BDS in Egypt

Activists in Egypt organized a historic effort to bring boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to a new generation, reports Noura Khouri. Original article appeared in Socialist Worker: ‘Bringing BDS to Egypt’

October 1, 2012 

CAIRO HELD its first official boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event in Egypt at the independent media center Mosireen [1] on August 27, a critical first step in challenging the government’s continuing economic relations with Israel and building solidarity with Palestine.

BDS campaigns in Europe and the U.S. have grown considerably over the past seven years, but such campaigns have been slow to take off in the Arab world, where governments and the economic elite also profit from relations with Israel. Although popular hostility toward Israel is widespread among Egyptians, the Egyptian government is one of only two Arab countries, alongside Jordan, to maintain official trade relations with Israel.

The ferment unleashed by the Egyptian Revolution has included strong shows of solidarity with the Palestinians and demonstrations against Israel’s diplomatic presence in Egypt. Protests in Cairo forced the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in March 2012, and protesters twice pulled down the flag at the Israeli embassy.

Historically, there has been a deep reservoir of support among Egyptians for their dispossessed Palestinian brothers and sisters, but decades of Egyptian government propaganda[2] deliberately sought to undermine this identification in order to deflect the class resentments of ordinary Egyptians away from the regime and onto Palestinian scapegoats.

For example, the Egyptian regime has attempted to pin the blame for gas and electricity shortages in Egypt on the diversion of these resources to Gaza. Egyptians are regularly exposed to negative stereotypes of Palestinians, who are cast as “thieves” to be held responsible for their own plight.

The shocking reality is that despite their shared suffering at the hands of Zionism and U.S. imperialism, many Palestinians and Egyptians do not know each other politically, socially or culturally. Bringing BDS to Egypt represents an opportunity to bridge this gap and find intersections between the struggle in Egypt and Palestine.

LONGTIME EGYPTIAN journalist and Palestine solidarity activist Lina Attalah opened the event by noting the lack of a sustained solidarity movement in Egypt.

There have been a number of attempts to launch a localized version of BDS in Egypt, targeting major corporations such as Starbucks and McDonalds. While these initiatives took off initially, they did not have a sustained movement behind them and were therefore limited in their potential. Since those early efforts, BDS has become a widespread international campaign, and some key victories have propelled it forward.

Zaid Shuaibi, a member of the BDS National Committee (BNC)[3] in Palestine, came from Ramallah for the meeting. Shuaibi outlined the history and importance of BDS and provided detailed examples of successful campaigns in Europe. He discussed the case of Agrexco, which was a partially state-owned Israel export company “responsible for the export of a large proportion of fresh Israeli produce, including 60-70 percent of the agricultural produce grown in Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.”

In October 2011, following a campaign that spanned more than 15 countries over the course of six years, Agrexco entered into liquidation [4]. The campaign against the company was one of the major factors behind its collapse. “The company has now re-formed, but is no longer the dominant player that it once was,” Shuaibi noted.

Shuaibi also discussed Veolia and Alstom [5], two French multinational companies helping build and operate the Jerusalem Light Rail project. The Light Rail links illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and is “designed to literally cement Israel’s grip on the illegal settlements and tie them more firmly into the state of Israel,” according to a statement by Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS.

As a result of the global campaign, financial institutions across Europe sold their shares in the two companies, and public authorities in the UK, France, Sweden, Australia and beyond have excluded them from bidding on public contracts. In late 2010 and early 2011, Veolia and Alstom both announced that they would sell their shares in the Jerusalem Light Rail. So far, these companies have lost billions of dollars in contracts throughout Europe because of their involvement in this illegal project.

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AFTER LISTING some of the successes of the BDS movement, the discussion turned to the Egyptian context, where since the revolution business dealings with the Zionist state have grown considerably. In 2011 alone, exports from Israel to Egypt grew 60 percent to $236 million [6].

