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Germany signs $43m gas deal with Egypt despite appalling human rights crisis

Leviathan gas field [Wikipedia]
Leviathan gas field [Wikipedia]

Egypt has signed a new oil and gas exploration deal with the German company Wintershall DEA with minimum investments of $43 million, according to the state-run Al-Ahram.

Under the terms of the deal Wintershall will explore oil and gas in the East Damanhour Bloc in the Nile Delta.

Since his rise to power Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has pledged to kickstart the economy by attracting foreign investments through its oil sector after investors pulled out following the 2011 revolution.

In December last year the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek Al-Molla said that since 30 June 2013 – when the country’s first democratically elected civilian President, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown – Egypt has made 103 petroleum agreements.

Egypt’s desperation for foreign investment has meant oil giants are securing highly favourable deals. In 2015 BP secured a deal to sell 100 per cent of the gas produced from two offshore blocks in Egypt, despite the fact that the traditional foreign investor’s share is 20-30 per cent.

Former Egyptian MP Hatem Azzam has previously estimated that BP’s deal cost the Egyptian people some $32 billion.

European countries have been criticised for pursuing deals in the gas sector regardless of the violations that are taking place in Egypt.

READ: Egypt and Italy in talks on $9.8bn arms deal

Some 60,000 political prisoners are in jail where they are systematically tortured and denied appropriate health care.

Applying economic pressure on Egypt and conditioning foreign investment on human rights would be effective leverage and is an issue that is constantly raised by activists.

In January, when Al-Sisi visited the UK as lead speaker at the African investment conference, protesters urged the government to raise the issue of human rights with its ally.

The Italian gas giant Eni was developing the largest gas field in the Mediterranean, Zohr, with Egypt when the Italian student Giulio Regeni was tortured to death and dumped on the Cairo-Alexandria road.

The Zohr gas field is worth around $6.4 billion to Eni.

Despite the fact that Italy initially withdrew its ambassador from Egypt following Regeni’s death, a replacement was sent just a year later.

At the time, Luigi Manconi, former president of the human rights commission in the Italian senate, told Al Jazeera: “An economic relationship like that which Eni is pledging to Egypt and Egypt is pledging Eni, although we may dislike it, is infinitely more powerful than the death of a 28-year-old Italian.”

Focus on the Italian-Egyptian relationship has resurfaced this week after news that Egypt detained and is torturing an Egyptian master’s student, Patrick Zaki, who is studying at the University of Bologna in northern Italy.

Some analysts have said Italy is using the political pressure placed on it by rights activists to cool relations with Egypt, to secure better deals with the north African country.

READ: Egypt and Italy in talks on $9.8bn arms deal

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