Getting it right on Syria and the Arab revolutions

Excellent article in The Socialist Worker – affiliated to the trotskyite SWP – on Syria:

The past few days may have seen the balance of forces tilt decisively against Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Paradoxically, a significant section of the Western left seems to have tilted as decisively in their favour.

Take, for example, a widely circulated interview with Tariq Ali, where he claims that the struggle in Syria is part of “a new process of recolonisation”. Although I have great respect and affection for Tariq, I think this is nonsense. (…)

Those in the Western left who allow a reflexive and unthinking “anti-imperialism” to set them against the Syrian revolution are simply confessing their own bankruptcy.

I agree wholeheartedly. Not only are many on the left (not only there though) unable to think through the Arab Spring and its spinoffs in reality-based terms, but they are hostage to old ways of thinking, notably as to the role of Western powers. If there is something that has to be completely dismissed in today’s Arab world, it is the ability of Western powers to shape an Arab country’s politics according to their wishes. While Arab countries do not live in a bubble and are of course amenable to foreign influence, no longer will foreign – read Western – powers be able to dictate the terms of leadership struggles or even foreing policy (Libya is an odd case here). They can weigh in, but their influence is limited as compared to the weight of public opinion and the political forces present in the institutions of the state.

What influence did any Western power have over the Tunisian revolution, or even the Egyptian one? The height of US influence the last year was its ability to get its NGO workers out of Egypt, but that’s hardly a decisive influence on an issue of substance in Egyptian politics. The issue of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel is probably the one issue on which the US government has been able to exert influence, but it is also arguably an issue that Egyptians themselves would solve through some sort of statu quo – no Egyptian I know has any aptite for a military stand-off with Israel to start with, although many want the peace treaty to remain just that, and cease to be the fealty oath it turned into under the Mubarak years.

Take the case of Iraq: sure, the US was able to invade and occupy that country, smash its political structure, entrench sectarianism and kill and maim well over one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians – but the end result is a government they do not control – if any foreign country wields decisive influence over Iraq it is Iran – and which basically kicked US troops out of the country. Bombing and killing the USA may continue to do in Iraq in the future, but they are not able of directing its politics the way they once dreamt of.

Tunisians and Egyptians gained their freedom by relying on their own strength and commitment, rejecting any foreign involvement. While quite some Syrian revolutionaries are now asking for foreign military intervention – understandably so in view of the massacres committed by régime forces – not all of them do so, and interest for such an option seems lukewarm outside of the armchair editorialist and liberal interventionism cottage industry. But what is undisputed is the massive lack of domestic legitimacy that Bashar el Assad’s régime has – you don’t need to have actually read Michel Seurat’s « L’Etat de barbarie » to recognise that.

Not any dictator opposed – although in the case of Syria that claim would be dubious, as he wasn’t actively opposed by any Western country since the end of the Bush presidency (France let go of its opposition once Syrian troops left Lebanon in 2005 and Hariri-funded Chirac left the presidency to Sarkozy) before he started slaughtering his own population – by Western powers is necessarily worthy of support. That was true in Serbia in the 90’s, Iraq from 1991 to 2003, and is still true in Syria today. Not everything that happens in Arab countries is the result of CIA memos, Mossad plots, Foreign Office instructions or Open Society grants, and if the State Department wants to see the back of Bashar, for all my hostility to the successive US governments’ foreign policy, I find it hard not to share that wish. And I remain adamantly opposed to any NATO intervention, in the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter – it is dubious whether this military alliance still has a raison d’être, but whatever is left only justifies defensive missions.

Some legal aspects of the Egypt-Israel gas deal (part I)

I’ve long wanted to write a post about the legal aspects of the Egypt-Israel natural gas deal without taking the time to do so, but its probable breakdown makes this a moral imperative. Correct and specific legal information on what is after all a commercial transaction subject to the usual confidentiality clauses has been hard to find, and much more could probably be found by exploring Israeli (and thus Hebrew) sources, but I’ll leave that to Israeli media or bloggers. The specific legal architecture of the 2005 Egypt-Israeli gas sale deal is sketchy, but I think the following gives a relatively reliable picture.

I – The legal context: the gas contracts are based on a bilateral inter-governmental agreement

First, there are two parallel legal tracks here: there’s first an overarching agreement between the governments of Egypt and Israel on the gas sale, contrary to what many, me included, have thought (the second legal track being the contractual arrangements between the different Egyptian and Israeli companies involved).

