, Egypt will resort to its historic role of being a leader of the Arab world as well as in Africa, the Muslim world, and the lesser-developed countries more broadly.
Once Egypt’s independence is asserted by its new democratically elected officials, unjust and biased U.S. or Western policies would be challenged. No longer will the wishes of the Egyptian people be ignored for the benefit of one person, or stifled for the interest of a foreign power.
Supporting the Palestinian Cause: Clearly, the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been one between the leaders, not the peoples. The reason the experts consider it a “cold peace” is because the Egyptian people never believed that Israel wanted or promoted peace. They believe that the Zionist state sought to neutralize Egypt from the conflict so as to annex more Arab territory, especially in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Throughout three decades Israel felt secure enough from its southern flank that it twice crushed the Palestinian uprisings in the occupied territories (1987-1991 and 2000-2003). Moreover, it invaded or bombed several Arab countries and capitals including Iraq (1981), Lebanon (1982, 2006), Tunisia (1988), Syria (2007), and Gaza (2008-09). Thousands of fellow Arab civilians, especially in the Palestinian occupied territories and Lebanon were massacred without the people of Egypt even having the ability to protest in the streets.
Egyptians were not even allowed to object to Egypt’s sovereignty in the Sinai being stripped under the 1979 treaty. Despite a court order in 2007, they could not stop Egypt’s natural gas from being shipped and sold to Israel with a huge subsidy at a seventy per hcent discount. Meanwhile, in 2009 their government was building an underground iron barrier, financed by the U.S, to seal the border with Gaza, while closing the Rafah crossing to maintain the illegal siege against the people of Gaza.
According to a recent Jerusalem Post report, the Egyptian April 6 youth movement, which played a major role in the revolution, said that if “the military doesn’t meet our demands, we’ll be on the street again.” Among the group’s demands was “the halting of natural gas shipments to Israel.”
The Israeli prime minster is right to worry about Egypt’s foreign policy after Mubarak. His long honeymoon (and Palestinian nightmare) is most probably over. Most of the Egyptian opposition groups strongly support Palestinian rights and detest the Israeli government’s policies.
For example, when the Egyptian Coalition for Change was formed in April 2009, the members of the coalition included the April 6 movement, the Kifaya movement, al-Karama, al-Wasat, and individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This coalition was the nucleus of the January 25 revolution. One of their planks was the annulment of the Camp David Accords.
This may not happen overnight though. But if Israel continues to maintain its occupation, apartheid regime, and aggressive policies against the Palestinians, it might come to pass, slowly but surely. Once formed, the new democratic government in Egypt will no longer be relied upon to do Israel’s bidding, nor will it be susceptible to the pressure of the Israel lobby via the U.S. government.
Furthermore, Israel’s underlings within the Palestinian Authority are certain to be severely weakened, as they can no longer depend on Egypt’s support against other Palestinian factions. Israel can no longer announce an invasion against Gaza from Cairo like it did in December 2008.
In short, a major shift in the strategic equation of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the entire Middle East has just taken place as a direct consequence of the Egyptian revolution.
Influencing the Arab World and the region: Undoubtedly, the success of Egypt’s revolution in the aftermath of Tunisia’s has already had a tremendous influence not only on the rest of the Arab World, but also on the entire world especially, Muslim countries.
To date, similar protests have swept Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya, and Iraq. Other countries are also threatened, including Syria, Morocco, Mauritania, and the Sudan. The common refrain in all of these protests is Egypt’s common chant “The people demand the fall of the regime.” Pro-Western groups in Lebanon have lost their power as Saad Hariri’s government was dissolved. Hezbollah and its coalition partners have now assumed the upper hand in forming a new government.
Yet if some regimes survive the massive protests underway through repressive measures or far-reaching reforms, the Arab World will still never be the same. Because of Egypt’s tremendous influence in the region, most Arab governments would have to move toward more freedom, democratic governance, and transparency over the coming months and years.
These changes might result in either a major shift in U.S. and Western foreign policy especially with regard to the Palestinian cause, or lead to a serious rift between the West and the people of the region to the detriment of the interests of the former.
The role of the military and security forces: One of the major consequences of the revolution is the redefining of the role of the security forces in Egyptian society and the consolidation of the military’s function.
By maintaining a state of fear for decades, the security forces have already lost their credibility and effectiveness with the people. Justifiably, the revolutionary powers are demanding to reconstitute these forces on the basis of a new social contract within a democratic society.
Under instruction from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Interior Ministry has already pledged to re-train its officers, and re-orient its mission to the “Police is in the Service of the Public,” rather than the security of the regime. Still a huge demonstration by many deserters of the security officers took place demanding the arrest and trial of the former Interior Minister, blaming him for much of the violence and repressive policies of the past.
But regardless of whether these expressions of remorse are genuine or not, the relationship between the people and the security apparatus will never resort back to its prior master-slave relationship.
As for the military, it has maintained its historic position of not attacking or shooting at its citizens. It is now well established that during his waning days Mubarak wanted the army to intervene on behalf of the regime to suppress the protests as the security forces were being pushed back. But the military, to its credit, refused and remained neutral, even pledging to defend the protesters.
If the military were to fulfill its pledge to transfer power to a civilian rule within six months after democratic elections, it will then have solidified its reputation with the Egyptian people as the last protector of their rights and freedoms.
Undeniably, the Egyptian revolution, with its peaceful, disciplined, and civilized attitudes, has become an inspiration to people around the globe. As Martin Luther King Jr. once observed “A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world.”
Egypt’s revolution is not only destined to touch the world, it has already been embraced by it.
Part One can be found here.
Esam Al-Amin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org