Selling Sharm?

With Issandr having said ‘Buy land in Sinai now!’ in the discussion of the Saudi plan to build a bridge to Sinai, I think this interesting article on British property buyers which appeared in Business Monthly in a way supports what he added: ‘if you have a well-placed uncle in the army or mukhabarat’.

Property worth up to $250millions has been snatched up by foreigners over the past three years, the article estimates, but nobody is really sure on which legal basis that has happened.

The vague wording of the decree, combined with the fact that parliament has still not got around to approving it, has left the parties concerned in a considerable state of confusion. No one is really sure whether non-Egyptians can still buy property on a freehold basis. Certainly, resorts such as Delta Sharm in the Hadaba area of the city continue to sell and resell on this basis. “Technically, a decree does not cancel a [previously existing] law, it merely gives another option,� says El Bahrawy. Other observers add that a further unwelcome consequence of the legal confusion is some officials have been demanding unwarranted fees.

LE 200

That’s good news for those business men of Egypt’s parallel economy carrying around millions of pounds (khawaga hit men pay in hard currency, I guess?). The capacity of their black suit cases could now double, as Egypt’s Central Bank is to introduce LE200 notes. (And later on even LE 500 notes).

On the lower end of Egypt’s cash economy (90% of transactions are estimated to be carried out in cash), many people would also welcome an initiative to improve the supply of SMEs with smaller denominations.

Penetration of SMEs with banking services is low, agreed, but why is it that no-one has change? If you’re the first customer at your local grocery in the early morning or the first in a fast-food outlet in the late morning hours, it takes ages for them to scrape up your change together from all employees around.

Anyways, even if banks don’t offer cash-flow services to SMEs, I think many would welcome it if shop owners found a way to keep change in their shop at the end of the day for the next morning (or bring it with them before opening), and I always wondered why they’re not doing so. Cash-flow of groceries and other shops is much higher then what you’d think.

Another consequence of the fact that SMEs/shops and banks have in so far (now many banks consider it as an opportunity for growth) largely ignored each other, is the prevalence of worn-out banknotes. It is one function of the Central Bank (via banks) to separate them out, but that doesn’t work if banks never get to see them…

(Besides that, I also don’t understand the Egyptian mentality here. Instead of fighting over it, you just pass that outworn khamza gineh right on to the next passenger (in case of taxi drivers), and everyone involved is muss less stressed. Iranians, for instance, are not at all obsessed about clean money. They just tear half-torn notes into two proper pieces and then tape them.)

Bridging Sinai and Saudi Arabia

This is an interesting project:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will next week lay the foundation stone for a $1.5 billion bridge project that will link the Kingdom to neighbouring Egypt.

The bridge will link the Sinai region of Egypt, close to the Sharm el-Sheikh resort town, to the northwest of Saudi Arabia near Ras el-Sheikh Humayd.

Two bridges will be built to span the Gulf of Aqaba and Tiran Strait, with Tiran Island used as a halfway point for the 25 km crossing.

While I generally think that more infrastructure is badly needed to support inner-Arab trade, I actually don’t think this will immediately do much good to South Sinai’s economy, which is relatively well-off thanks to its tourism resorts. (It would be the North around El Arish that needs development.) This giant project is likely to destroy more of its precious coral riffs, and certainly means more trucks shipping goods from the Kingdom to Cairo, polluting the air and further damaging already bad roads.

There are also talks between Yemen and Djibouti, by the way, to connect their countries via a bridge as well. This one is planned to carry a railway connection, which definitely should have been contemplated in case of the Sinai bridge as well. But I guess ENR is too busy with repairing all its switches and electrifying its tracks.

NYT: Denial and Democracy in Egypt

The liberal pinkos at the NYT, of all things, pick up on the closing of the CTUWS and admonish the US ambassador to Egypt for being too, er, diplomatic.

Denial and Democracy in Egypt – New York Times:

In recent weeks, Egypt’s government has further trampled the rights of its citizens, closing several branches of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, which provides much needed legal assistance to workers. This comes at a time when a growing number of government critics have been thrown in jail and on the heels of constitutional amendments that restrict rights and weaken standards for arrest and detention.

All of this somehow has escaped the Bush administration’s ambassador to Egypt who, in a recent television interview in Cairo, painted a chillingly sunny picture of President Hosni Mubarak’s government. While he acknowledged there were “some infringements and violations” of human rights, he declared himself “optimistic” about democratic progress in Egypt, adding that the judiciary and the government’s “commitment to the opinion of the common Egyptian citizen” would carry the day.