« In the last few years, when lawsuits were filed in Egypt against the sale of gas to Israel, the government often claimed that it was only selling gas to EMG, and has no transactional relationship with Israel ».

Until a few days ago, I thought as much: the contracts were presumably signed between Egyptian and Israeli gas or energy companies – more on them later – with no explicit, direct legal involvement of either the Egyptian or the Israeli governements. Contrary to what many think, the Treaty of Peace between the State of Israel and the Arab Republic of Egypt  (the version on the Israeli MFA’s website is more comprehensive) does not contain any undertaking by Egypt to sell gas to Israel – there is a clause on trade in annex II, but it doesn’t impose a duty on Egypt to supply gas to Israel:

Article 2: Economic and Trade Relations

1. The Parties agree to remove all discriminatory barriers to normal economic relations and to terminate economic boycotts of each other upon completion of the interim withdrawal.

2. As soon as possible, and not later than six months after the completion of the interim withdrawal, the Parties will enter negotiations with a view to concluding an agreement on trade and commerce for the purpose of promoting beneficial economic relations.

There is however a memorandum of understanding dated March 26, 1979 between Israel and the USA whereby the US guarantees Israel’s oil supplies, but Egypt is not party to it, and it does not cover natural gas. But then I stumbled – by chance – on the 2005 Memorandum of understanding relating to the purchase and the transmission through a pipeline of natural gas signed between the governements of Egypt and Israel – you’ll find below the provisions that I find relevant to this dispute.

The Government of the State of Israel and the Governement of the Arab Republic of Egypt, hereinafter referred to as the « Parties »,

(…) Aware of the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Arab Republic of Egypt during its meeting held on 18 September 2000, authorizing the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum represented by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation to conclude the necessary contract with Eastern Mediterranean Gas Company, an Egyptian joint-stock company, hereinafter referred to as « EMG« , for the export of quantities of Egyptian natural gas to the consuming markets in the Mediterranean countries as well as the European markets;

Welcoming contracts between EMG and Israeli companies such as the contract between the Israeli Electric Corporation Ltd., hereinafter refered to as « IEC », and EMG for the supply of natural gas originating from Egypt to Israel, through a pipeline to be constructed between El Arish and Ashkelon, for a period of 15 (fifteen) years, renewable by mutuall agreemnt, as well as additional contracts to be concluded between EMG and other Israeli companies;

Have agreed the following:

Article 1 General: The purchase of natural gas, its transmission through a pipeline between El Arish and Ashkelon, including the construction of the pipeline and its operation, shall be in accordance with the terms of this Memorandum of Understanding and in accordance with and subject to the laws of the State under whose jurisdiction it lies.

Article 2 Guarantee of supply: The Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt guarantees the continuous and uninterrupted supply of the natural gas contracted and/or to be contracted such as between EMG and IEC for the initial 15 years as well as for any extended period, according to the provisions of the contract and for a yearly total amount of up to 7 BCM (seven billion cubic meters). The same guarantee shall apply to any other entity importing gas from Egypt to Israel. This guarantee will start on the date of the activation of any contract of purchase of natural gas from egypt.

Article 3: Subject to its law and the provisions of this MOU each Party shall facilitate the implementation of this MOU.

Article 4 Safety and security:

(1) Each Government shall have the right to determine, in accordance with its own laws, the safety and security measures which are to govern the construction and operation of the part of the pipeline under its jurisdiction.

(2) Operation of the pipeline, or any part thereof, shall not commence until each party has issued all necessary authorizations and permits in accordance with their national legal requirements. (…)

Article 7 Tripartite agreement: The Egyptian Government designates the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and the Egyptian Gas Holding Company (EGAS) as representatives of the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum in signing the tripartite agreement as the First Party in the agreement guaranteeing natural gas supply, with EMG as the Second Party in the agreement, and IEC as the Third Party in the agreement. The same shall apply to any other entity importing gas from Egypt into Israel and/or consuming gas from Egypt in Israel.

Article 8 Consultations: The parties, recognizing each other’s legitimate interest in safeguarding the supply of natural gas from Egypt to Israel may consult each other with a view to find a solution to outstanding issues.