The chief vehicle for the increasingly close economic cooperation between Israel and Egypt is the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs). Companies located within QIZs are granted duty-free access to U.S. markets, provided that Israeli raw materials make up at least 11.7 percent of inputs. When they were initially established in 2005, there were seven QIZs hosting 397 companies. Today, there are “over 15 currently designated industrial zones, with nearly 700 qualified companies, and more qualifying each quarter, producing more than $1 billion [in goods] annually,” according to Egyptian government statistics [7].

One of the main companies to profit from this relationship is G4S [8], which has offices in the Nile Towers and handles security equipment and services for use at checkpoints, illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and Israeli prisons. G4S is also involved in privatized policing, detention and deportation in Egypt itself.

The company staffs 5,000 “private security” guards [9] in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout Egypt. G4S’s aggressions against the poor and jobless residents of Egypt’s al-Boulaq slum [10] poignantly illustrate how Egyptians and Palestinians alike suffer from some of the same tools of repression.

The QIZs are notorious for the awful conditions their workers face. Workers in QIZ factories earn less than workers elsewhere in Egypt, and women workers contend daily with sexual abuse and rape [11]. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party formally opposed the QIZs prior to coming power, but now its highest members of government publicly state they have no intention of ending the QIZ arrangement [12].

Because of the massive profits that accrue to Egypt’s wealthy from the QIZs [13], it will take a determined campaign by Egyptian workers and civil society to put an end to this naked collaboration of the Egyptian government with Israel.

On the issue of Egyptian Citizens traveling to occupied Palestine and Normalization

The evening included a heated discussion of the commonly held belief among Egyptians that they should not travel to or visit occupied Palestinian territory for fear of “normalizing” relations with Israel. This dynamic contributes to and exacerbates the lack of relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian peoples and is an obstacle to be overcome.

In closing remarks, Shuaibi reiterated the importance of understanding the true meaning of “normalization.” The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) defines normalization as:

the participation in any project, initiative or activity, in Palestine or internationally, that aims (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians (and/or Arabs) and Israelis (people or institutions) without placing as its goal resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.

But activities that place resistance to Israeli occupation at the forefront are a different matter entirely. Organizers hope this event is the first step in closer relations and a sustained BDS campaign in Egypt. Such a movement would be a powerful tool to assist Egyptian civil society in bringing about a just economic system for its own people as well as its Palestinian neighbors.

By the end of the night, everyone left with a better understanding of BDS, how it can undermine economic trade that supports Israeli apartheid, and how the struggle for justice in Egypt is linked to the struggle for justice in Palestine–and for all of us.

Did you know:

  •   In 2005, Egypt signed a trade agreement called the Qualifying Industrial Zone (QIZ) to do business with Israel.
  •   QIZ grants Egyptian clothing manufacturers zero-tariff access to the American market as long as they use at least 11.7 per cent Israeli materials.
  •   Around 500 factories are said to operate under this agreement.
  •   New joint economic projects between the two countries, are continuously growing, according to an AFP report.
  •   Egypt’s minister of trade/foreign industry Mahmoud Eissa told reporters that Egypt received US & Israeli approval to expand QIZ projects to Upper Egypt.
  •   Turnover from current QIZ projects amounted to $1.3 billion in 2011
  •   According to the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute, there were 117 exporters to Egypt active in Israel in 2011. Exports of goods from Israel   to  Egypt grew by 60% last year, to $236 million. The Export Institute attributes the steep rise to a dramatic rise in Egyptian demand for Israeli chemicals, mainly agricultural fertilizers.
  • Israelis see business ties with Egypt continuing and growing Israel Export Institute chairman Ramzi Gabbay: The current situation is simply too good for both sides.
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The “Lawless” Sinai and Israel’s Biblical Pipedream

The latest chapter in Egyptian political drama is set in the ‘lawless Sinai’, or ‘Wild Wild West’ as it’s also called – and took front and center stage this week. The murder mystery, also known as the “Ramadan Massacre”, which killed 16 Egyptian soldiers came complete with a showdown of political rivals, Arab/Muslim extremists and riveting plot twists, has all its viewers at the edge of our seats, and is far more fascinating than any Hollywood blockbuster.

