Despite a series of setbacks in Egypt’s courts in 2009, the Popular Campaign to Prevent the Export of Egyptian Natural Gas vowed to continue its opposition to the sale of gas, especially to Israel.
The campaign had claimed a victory at the tail end of 2008 when the Cairo Administrative Court ruled in November of that year that exporting natural gas to Israel could not be done without parliamentary approval and ordered a halt.
The government immediately appealed the ruling, along with 30 independent lawyers who filed six motions to repeal the verdict. The government was successful, and in February the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that gas exports could continue.
The campaign appealed the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision. Its head, former diplomat Ibrahim Yousri, told Daily News Egypt at the time, “We are resorting to legal methods, but we cannot ascertain the outcome. It depends on the judges who will be hearing the case and the intentions of the government. Don’t forget, the government does not heed decisions they don’t want to heed.
Campaign spokesman Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat said at the time that the verdict was “a huge shock [and] a new violation of the country’s interests [as well as] the will of the Egyptian people.
“While the campaign announces its complete respect to the rulings of the court, which is something the government had ignored before, we will continue our campaign through cases brought to the State Council, he had added.
Egypt’s natural gas is exported to Israel via the Egyptian/Israeli consortium Egyptian Mediterranean Gas (EMG), a private energy consortium co-owned by businessman Hussein Salem and the Israeli Merhav Group. The gas is being exported to the Israeli Electric Company.
The deal was struck in a memorandum of understanding signed in 2005 between the two countries. The contract was initially to last for 15 years, guaranteeing a supply of 1.7 billion cubic meters a year at the price of $1.5 per million BTU (British Thermal Units).
A main reason for the creation of the campaign opposed to the export of gas was the extremely favorable prices offered in the deal; at the time gas started pumping to Israel, world prices had reached $15 per million BTU.
In April, the campaign suffered another legal setback when the Cairo Court for Urgent Cases also ruled for overturning the initial Administrative Court decision to ban the export of gas.
The Urgent Cases Court ruled that the export solely fell under the jurisdiction of the state, and neither the courts nor parliament could interfere.
Furthermore, it was reported in July that a new 17-year deal had been signed between Egypt and Israel. The deal had been struck in 2007 and this time EMG would be supplying the gas to the Israeli company Dorad Energy.
The terms of the new deal stipulated the supply of around 12.5-16 billion cubic meters of gas to Dorad Energy over a period of 17-22 years at a cost of $2.1-3.3 billion.
The new deal was labeled “provocation by the campaign. Ibrahim Zahran, a petroleum expert for the campaign, told Daily News Egypt at the time, “Why are we subsidizing the Israeli consumer? How is that in our interest?
Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel waded into the controversy surrounding the sale of gas to Israel when he said in July that it was religiously forbidden and called for a complete economic boycott.
The Egyptian government and Ministry of Petroleum has always maintained that it sells the gas to EMG, and is not involved in the direct supply of gas to Israel.
“You cannot support a country that fights Islam and Muslims and occupies the land of Palestine. In fact you must cut all economic ties with it, Wasel said.
In October, the campaign announced that it had obtained a copy of the Ministry of Petroleum’s budget for 2009 and stated that its deficit amounted to LE 49 billion. The campaign maintained that the main reason for the deficit was the favorable prices at which Egypt was exporting its oil and gas.
Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing the case brought about by the campaign (which is the plaintiff) and it is the final stage of the legal process. The current phase of the appellate process is hearing the case again in its entirety, rather than just ruling on the initial verdict.
The campaign has vowed to continue its efforts against the export of Egyptian gas, whether through legal channels or popular campaigns.