Article 9 Entry into force: (1) This Memorandum shall enter into force on the date of the latter of the diplomatic notes by which the Parties notify each other that their internal legal requirements for the entering into force of the Memorandum has been complied with. (…)

Done at Cairo, Egypt, on the 30 day (sic) of June 2005 which corresponds to the 23rd day if Sivan 5765 (…)

Some remarks: I’m not impressed by the quality of the legal drafting here – this is a shoddy and hastily drafted agreement. As a jurist, there are many issues I would have expected to see tackled in such an agreement – I’ve seen grants contracts for 25.000 € music festivals with more substantive legal content than this MoU, and a cursory glance into the Gas Regulation 2012 volume, containing a 361-pages overview of gas laws around the world, does indicate that there are possibly one or two issues that may have been overlooked. There is for instance no arbitration clause should consultations fail to achieve a compromise between the parties, nor are the different steps of the consultations phase detailed.

Or take article 1 for instance: it states that the sale and transmission of Egypt’s natural gas to Israel shall be « in accordance with and subject to the laws of the State under whose jurisdiction it lies« . So, if Egypt’s People’s assembly votes a law barring the sale of natural gas to Israel or mandating that the price of that gas should be three times the market price, that would be in accordance with the MoU, right? It doesn’t make much sense to allow such unqualified loopholes in an inter-governmental agreement governing highly contentious multi-billion sales of natural gas.

More importantly, the lasting impression one gets when reading this MoU is that it was drafted by the Israeli government (although if that is the case I’m underwhelmed by their legal service): while Egypt takes upon itself wide-ranging guarantees regarding the « continuous and uninterrupted » supply of natural gas to Israel (you will note that there is no force majeure clause, or no mitigation of Egypt’s wide-ranging guarantee), the Israeli government undertakes no corresponding guarantee vis-à-vis Egypt, as regards payments or price levels (no price revision clause), for instance. It is quite strange to see a government guaranteeing a private company’s supplies – EMG’s in this case – to another commercial operator such as the IEC on the Israeli side to such an absolute and unqualified extent. There is for instance no statement that Egypt’s guarantee is one of last resort, no indication of prior procedural steps or time-limits for the guarantee to play, and more importantly still there is no financial ceiling.

A more appropriate drafting from an Egyptian point of view would have been that the Egyptian government undertook not to unreasonably or unjustifiably hinder or obstruct said gas supplies, and to enter into prior consultations with its Israeli counterpart if it were envisaging action likely to substantially affect the supplies of natural gas to Israel. The absolute guarantee provided by this MoU seems unreasonable, and I would be interested to hear from better informed readers if other inter-governmental MoUs concerning oil or gas supplies contain similar wide-ranging guarantee clauses, especially in the absence of a reciprocal guarantee of payments from the buyer’s government.

Even more troubling, from the Egyptian point of view: the Egyptian government’s undertaking is not limited to the known parties to the 2005 gas sale contract, but to all parties of all Egyptian gas sales contracts with Israel thereafter. And the icing on the cake: the MoU is indefinite, with no limitation in time. Even the formalia indicates that the MoU template was Israeli – no Arabic version, and the date of the agreement indicated as per the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, with no mention of the date according to the Islamic calendar…

It is therefore necessary to resort to the general legal definition of a guarantee – see The Oxford Companion to Law (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980, p. 542):

A guarantee is an accessory contract whereby one party undertakes to be answerable for the debt, default or miscarriage of another, who is primarily liable to a third party. The surety’s liability does not arise until the principal debtor has defaulted and the duration and extent of that liability depend on the terms of the contract. Before recourse can be had to him, any conditions precedent to his liability must be fulfilled.

While Egypt’s guarantee implicitly applies in case of default, it is unconditional, and no direct references are made to the contract between the principal debtors in this case, EGAS and EGPC, and EMG on the one hand and IEC on the other.

A comparison between the 2005 Egypt-Israel gas supply MoU and the 1979 USA-Israel oil supply MoU is telling: the US issued no unlimited – the MoU was signed with a 15 years validity, covering the period 1975-1990 – or unconditional guarantee – its undertaking is valid only if the US meets its own requirements, and as for transportation the US only undertakes to « make every effort« . More importantly still, « in any event the United States will be reimbursed by Israel for the costs incurred by the United States in providing oil to Israel hereunder« …

Then there is the legal status of the MoU: while it’s not labelled a treaty, it clearly intends to produce binding legal effects, as evidenced by article 9 (1):

This Memorandum shall enter into force on the date of the latter of the diplomatic notes by which the Parties notify each other that their internal legal requirements for the entering into force of the Memorandum has been complied with.

