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What's Next in Egypt
By Micah Halpern

Wednesday July 13, 2011


The revolution in Egypt, one of many that rocked the region, came to its conclusion five months ago. And we still do not know when - or if, stability, peace or democracy will come to the country that dethroned a long time dictatorial leader and replaced him with military rule.

It is impossible to predict what will happen in Egypt in the near or in the distant future. The information we have is contradictory and confusing. The signals we are receiving both from the people and the ruling government are mixed. The only certainty is that Egypt today is a state in flux.

For example, in Egypt, for the past months, Muslims have been attacking Christians. Brutally beating them and burning their churches. And the perpetrators of the attacks are being given protection under the army.

And then, about as far to the other extreme as you can get, an official poll conducted by the government of Egypt and released by the government of Egypt shows that 67% of Egyptians want to continue the peace treaty with Israel. 67% is equal to two-thirds of the population. A small 2% of the Egyptian population wants to revise some aspects of the treaty and only 11% want to scrap it entirely. 20% would not answer the question.

The survey of 1062 people was conducted by the Cabinet Information Decision Support Center - the research arm of the Egyptian cabinet.

Significantly, this the first time we have been made privy to the inside opinion numbers of Egypt's decision makers.

Given the tensions and the rhetoric that has been emanating from Egypt since January, the solidarity with the Jewish state is the aberration, not the war against Christian countrymen.

There's more. The poll also asked Egyptians if they were willing to vote in the upcoming election. An overwhelming 87% of those asked said they will vote - as opposed to the underwhelming 18% who voted in the last election. Remember, this is an internal, official, Egyptian poll. Their poll, their numbers and their press release - not a leak intended to embarrass or weaken the government.
So should we be hopeful, or should we be worried.

Here is one more example of life and day-to-day activity in Egypt circa summer 2011: Government officials, aka guards, sit by and watch as a truck with a handful of men armed with machine guns pulls up to a natural gas pipeline relay in the Northern Sinai Peninsula.

The armed men intimidate the guards, forcing them to leave their post, and then set explosive charges on a natural gas line and blow it up. The facility is government owned and controlled.
This act of terror and sabotage took place in Bir Abid, 60 miles east of the Suez Canal. The intent was to stop Egypt from providing natural gas to Israel. It was the third attack on a gas line and the fifth attempted attack to shut down the gas flow from Egypt to Israel. But the gas from the line that services Israel does not flow exclusively to Israel - it also flows to Jordan.

There is a very vocal movement in Egypt to renegotiate the Camp David
Treaty which articulates a special relationship between Egypt and Israel and includes the natural gas provision. But here's the catch.
Israel, it turns out, was much more heavily dependent on natural gas from Egypt before January when unrest took over the country than it is today. Before January, Israel received over 35% of its natural gas needs from Egypt, since the uprising Israel has weaned itself off Egyptian natural gas and Egypt now provides only 12% to 15% of their gas. That number, too, is dropping.

Jordan, however, has not found creative alternatives. Jordan remains 85% dependent on Egypt for natural gas. Damaging the pipeline to Israel hurts the Arabs of Jordan significantly more than it hurts the Jews of Israel.

To complicate matters even more, the line that was blown up was not the correct line. The destroyed line, according to a highly knowledgeable source, was an internal natural gas line.

In Egypt today there is general acceptance of the status quo. There are some very vocal and very well organized groups who want to change that status. On the one hand the government and the army is neither interfering in those plans nor stopping the organizers from putting their plans into action. On the other hand, the government itself is initiating actions that indicate a willingness, at least, to test the waters of democracy and stability.

The pipe line situation is a perfect metaphor for Egypt today. The stations are obvious targets. They need to be shorn up and better secured. They need to be secured because it is in Egypt's best interest to do so. It is in the interest of regional affairs and it is in the interest of a healthy and viable economy. By not securing their pipelines, the Egyptians are sending a message to all foreign investors that Egypt is insecure and that investment is risky and unreliable.

I am certain that the army can control the situation. I am not certain that they want to control the situation. That difference frightens me.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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