Egypt-Israel gas deal proves unpopular

PNN / Bethlehem

The deal announced last week to allow the Egyptian private sector to import $15 billion worth of natural gas from Israel over the next 10 years was heralded by the countries’ respective leaders as ‘historic’ but has proven unpopular among the Egyptian public.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the deal, stating that it would strengthen ‘security, economy, and regional relationships.’

His counterpart in Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi heralded the deal as a ‘victory’ in a televised interview, that would ‘help transform Egypt into a regional energy hub.’

Contrastingly, Mohamed Badrawy, head of the parliamentary bloc of the Egyptian National Movement, in a telephone interview broadcast on the privately-owned CBC Channel, decried the move, stating, ‘Do we even know who our friends and who our enemies are anymore?’

‘At a time when Egyptians are struggling because of the ailing economy and the country is facing a foreign currency shortage, is it acceptable for Egypt to pay $15 billion to Israel?’ he said.

Hassan Nafaa, an economics professor at Cairo University also disparaged the deal as reported by al-Monitor, stating in a tweet, ‘I am deeply saddened to hear about the gas import deal from Israel. Aren’t our people entitled to an explanation of why such a deal was concluded at a time when the official reports themselves indicate that Egypt is about to become self-sufficient in gas? Stop disrespecting the minds of Egyptians’.

Al-Monitor also reported dissenting voices in the public taking to various social media platforms to condemn the move considering growing regional ties between Egypt and Israel as well as the bizarreness of the move in respect to the prospect of energy independency posed by the opening of the Zohr gas field earlier this year.

The Zohr gas field, discovered by an Italian oil and gas company last year, is reported to be the biggest in the Mediterranean, containing an estimated 304 trillion cubic meters of gas.

The announcement of the Zohr gas field discovery raised the prospect of energy independency for Egypt, or even regional dominancy as an energy exporter in the wake of the slow economic and institutional recovery after the 2011 and 2013 revolutions, as well as the damage caused to the Sinai-based gas pipelines by continued insurgencies in the peninsula by groups affiliated to the Islamic State group.

The proposed new deal with Israel would allow Egyptian energy company ‘Dolphin Energy’ to import roughly seven billion cubic meters of additional gas annually from the Israeli Leviathan and Tamar gas fields in the Mediterranean under the auspice of Delek Drilling and Noble Energy – two Israeli gas excavation companies.

The deal was widely seen as the next step in warming relations between Egypt and Israel.

The countries who were at one-time arch rivals have engaged in greater economic and security collaboration in the years since the revolution of 2011 that unseated the autocratic rule of President Mubarak, and then again when then-military commander al-Sisi unseated President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As reported by the New York Times earlier this month, Israeli military cooperation in the Sinai Peninsula has proven instrumental to Egypt’s attempts to rid the area of the militant insurgency that has waged a bloody campaign since 2013.

Israel forces were revealed to have had carried out a number of airstrikes in the region. They had taken measures to disguise the fact that the attacks were originating from Israel and not Egypt, principally by adjusting flight paths so as to appear to be coming from Egypt.

Later this year, President al-Sisi is expected to be re-elected in what is widely seen by international observes as a ‘uncontested’ election, with most dissenting voices and genuine political rivals having been arrested.

The gas deal with Israel, alongside a rumoured deal to be struck soon with Cyprus, in the long term may strengthen Egypt’s ambition to assert itself as a regional energy powerhouse – raising the prospect of re-exportation to Europe.

But in the short term, the deal strains a struggling and embattled economy and a widely pressured public – weighed by economic strain and political oppression.

To many Egyptians, Israel also remains something of a threat to the region, no matter the political manoeuvrings of its leaders. The treatment of Palestinians is equally condemned by many.