This is a procedure akin to that surrounding the signature and ratification of treaties. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the law of treaties states:

“treaty” means an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation (article 2.1.a)

It adds :

Article 11: Means of expressing consent to be bound by a treaty

The consent of a State to be bound by a treaty may be expressed by signature, exchange of instruments constituting a treaty, ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, or by any other means if so agreed.

Furthermore, the 2005 MoU does not have abstract or political aims (unlike some friendship or co-operation treaties), nor have the parties only expressed mere intentions (« the parties endeavour etc »): on the contrary, Egypt’s guarantee as to the gas supply is clear and unconditional; the provisions on environmental protection (article 5 of the MoU) and especially those on taxes (article 6 of the MoU – a tax exemption régime is set up) show unequivocally that both parties intended for the MoU to produce binding legal effects.

Accordingly, the 2005 MoU should be considered as an international treaty between Israel and Egypt, whose object is to guarantee the fulfillment of an Egyptian private company’s contractual obligations towards its Israeli clients. Robin Mill’s assertion in Foreign Policy – – is therefore unfounded in the present case.

Interestingly, and that’s yet another weakness, the MoU contains no provision on its termination. The provisions of the 1969 Vienna convention would then apply (see footnote (1) for the applicable provisions thereof).

Egypt could possibly invoke article 151 of its 1971 Constitution (it was in force in 2005, and still is to a large extent, despite the 2011 Constitutional declaration approved by referendum), which laid down the procedure for ratification of treaties, and mandated a ratification by the People’s assembly for commercial treaties or those imposing a burden on the state treasury – which could be said to be the case here with the unconditional supply guarantee undertaken by the Egyptian government vis-à-is the Israeli government, not to mention the:

Article 151 The President of Republic shall conclude international treaties and forward them to the People’s Assembly with the necessary explanations. The treaties shall have the force of law after their conclusion, ratification and publication in accordance with the established procedure. However, peace treaties, alliance pacts, commercial and maritime [treaties] and all the treaties involving modifications in the national territory or affecting the rights of sovereignty, or imposing charges on the State treasury which are not provided for in the budget must be approved by the People’s Assembly.

The 2005 MoU was never ratified by Egypt’s People’s assembly, so it might possibly have been ratified by the Egyptian governement in breach of its own Constitution, raising the possibility to invoke its invalidity in accordance with article 65 of the 1969 Vienna convention. Another possibility would be to invoke the material breach clause – (article 60 of the 1969 Vienna convention) – as the official reason invoked by state-owned EGAS – Egypt’s gas company – is that EMG hadn’t paid its dues for months on end:

The contract was terminated after the Egyptian side sent notifications to EMG five times, but EMG did not commit to its financial obligations as per the contract terms, while the deadline was 31 March (Egypt Independent)

It seems however that the Egyptian government, or what passes for it, has decided on presenting the gas deal termination as a purely commercial decision, based on non-payment of dues by the Israeli buyers:

Egyptian engineer Hani Dahi, executive director of the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, said on Monday that the military council and the government had no part in the decision to terminate Egypt’s agreement to provide natural gas to Israel.

According to Dahi, the decision was made following a business dispute with Israel, and has nothing to do with politics. He added that the Israeli side has not fulfilled its economic obligations, despite repeated requests.

Mohamed Shoeb, head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, announced Sunday evening that the company will terminate its agreement to provide natural gas to Israel, after a decision had been made on Thursday due to what he termed “Israel’s repeated breaching of the agreement.” (Haaretz)

This was confirmed by Egypt’s infamous minister of international cooperation, Fayza Abulnaga:

Egypt confirmed that it is not opposed to continuing gas exports to Israel if the two countries reach a new agreement based on new prices.

The Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) has notified the Israeli side of the decision, said Planning and International Cooperation Minister, Fayza Abouelnaga, in a briefing Monday after a cabinet meeting at the General Authority for Investment. She added that the Egyptian government or the Ministry of Petroleum has nothing to do with the trade contract between EGAS and the East Mediterreanean Gas Company. (Egypt Independent)

Notice by the way Abulnaga’s blatant lie (« the Egyptian government or the Ministry of Petroleum has nothing to do with the trade contract between EGAS and the East Mediterreanean Gas Company« ): she was part of the cabinet when the 2005 MoU was signed, and irrespective of whether she knew about its contents then surely these must be known to her today, and they are crystal clear: Egypt guarantees the supply of natural gas to Israel for fifteen years, i.e. until 2020.

This leads us to the second legal track: the contractual arrangements between the Egyptian gas suppliers, EMG which acts as an intermediary and the Israeli buyers. I will look into this in a following post.

(1)  The following provisions of the 1969 Vienna Convention could provide a basis for an Egyptian denunciation of the 2005 MoU:

Article 54: Termination of or withdrawal from a treaty under its provisions or by consent of the parties The termination of a treaty or the withdrawal of a party may take place: (a) in conformity with the provisions of the treaty; or (b) at any time by consent of all the parties after consultation with the other contracting States. (…)

Article 56: Denunciation of or withdrawal from a treaty containing no provision regarding termination, denunciation or withdrawal

1. A treaty which contains no provision regarding its termination and which does not provide for denunciation or withdrawal is not subject to denunciation or withdrawal unless: (a) it is established that the parties intended to admit the possibility of denunciation or withdrawal; or (b) a right of denunciation or withdrawal may be implied by the nature of the treaty.

2. A party shall give not less than twelve months’ notice of its intention to denounce or withdraw from a treaty under paragraph 1. (…)

Article 57: Suspension of the operation of a treaty under its provisions or by consent of the parties

The operation of a treaty in regard to all the parties or to a particular party may be suspended: (a) in conformity with the provisions of the treaty; or (b) at any time by consent of all the parties after consultation with the other contracting States. (…)

Article 60: Termination or suspension of the operation of a treaty as a consequence of its breach

1. A material breach of a bilateral treaty by one of the parties entitles the other to invoke the breach as a ground for terminating the treaty or suspending its operation in whole or in part.

2. A material breach of a multilateral treaty by one of the parties entitles: (a) the other parties by unanimous agreement to suspend the operation of the treaty in whole or in part or to terminate it either: 20 (i) in the relations between themselves and the defaulting State; or (ii) as between all the parties; (b) a party specially affected by the breach to invoke it as a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty in whole or in part in the relations between itself and the defaulting State; (c) any party other than the defaulting State to invoke the breach as a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty in whole or in part with respect to itself if the treaty is of such a character that a material breach of its provisions by one party radically changes the position of every party with respect to the further performance of its obligations under the treaty.

3. A material breach of a treaty, for the purposes of this article, consists in: (a) a repudiation of the treaty not sanctioned by the present Convention; or (b) the violation of a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty. 4. The foregoing paragraphs are without prejudice to any provision in the treaty applicable in the event of a breach. 5. Paragraphs 1 to 3 do not apply to provisions relating to the protection of the human person contained in treaties of a humanitarian character, in particular to provisions prohibiting any form of reprisals against persons protected by such treaties.

Article 61: Supervening impossibility of performance

1. A party may invoke the impossibility of performing a treaty as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from it if the impossibility results from the permanent disappearance or destruction of an object indispensable for the execution of the treaty. If the impossibility is temporary, it may be invoked only as a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty.

2. Impossibility of performance may not be invoked by a party as a ground for terminating, withdrawing from or suspending the operation of a treaty if the impossibility is the result of a breach by that party either of an obligation under the treaty or of any other international obligation owed to any other party to the treaty.

Article 62: Fundamental change of circumstances

1. A fundamental change of circumstances which has occurred with regard to those existing at the time of the conclusion of a treaty, and which was not foreseen by the parties, may not be invoked as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from the treaty unless: (a) the existence of those circumstances constituted an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty; and 21 (b) the effect of the change is radically to transform the extent of obligations still to be performed under the treaty.

2. A fundamental change of circumstances may not be invoked as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty: (a) if the treaty establishes a boundary; or (b) if the fundamental change is the result of a breach by the party invoking it either of an obligation under the treaty or of any other international obligation owed to any other party to the treaty.

3. If, under the foregoing paragraphs, a party may invoke a fundamental change of circumstances as a ground for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty it may also invoke the change as a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty.

Article 65: Procedure to be followed with respect to invalidity, termination, withdrawal from or suspension of the operation of a treaty

1. A party which, under the provisions of the present Convention, invokes either a defect in its consent to be bound by a treaty or a ground for impeaching the validity of a treaty, terminating it, withdrawing from it or suspending its operation, must notify the other parties of its claim. The notification shall indicate the measure proposed to be taken with respect to the treaty and the reasons therefor.