In typical fashion of any good political drama, the absolute lack of evidence did not prevent mud slinging by political rivals, followed by a variety of conspiracy theories, and those with the most entrenched interests trading accusations. The lack of clear evidence, gave all the political parties the green light to throw around their opinions of who was responsible, and of course the parrot media followed with their rein of articles, and within minutes officials blew up the internet, blogosphere and social media sites speculating about events and reporting them as facts–thus utterly confusing the public. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas blamed Israel’s Mossad, and Israel blamed militants from Gaza and within hours the borders were shut, the notorious travel ban was enacted and the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians, was intensified. The Egyptian army then deployed troops to respond to the situation and media reports spread widely, announcing that 20 insurgents had been killed. But the initial report was never confirmed, and it has become clear now that it was almost certainly false.

President Morsi did not disappoint and proved to be a (news) worthy actor. In a move deserving of an Academy Award, he created for his presidency a triple win scenario. By reshuffling key positions and appointments, he removed the much hated Field Marshal Tantawi from his position-thus averting a showdown with the Egyptian street, and provided him a dignified exit strategy by making him an adviser in his cabinet and decorated him with the country’s most prestigious honor, pleasing the high level military brass which to everyone’s surprise, did not even utter a word of disagreement..and in the end – consolidating his Presidential powers.

So, who’s to blame

With it still unclear as to who was responsible, and evidence unlikely to be forthcoming – what’s clear across the board, is that the killing of the army officials was a complete military disaster. Yet, the security failure should not be seen as the shortcomings of the Egyptian army alone. The incoming government, inherited a legacy of lawlessness which began in 1979 as a result of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. According to he “Security annex of Camp David accords Egypt can not have army officers or soldiers in the areas, only police and lately borders guards with light arms and armored vehicles.” . This was the first time since 1967, the Egyptian Air Forces sent its planes from air fighters like F16 and helicopters to the area. Today, there are said to be approximately 1,500 ‘extremist’ groups in the lawless territory, now the big question is, WHO will be able to control the situation and prevent future attacks.

When viewed in the above light, it seems that the most logical question is if the goal of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel is truly to secure the troubled region, limiting its military presence from their mutual ‘borders’, would seem a rather foolish policy. The Bedouin community has been warning Egypt of the growing danger on its border for many years:

”but no one listened to us,” the Sheikh said in reference to yesterday’s raid by a jihadist commando on an Egyptian border patrol barracks, which left 16 soldiers dead. The situation might drive Israel to occupy parts of northern Sinai, especially the el-Arish border access points, al-Maniei said. An Israeli military spokesman yesterday called the Sinai ”a great hothouse for the flowering of international terrorism.” And in that vacuum, you’re starting to see and residents complained that Islamist militants are finding a home. And they say a lot of the tribes up there that we spoke to in light of recent events are saying we’ve been begging for help, we’ve been begging for security, but the army hasn’t responded.1

Still, the barrage of analysts and commentators fail to ask the most important questions – such as, what is the history of ‘extremism’ in the region? Who are the groups present – what are their objectives, where are they from, and what are their ideologies? And, perhaps most importantly – why/were they allowed to flourish, unchecked for decades when violence and ‘terror’ was a easily foreseeable outcome.

If Securing the Sinai isn’t the Goal, then What is?