That not only contradicts reality — freedom of expression and assembly is actually diminishing — it contradicts the State Department’s latest human rights report, which says that Egypt’s rights record remains poor. Egypt’s jailed bloggers and beaten protesters can certainly attest to that.

After crackdowns weakened or destroyed so many of Egypt’s independent political organizations, democratic activists are hoping the burgeoning trade union movement will pick up the fight for democratic change. Which is why Mr. Mubarak has ordered the shuttering of the trade union centers.

With so many other things to worry about in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush also seem to have lost their earlier fervor for Egyptian democracy. Washington must warn Mr. Mubarak clearly about the costs — for Egypt’s long-term stability and its relationship with the United States — of such anti-democratic moves. Happy talk and denial just damage America’s credibility and enable more repression.

Ambassadors should have to get training to restrain from heaping free praise to regimes that don’t deserve it. One can complain about Ambassador Ricciardone’s upbeat appearances on Egyptian TV, but much more distasteful was his counterpart in Tunis’ statements a few weeks ago that Tunisia “is a model for the region.” But overall, I can’t help feeling this op-ed is soooo last year — has the NYT only now realized that the Bush administration has backpedaled on Egypt?

Birthday boy

Yesterday was Hosni Mubarak’s birthday — he turned 79. It must have been a busy day, with all those people over for work and Jimmy tying the knot. I’d say best wishes, but would just rather reproduce this birthday card printed in Egypt’s number two state daily, al-Akhbar:

My dear child,

On the celebration of your birthday, I find myself at a loss as to what kind of gift I should offer you, my most beloved child.

On this happy occasion I asked myself: Should I offer you a flower, watered with the water of the Nile, and that flourished in the embrace of the palm trees… and as I presented it to you, it took the shape of 70 million of my sons and daughters?

Or should I take the traditional course and light a candle for your birthday, and all my sons and daughters would gather round as they sang with a beautiful voice and with all their heart ‘happy birthday Mr. President’?

Shall I just plant a kiss on your forehead my beloved son?

What can I do to express my happiness on the day of your birthday… well I will recount, on this happy occasion, something precious in my mind, your long and difficult path which takes you to my heart, my memory and my feeling.

You are a powerful eagle soaring the skies… teaching my enemies lessons they cannot forget, and you protect me from the shame of defeat.

You, my beloved child, tackle the difficult issues like a noble fighter, carrying my sons and daughters to security, comfort, allowing the flower of freedom to bloom and sing the melodious tunes of democracy.

You tower above all patiently, while some of my children try to tarnish the forum of freedom, abusing the democracy which you have welcomed through doors and windows.

You have been patient with some of my children who have lost their way, and wished they could see the light. You didn’t try to silence any voice or break any pen, for the sake of freedom and democracy. You treated them like a noble knight.

I know you don’t like praise… but you are a part of me and with the rest of my sons and daughters, you are my wealth.

Happy Birthday,


[Thanks, P.]

Guardian piece on Egyptian bloggers

I had this opinion piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site about Arab and Egyptian bloggers and how they might face the ongoing security clampdown. Got so busy yesterday with work forgot to post it here! (Sorry for the slow posting these days…)

I just wanted to note, if any Egyptian bloggers feel slighted by not being mentioned, I wanted to focus on a few cases and, as much as possible, ones that could be read by non-Arabic speakers. In any case, the comments on the piece are very interesting (well, aside from the ones about Israel.)

Jordan: Newspaper banned for publishing anti-Hamas plan details

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Jordan blocks newspaper edition over story on ‘secret’ Palestinian plan

New York, April 30, 2007—Jordanian authorities should lift their ban on today’s edition of an independent paper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Fahd al-Rimawi, editor of the weekly Al-Majd, told CPJ that security agents moved Sunday to prevent printing of the edition because of a front-page story about a “secret plan” to oust the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Al-Rimawi said security officials told him they would ban the April 30 edition if he did not remove the article, The Associated Press reported. In an interview with CPJ, al-Rimawi said the issue had already been sent out for printing. Like many small tabloids in Jordan, Al-Majd is printed by larger publications that own printing presses. In this case, the leading pro-government daily Al-Rai handles Al-Majd’s printing.

The ban was triggered by Al-Majd’s publication of a purported 16-page secret plan, devised by U.S. and unnamed Arab “sides,” that would enable Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to oust the rival Hamas-led Palestinian government from power. The article, which included documents and details of the purported plan, could still be viewed late today on Al-Majd’s Web site.

Here’s the link to the article.