2. If, after the expiry of a period which, except in cases of special urgency, shall not be less than three months after the receipt of the notification, no party has raised any objection, the party making the notification may carry out in the manner provided in article 67 the measure which it has proposed.

3. If, however, objection has been raised by any other party, the parties shall seek a solution through the means indicated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations.

4. Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall affect the rights or obligations of the parties under any provisions in force binding the parties with regard to the settlement of disputes.

5. Without prejudice to article 45, the fact that a State has not previously made the notification prescribed in paragraph 1 shall not prevent it from making such notification in answer to another party claiming performance of the treaty or alleging its violation.

Article 66: Procedures for judicial settlement, arbitration and conciliation

If, under paragraph 3 of article 65, no solution has been reached within a period of 12 months following the date on which the objection was raised, the following procedures shall be followed: (a) any one of the parties to a dispute concerning the application or the interpretation of article 53 or 64 may, by a written application, submit it to the International Court of Justice for a decision unless the parties by common consent agree to submit the dispute to arbitration; (b) any one of the parties to a dispute concerning the application or the interpretation of any of the other articles in part V of the present Convention may set in motion the procedure specified in the Annex to the Convention by submitting a request to that effect to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Article 67: Instruments for declaring invalid, terminating, withdrawing from or suspending the operation of a treaty

1. The notification provided for under article 65, paragraph 1, must be made in writing.

2. Any act of declaring invalid, terminating, withdrawing from or suspending the operation of a treaty pursuant to the provisions of the treaty or of paragraphs 2 or 3 of article 65 shall be carried out through an instrument communicated to the other parties. If the instrument is not signed by the Head of State, Head of Government or Minister for Foreign Affairs, the representative of the State communicating it may be called upon to produce full powers.

The myth of the Egyptian revolution’s US- and Israel-friendliness

You’ve all read in Western – I use this term as a shorthand for « European and North American » – mainstream media how nice the Egyptian revolution was as neither the US nor Israel were at its core. This has always made me laugh – pretending that the popular protest movement would somehow be positively inclined – or indifferent – towards the US and Israel – well, you’d have never to have spoken to a protester to believe that. The youth movement that triggered the Egyptian revolution has its roots in the protest movement against Operation Defensive Shield and the Jenin bloodbath in 2002 as well as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 – when students, islamists, leftists and liberals coalesced in grassroots protests.

Well, I don’t really know how these talking heads are going to try to gloss over this:

Revolution Youth Coalition refuses to meet Clinton

Ahram Online , Tuesday 15 Mar 2011
The January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition has announced it refuses to meet Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, during her visit to Egypt. The Coalition stated that the US administration was a vital supporter and ally of the ousted Mubarak regime.

The coalition, made up of six youth groups, said it did not welcome Clinton’s visit to Egypt and demanded that the US administration make a formal apology to Egypt’s people for its foreign policy towards the country in the past decades. They added that “the Egyptian people are the masters of their own land and destiny and will only accept equal relations of friendship and respect between the people of Egypt and the people of America.”   

The coalition’s declaration added that “the US administration took Egypt’s revolution lightly and supported the old regime while Egyptian blood was being spilled.” It also condemned past American policies towards Egypt and demanded that they be reformulated to achieve a balance between the interests of the Egyptian and American people. 

Clinton’s tour of the Middle East, which starts today in Egypt before taking her to Tunis, is the first cabinet-level visit to the region by the Obama administration since the revolutions in both countries.

And it takes an Egyptian newspaper to notice the unescapable:

Mubarak’s close relationship with Israel drew scorn from Tahrir protesters. Chants encouraging Mubarak to resign in Tahrir Square were frequently tailed with, “Tell him in Hebrew, maybe he doesn’t speak Arabic.”

Don’t tell Thomas Friedman, who surely must have written the stupidest column ever to have been published in the New York Times (Sarah Carr’s satire is quite good as well): he’s convinced the Egyptian revolution was caused by admiration for Obama and Israel…

After the spirit of Tahrir, now the spirit of Kattameya Heights

Satire is often difficult. The following piece is taken from the Egyptian Daily News, but would not be out of place on satirical website Koshary:

One thousand turn out to Support Ahmed Shafiq

By   Ethar El-Katatny /Special to Daily News Egypt
March 5, 2011, 1:34 am
HELWAN, Egypt: Inside the gated compound of Katameya Heights, where ex- Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq lives, around 1,000 people gathered to express their gratitude and support for him.

Chanting “We love you Shafiq” and “Shafiq for president,” the supporters, also residents of the upscale Katameya Heights and nearby compounds, were vehement in their assertion that the protesters in Tahrir do not represent them.

There are lots of us here who didn’t even want Shafiq for prime minister,” says Aghraid Amin, a marketing manager at NGO Misr El-Kheir. “But they came because they are incensed that the opinion of those in Tahrir is forced upon all of us. We don’t want a dictatorship from Tahrir. Where is the democracy?

A microphone went around and Shafiq listened to supporters expressing their opinion for over an hour, asking him for everything from starting a political party to running for president.

The people in Tahrir are louder than us,” screamed one protestor, holding up a sign saying ‘Egypt is not just Tahrir.’ “But they don’t represent us all,” she said.

Dressed in a woolen vest, Shafiq handed her an apple juice from those being handed out: “I thank you for coming and for lifting my head up high,” he said, as he accepted flowers from supporters.

In response to those who asked him to start collecting signatures to form a political party, Shafiq refused to elaborate.

There is no way I will be using this day to benefit politically. It’s not about Tahrir or not Tahrir. Egypt is one. What the majority wants should happen. I have relatives in Tahrir. Egypt now is about freedom of speech.”

After an hour of listening to people’s demands, Shafiq headed home.

Standing next to a parked car, Sayed Abdel-ba’y, a 42-year-old driver, told Daily News Egypt: “The people here are the elite of Egypt. But even so, I’m with them now. I was in Tahrir, but over the past 10 days I stopped supporting the demands. Shafiq is a good person and we should have given him a chance.”

For those not really familiar with Egypt: Kattameya Heights is a very select compound on the outskirts of Cairo, where the last prime minister appointed by former president Hosni Moubarak, general Ahmed Shafiq, lives. I think Moubarak’s elder son Alaa also used to live there, but I am not certain. And that Ahmed Shafiq should be so popular in Kattameya Heights is hardly surprising: that compound is among the string of luxury communities surrounding Cairo, built during the last 10 to 15 years, and benefiting businessmen and real estate ventures standing close to Moubarak and his clan. And Ahmed Shafiq was a régime insider: air force chief of staff 1991-96 and then air force commander 1996-2002, he was minister for civil aviation from 2002 till Moubarak appointed him prime minister on January 31 this year. The infamous State security police, mainly responsible for the repression under Moubarak’s reign, clearly felt they had lost a friend when he resigned this Thursday, March 3 – they set about to put their archives on fire in various cities around Egypt – Alexandria and Cairo (Nasr city, 6th of October and Dokki), only to be partly prevented by protesters and the military (see Zeinobia’s coverage here).

This speculative bubble (see also this interesting article in Swiss Le Temps) is thus also a political bubble: invited yesterday at Seasons’ country club in the Gerana compound along Alexandria Desert Road, a friend and I joked how far that place was from the spirit of Tahrir. Maybe Koshary weren’t wrong after all:  

In an admirable effort to end class segregation in Egypt, residential compounds in El Sheikh Zayed City have united their borders and declared themselves an independent nation. The name of the new country on the western outskirts of Cairo is yet to be announced, though rumours suggest the contending names are Eliteland, Etiquettestan, and the more descriptive République des Villas et Piscines.

And now, Morocco

The revolutionary ignition of the Arab world initiated by the Tunisian revolution and fueled further by the extraordinary Egyptian revolution is a fact, as much as a sceptic like me would like to tone down the enthusiasm. Forget the diversions around the role of social media or the shameless fear-mongering about the role played – or not – by islamist movements, whether it be Ennahda in Tunisia or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. These are mere side attractions. The main factor at play here is psychological – the sudden recognition among the people that they can actually change their situation. Previous protests in Morocco since 1999 have been marginal, save the popular marches in 2000 for – and against – the reform of family law on March 12, 2000 (I’ll leave aside the very substantial popular protests against the Israeli 2002 offensive in Palestine and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which drew millions of protesters across Morocco). The 2000 pro- and anti-Moudawana reform protests were however limited in scope and did not touch the overall political situation or equilibrium.

Since then, Morocco has sometimes experienced very localised popular protests – Sefrou in 2007, Sidi Ifni in 2008 and Laayoune last November spring to mind. These protests, although prompted by universal ills (unemployment, lack of housing, protests against abuse of power), have all been geographically limited – manifestations of solidarity mainly took place on the cyberspace, save for the usual AMDH solidarity protests in front on the Parliament building in Rabat.

What is moving the protesters? Well, it’s not as though Moroccans lack cause for protests against their ruler(s). While the UNDP’s human development index has improved slightly (Morocco ranks a lowly 114th, up though from 124th in 2005) , Morocco’s achievements are still abysmal. On the political front, the initial moves towards deepening liberalisation taken under King Mohammed VI’s first few years on the throne have now long stalled, and the régime is in full reverse gear. The Palace’s smothering control of the political and parliamentarian scene has made partisan politics irrelevant, while the cronyism of close associates to the King (Fouad Ali el Himma, de facto leader of  upwardly mobile Parti authenticité et modernité (PAM) a.k.a. « the King’s shadow« , or Mounir Majidi, in charge of the Palace’s ever increasing economic and financial interests) fuels cynicism, disillusion and anger. The absolute fraud that is Morocco’s judiciary merely compounds the twin problems of corruption and repression that have beset Morocco since independence.

Reading the little that’s left of independent media, plus the much freer social networks and blogosphere, disillusion seems to have spread, trickling down into foreign media reports and marring the undeservedly positive image initially created around King Mohammed VI. While this disillusion is definitely a minority taste in Morocco today, the revolutionary wildfire that has spread has put at the forefront an issue most people would have thought reserved to the ravings and musings of bloggers and human rights activists: constitutional reform.

Morocco’s successive constitutions have invariably been granted – « constitution concédée » as they say in French – by the King, with no input from elected representatives of the people. The low legal quality of Morocco’s Constitution, in substantial terms, is worsened by the very little respect paid to it by the executive and the judiciary. Except for article 19, which sets out the King’s special standing as « Amir al muminin » (« Commander of the Faithful« ), the rest of this shoddy constitutional text is of no or little import to Morocco’s political or legal life. Among the protesters’ claim is therefore a demand that an assembly be elected to draft a new Constitution, to be then adopted – or not – by referendum. The last time this demand was at the forefront was prior to the widely decried 1962 constitutional referendum – radical constitutional reform, with severe curtailment of executive (and royal) power and strong guarantees for civil liberties and judicial independence.

The stagnation affecting domestic politics is rendered more difficult by the stark slide in Morocco’s international standing: while Morocco is now entirely absent from the Arab and Middle Eastern scene, the Sahara dispute is still ongoing, with no final issue at hand. The official chatter surrounding Morocco’s autonomy plan has remained just talk, with no concrete steps being taken to move decisively on a final settlement allowing for this territory to be internationally recognised as part of Morocco while being granted the widest autonomy – and the Gdim Izik (Laayoune) riots last November should really be seen as a last warning shot.

And I haven’t even mentioned the economic situation, with ever-growing trade unbalance, unemployment, and tepid growth (Egypt has had higher growth the last few years than Morocco)…

But none of this is really new – so why all the fuss over the planned February 20 protests? Simply because it has now dawned on Arab peoples that they no longer have to consider dictatorship as a fact of life. There is no reason why this spreading realisation would not reach Morocco – and the fact that trade-unions, islamists, leftists, facebookers, bloggers and even a royal prince have expressed support for the protests speaks volume, and is a substantial departure from earlier protests, either of a local or a partisan nature. There’s a substantial difference though – contrary to Tunisia and Egypt, and maybe Libya, there is simply no discernable popular traction for a régime change implying an overthrow of the monarchy or of the King – the only public supporters of republicanism in Morocco I have heard of are leftist Abdellah Zaazaa and islamist Nadia Yassine, none of whom have actually tried to act on their ideas. The objectives of the February 20 protestsaren’t timid though: democracy and democratic institutions are the aim, whether the head of state be called king or president, something to which I am personally indifferent (I’ve found last year’s republican trend among Swedish talking and writing classes – contemporaneous with Princess Victoria’s wedding – to be an impressive exercise in collective futility and sterile posturing).

I therefore personally support this day of protest, which I hope will mark a decisive stage in the democratisation of Morocco: this is our country, the rulers only rule because we let them – never ever let them forget that.

For updates on the February 20 protests, look here:

– Issandr el Amrani has clever posts on the protests, here and here;

– The Guardian’s Giles Tremlett: « Morocco protests will test regime’s claims to liberalism« ;

– The official February 20 Facebook group;

– On Twitter, follow @mamfakinch and @Hisham_G 

– An independent Moroccan newsportal is devoted to the event – Mamfakinch (also on Facebook)

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