Since clear evidence as to who was responsible for the “Ramadan massacre” may never be forthcoming – as with any murder mystery, a good detectives strategy is to uncover motive. To analyze the motive, we can look first look at the fall out, of which three major policy developments have resulted. The first is the ever increasing and tightening of the illegal siege of Gaza, the second is the ‘major shakedown’ of the top military brass and key cabinet positions – and the third was the (at least limited/temporary) increase in the military’s presence. The first and second serve to uphold the status quo, which the Egyptian government was under attack for upholding (following which, now public criticism has largely disappeared). For the final fall out, of who will control the troubled region, long term – is perhaps the most important question of all.

Recent and regular statements made by Israeli officials, reflect that of former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt,  Zvi Mazel, who following the attack stated: “If terrorism continues from Sinai to Gaza or from Sinai directly to Israel or from Sinai-Gaza-Israel, at a certain time at a certain point Israel will be forced to act, even to penetrate into Sinai, and it may change everything.”  this standpoint, the whole charade begins to become much clearer to understand. This is why most outside observers conclude that none of the ‘extremist’ or other suspected groups had anything to gain by such an operation, besides Israel.

Map of “Greater Israel” Published by Radical Settler Movement

Israel’s declaration of independence, on May 14, 1948, makes no mention of the new state’s borders; it vaguely declares “the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” Eretz-Israel is a Biblical term meaning the “Land of Israel,” the borders of which are variedly defined in Scripture. A maximalist interpretation would extend it from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Here, the Israeli settler movement published what it calls “the map of greater Israel.” Israel’s borders in the map include the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. You can see the map here.

“The settler movement quoted Rabbi Avrom Shmulevic of the Bead Artzein (“For the Homeland”) Movement as saying, “The process of national revival of the Jewish people is irreversible and has its internal logic. We shall have no peace as long as the whole territory of the country of Israel will not return under Jewish control. This might sound too hard, but such is the logic of history. The war on the Holy Land has been already fought for 4,000 years and the end cannot be seen. A stable peace will come only then, when Israel will return to itself all its historical lands, and will thus control both the Suez and the Ormudz channel. The state will find at last its geostrategic completeness. We must remember that Iraqi oil fields too are located on the Jewish land. This may seem utopia to many now – but an even greater utopia seemed a hundred years ago the revival of the Jewish state…If you want it, this will not be a fairy tale.”

Once we remove the theatrics of so called experts, commentators and analysts, and focus on the basis and substance to which these attacks and expected responses by all the players, we can see the clear theme in place. This biblical pipe dream is in no way an unlikely goal, according to every Israeli leaders fantasy. Still pragmatism aside, there is every reason to believe zionists will risk everything to see just how far they can take it.  So before the charade carries on any further, someone needs to yell “Cut!” and ask ourselves how we can contribute to returning Egypt back to its original owners, the Egyptian people.

1) Kidnapper: Why I nabbed two Americans in Egypt’s Sinai – The recent kidnappings in Egypt’s Sinai are not motivated by religious extremism or a desire for money, but a desperate desire to make the government listen to a marginalized group. Christian Science Monitor -By Kristen Chick, Correspondent / July 17, 2012

The Global March to Jerusalem calls for a global movement to save Jerusalem


The Global March to Jerusalem joins the voices of concern in Jerusalem, Palestine and, indeed, the world over, about the latest as well as consequent threats to the al-Aqsa Masjid and the Dome of the Rock, as well as the Haram Sharif in Jerusalem and the policy of “Judaisation” that the Zionist leadership is pursuing with the explicit intent of removing Muslim, Christian, Arab and all other traces of non-Jewish history, culture, religion, archaeology and demography from the city of Jerusalem and all other areas under Zionist control.

Over the course of the last months in particular, the Zionists, with their backing of the regime and its Military Occupation Forces, have made many forays onto the Haram Sharif. On 9th of August, we fear a possible showdown with disastrous consequences, where the fanatical Zionists will invade the Haram Sharif and even attempt to destroy the two Masjids. Thus acting now is really a matter of grave urgency for the world.

The latest incidents include a statement by the Zionist government’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on 17th of July 2012 that the al-Aqsa Masjid is on Israeli territory and subject to Israeli sovereignty! The statement included no recognition of the special status of waqf (Islamic charitable trust) lands, or of the religious authorities governing such lands.

According to Islamic Movement deputy head Shaikh Kamal al-Khatib, the Zionist-controlled Municipality of Jerusalem also recently declared the open spaces of the al-Aqsa compound to be public areas, which means they have the same status as any park areas in the city and are therefore accessible to all with or without the control of al-Aqsa authorities. This has enabled Knesset members and other Zionist advocates of demolishing the Muslim holy sites to force their way onto the compound during Ramadan with the protection of armed Zionist forces, and display Israeli flags as part of rituals intended to further their project to destroy the historic Muslim sites and replace them with a Jewish temple complex (see illustration).

While enabling the presence of Zionist extremists bent upon destruction, the armed forces also removed around twenty nighttime worshipers on 25th July, the 6th day of Ramadan, including al-Aqsa Imam Shaikh Yusuf Abu Sneina, who was detained for an unspecified period of time. Until now no explanation for this action has been given. A similar incident took place again on 29th July (10 Ramadan), according to al-Aqsa authorities, with two persons being seized.

The Zionist authorities are now preventing Palestinian men between the ages of 12 to 40 from making the Ramadan pilgrimage to al-Aqsa Masjid. They have have also resumed their demolition of the historic Al-Magharibah Bridge, work which many fear will undermine the Masjid’s foundation. And finally, Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad has ruthlessly called for al-Aqsa Masjid to be “cut up” and moved to make way for the so-called Third Temple, which he threatens will be built soon.

All of the these actions are not only shameful and discriminatory against non-Jews but also violations of international law, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18).

These latest actions are part of the coordinated policy called “Judaisation” by the Zionist authorities. It includes the burning and defacing of Christian churches, the expulsion of Christian and Muslim Palestinians from the city of Jerusalem and from their homes throughout Palestine, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the confiscation of property, the denial of building permits, and many other forms of deliberate ethnic cleansing. This policy of Judaisation is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) on the rights of peoples living under occupation as well as dozens of resolutions of the United Nations censuring the Zionist state.

Israeli Occupation authorities have now initiated steps toward the transfer of Palestinian neighbourhoods, located east of the Apartheid Wall to the responsibility of the Israeli Occupying Forces. In addition, historic Palestinian archaeological treasures dating back up to two thousand years have been demolished and covered with new structures for the purpose of effacing most of the history of Palestine, which is predominantly Muslim and Christian Arab in culture and religion. The latest examples of this malicious policy are the ongoing construction of a Jewish “Museum of Tolerance” on the religious and historic Ma’manillah cemetery, which dates back to the 7th century and where the companions of the Prophet Mohammad and thousands of the righteous, officials, scholars, notables and Jerusalemite families have been buried, as well as the destruction of palaces from the Umayyad period near al-Aqsa in the Old City.

In this destruction of Christian heritage, the extremists Christian Zionists are as culpable in this crime as are the Jewish Zionists. We affirm that Christian Zionism is a blot on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the compassionate message of the Bible. The sacred Christian sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity themselves are under similar threat as well.

In the absence of the world’s governments to take swift and decisive action we call upon all the peoples of the world to join the effort to prevent the “Judaisation” of Jerusalem and the destruction of the al-Aqsa Masjid. The Global March to Jerusalem strongly condemns this Zionist project in Palestine, the explicit purpose of which is to erase the overwhelmingly Arab indigenous culture, history and language. We believe that a global movement in support of Palestinian rights and objectives is needed in order to stop this form of ethnic and cultural genocide and to restore the human rights of the people of Palestine, and especially the inalienable right of all Palestinians to return to their homes.

GMJ-International Executive Committee
August 8th 2012


For more information please call the spokesman of the GMJ “Mr. Zaher Birawi” on mobile No.             00447850896057       or visit our website: