Monday, April 23, 2012

Egypt Cancels Gas Deal with Israel

This post comes in light of reports that this same gas line has again been attacked today. This makes it the 15th attack on the pipeline this year alone. Some reports indicate that the Bedouin residents in the Sinai continue to carry out these acts in an attempt to urge the Egyptian government to release Bedouin prisoners the state has deemed "terrorists." Other reports place blame on al-Qaeda elements in the Sinai and the frequency of the attacks indicate that al-Qaeda's presence in the area continues to grow.

Regardless of whom is at fault, it was only a matter of time for the continued disruptions and consequent political tensions to take their toll.

This report is from Al-Ahram.

Photo: Reuters

Egypt has unilaterally terminated its natural gas export contract with Israel, a shareholder in the export operating company, East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), said Sunday night.

Ampal-American Israel Corporation, which owns a 12.5 per cent stake in EMG, announced in a statement that it had been notified by EMG that Egypt was ending the Gas Supply and Purchase Agreement between the two parties.

“Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation [EGPC] and the [state-run] Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company [EGAS] notified EMG that they were terminating the Gas Supply and Purchase Agreement between the parties,” the Ampal statement read.

The company added that "EMG considers the termination attempt unlawful and in bad faith, and consequently demanded its withdrawal," noting that EMG, Ampal and EMG's other shareholders were "considering their options and legal remedies as well as approaching the various governments."

In initial reactions by Israeli government officials to Egypt's decision,Yoval Steinietz, the Israeli minister of finance, expressed deep concern towards Cairo's unilateral decision.
Steinietz told Radio Israel that the decision carries serious political and economic implications for the Camp David peace accords.

Meanwhile, Shaul Mofaz, the Knesset opposition leader, described Egypt's decision as a possible breach of the Camp David accords, and called on the United States, as a broker of the peace treaty between the two countries, to immediately take a clear stand.

However, Mohamed Shoeib, the CEO of EGAS, told Egyptian satellite CBC news on Sunday evening: "The decision we took was economic and not politically motivated. We cancelled the gas agreement with Israel because they have failed to meet payment deadlines in recent months."

Egypt's Mubarak-era gas deal with Israel has been fenced with controversy since its inception.

Some critics accused the ousted Egyptian strongman of selling the gas to Israel at below international prices, thus depriving the Egyptian economy of badly needed funds.

Mubarak is currently on trial, facing charges of conspiring with fugitive businessman Hussein Salem to export gas to Israel at below market prices.

Former minister of petroleum, Sameh Fahmy, as well as other former Egyptian officials are also on trial because of the prices stipulated in the gas deal with Israel.
Egyptian courts are yet to rule in the two cases.

For their part, however, Israeli officials repeated at several occasions that the price they pay for natural gas is better than other regional exporters receive and is in line with international prices.

Other critics have decried what they describe as government complicity in financially supporting Israel's war on the Palestinians.

Egyptian authorities announced plans in November 2011 to step up pipeline security with the installation of alarm systems and security patrols carried out by local Bedouin tribesmen.
Israel, which depends on Egyptian natural gas for 40 per cent of its energy needs, has been adversely impacted by the repeated interruption of gas supplies resulting from frequent attacks on the north Sinai pipeline since last year's revolution.

The pipeline transporting Egyptian gas to Israel and Jordan has been rocked by 14 explosions – by unknown assailants – since the January 25 2011 uprising that led to the ouster of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak.

Previous explosions have resulted in weeks-long supply stoppages of the pipeline run by Gasco, an EGAS subsidiary.

Supply has been halted since a previous attack on 5 February 2012. The last attack took place on 9 April.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the pipeline, which transverses an increasingly restive Sinai Peninsula. 

The 20-year natural gas deal signed between Israel and Egypt in 2005 has been a pillar of Egyptian-Israeli economic cooperation following the historic 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
Over the course of the last decade, Egypt has become a key natural gas producer, developing gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea. It began exporting liquid natural gas (LNG) in early 2005 to Israel as well as Jordan and Spain.

Missing People Egypt

In light of the recent spate of kidnappings and disappearances, residents in Hurghada decided enough was enough. One of the largest problems facing such incidents is a lack of any real time updates or one generalized location to find the latest information. Finally this has come to an end, with the creation of the Facebook Page "Missing People Egypt."

Already with the help of this page, one missing individual has been located. The hopes is that through resident connectivity and a grassroots movement the rising stem of kidnapping can be halted.

For more information check out the FB page. 

Where To Go - Elite

Summer's just around the corner, and we all know what that means! The eternal search (for me at least) to find decent swimwear in Egypt. I'm usually plagued by a variety of problems, ranging from inadequate sizing, cheap manufacturing, extremely over-priced, or just shoddy selections. Each year I begin the search for a location that has affordable bikinis that are good quality, and finally this year my search is over!

Elite is a store that offers swimwear for men, women, and children. What makes them unique is not only that they focus solely on the actual sale of bathing suits, but that the large variety and affordable prices ensure you will find what you are looking for.

The staff in the small store are exceptionally friendly, and speak fluent English. The girl who was helping me was ready and willing to provide real customer service, the lack of which is a common gripe of mine in Egypt! She helped me find multiple bikinis that not only fit, they looked great too. K even got in on the 'action' and bought himself new trunks for under $30.

Elite is located across from Elyssess Dream Beach, on the Sheraton Road running alongside the Marriott Hotel. Find swimwear ranging from 150 LE up to 300 LE, but rest assured that the store offers discounts of anywhere from 10 - 30 %.

For more information contact Elite on 012 218 66 40 OR 012 447 59 24.

Happy Shopping! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Child Kidnapping on the Rise?

In the past few days, I have heard of three separate incidences in Hurghada of a child being kidnapped. A parents worst nightmare, the apparent increase is prompting many residents to question what is going on. Parents are advising not to allow children out into the streets to play, to avoid certain areas, and to never leave your children out of your sight.

Last April, headlines in Egypt were dominated with the trend when the grandniece of the late Anwar al-Sadat, 12 year old Zeina Effat al-Sadat, was kidnapped. Zeina was released almost 24 hours later, following negotiations between the kidnappers and her family and a 5 million LE ransom sum paid. Her story points to the increasing trend in Egypt of kidnapping for profit. "As a sign of Egypt's deteriorating security conditions, child abductions have become an easy way for criminals to make money," security expert and former policeman Maher Zakhary told IRIN.

The family members of richer, more affluent Egyptians are being targetted with the kidnapper's sole agenda being the ransom payment. Kidnappings in and around the greater Cairo area, particularly from areas such as Heliopolis, would appear to fall into this category. But they stand out; the ransom request usually promptly follows the kidnapping.

I reported in this blog last year on the case of Soraya Dierich, who to this day remains "missing." Soraya's story is indicative of another common form of kidnapping in Egypt. The case of an Egyptian man marrying a foreign woman, bearing a child together, and once the relationship sours the man kidnaps the child and disappears. Soraya is the child of such an unfortunate situation, and was kidnapped by her father in May of 2011. Sadly the incidences of kidnappings like this are becoming so commonplace, the US Department of State has clear guidelines for parents facing these issues. Stressed in the document are Egyptian custodial laws, which will generally favor the mother if she is an Egyptian citizen, and / or Muslim. Otherwise custodial rights will often fall to the father, and in the eyes of the Egyptian legal system, he may claim the parental rights to his children. In cases like Soraya with a foreign mother, her alleged kidnapping is complicated by the fact that in the eyes of most Egyptians, the father has done nothing wrong.

But the recent spat of kidnappings in Hurghada cannot be as clearly defined as the two incidents above.

Omar, kidnapped in Hurghada
The first story surfaced on the 12th of April, with reports of 1 year old Omar being kidnapped from the popular Villages Road area. Omar's mother, an Egyptian woman, left him with a foreign woman outside the coffee shop Arabesque to take her daughter to the toilet. When she returned, Omar had disappeared without a trace. The last description of the foreign woman, as has been issued by the mother, was: "the woman that took omar has the birthmark on the right wrist. It has the shape of a coin and is dark brown. She is between 30 and 40 years old, around 170cm to 180cm tall, medium build, a little bit a long chin, dark brown hair till the shoulder. Her eyes are blue or green, she is not sure because of the red sunglasses. She was wearing a white bermuda and a pink blouse. Her daughter is around 2 years light brown hair till the shoulder. She was wearing a bleu jeans skirt and a red tshirt with yellow lines in front. The women was talking arabic with a foreign accent."

When I first read this story, my initial reaction was "how could a mother possibly leave her child with a stranger." The common reaction appears to be that women in Egypt previously had nothing to fear from leaving their children with strangers, as children are so coveted here they were generally always safe. Perhaps I'm just too cynical having grown up outside of this country to expect a stranger will safely watch my child.

It wasn't long after the story of Omar was circulated, that reports of another child's kidnapping surfaced. Snatched on the 11th of April, 7 year old Yousef Ahmad al-Sawi was taken in Hurghada. The poster below has been hung up in mosques and local supermarkets in the attempts to locate him.

Sadly when it comes to preventing or protecting children from these instances of kidnapping, strict parental vigilance is the best way forward. Hani Helal, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Coalition on Children's Rights, said "the government does not attach enough importance to the problems suffered by children. This leads to increasing violations against the children."

Helal further claimed that if the Egyptian government does not work to improve the security of children in Egypt, he will resort to the UN.

So why are these children being snatched if there isn't an obvious ransom or custodial battle being played out?  The answer it seems, is either human trafficking, sexual exploitation, trade in body organs, or criminal activity.

Such was the situation for Hayam Rabie, who's 1 year old daughter went missing after Rabie left her with neighbours while she ran errands. Upon her return, her daughter was gone without a trace. It was later uncovered that one of Rabie's neighbours had kidnapped the child. Evidence uncovered in her neighbours flat revealed blood bags, IVs, and other medical equipment, pointing to an ominous conclusion. Rabie's daughter remains missing.

Is this a new phenomenon as many media outlets are reporting? Is this really the new trend of security in Egypt in the post-revolution vacuum? While most stories are attributing this rise in kidnapping to the police's inability to do anything about it, the sadder truth may in fact be that this has been a long standing tradition, but up until recently the media has not felt the need to report on the circumstances. In previous years many of the children kidnapped were snatched from the remote and poorest areas in Egypt; their stories were just not considered newsworthy.

As Hafez Abu Saeda, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, a Cairo- based NGO, told IPS in 2009, "In most cases, children are kidnapped for use in criminal gangs - gangs of beggars, thieves or drug dealers - or for prostitution and sexual exploitation," he said. "Of course, many cases are simply children running away from home due to domestic problems, or the result of a personal vendetta - not uncommon in the Egyptian countryside."

Fediya Abu Shohba, professor of criminal law at the Cairo-based National Centre for Social and Criminal Research, agrees with Abu Saeda, and in the same article states:

"The disappearance of children has proliferated over the last five years, but has become especially acute over the course of the last year [2009]," Abu Shohba told IPS. "And when a child disappears - and doesn't come back - it usually means they have been kidnapped.

"The prevalence of the phenomenon can be attributed to several, mainly social, factors," she says. "These include an increase in the number of vulnerable children living on the street, decreasing parental care due to economic pressures, the erosion of traditional religious values, and the promotion of violence and crime by the mass media."

So although it would appear that these kidnappings are not a new and developing trend, it does not lesson the gravity of the situation. Parents are being advised to keep constant watch on their children and to never leave them unattended. A hotline has been set up to receive reports of kidnapping which they claim have risen in the post-revolution times to 6 or 7 calls a day. [Despite researching this, I have been unable to find the number for this hotline.] Preventative measures are the only way to ensure the safety of your child; only you can help stop this rising trend of kidnappings.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where to Go - Bargout

This edition of Where to Go is a chocolate lovers paradise.

As many who read my blog know, I'm a baking enthusiast (no really?! :-0) One of my dreams has been to learn how to make fondant, but there was always an elusive ingredient in the form of sugar glycerin. Fortunately, a friend of mine here runs the Hurghada "Home Made" Bakery, and I noticed her using fondant. I immediately had to ask where she was getting the stuff to make the goodies with.

Bargout is located in Dahar, about 500 metres past the Post Office, and has virtually everything you could hope to find for baking. For a country that consumes so many baked goods, finding the ingredients is nigh on impossible!!

Oh, and did I forget to mention this:

Yes ... that is all chocolate! 

A veritable smorgasbord sure to satisfy even the pickiest chocolate eater. 

Among the goodies you'll be able to find here are sugar glycerin, glucose, baking powder, food colourings, food essences (just on display was banana, pineapple, strawberry, orange, coconut...and the girl working has stock-loads more in the back), and more.

So the next time you are looking for that elusive ingredient in the supermarkets in Hurghada, be sure to check out Bargout where you're almost certain to find it! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Farewell old friend

Today, I dealt with the harsh reality of rescuing animals. Today, I said goodbye to an old friend.

Latifa was the one of a kind, only you can love, horse. She was spirited, she was stubborn. She had her days where riding was glory, she had her days you wondered why you bothered. But at the end of each and every day, I loved her.

When our paths crossed, we saved each other. Her from a life of racing the hard streets of Cairo, me from learning to leave the past behind and have the courage to start again. She gave me that courage. There was solace in knowing at the end of a long day, she would always be there with her head hanging over the edge of her box, knickering to go out into the desert and lose our heads for a few hours.

I have always carried guilt with me for leaving her behind in Cairo when I left. If I could go back now and change it, I would. Unfortunately our paths only move forward.

When I saw her photo at a local feed day, I immediately set about saving her. This morning I thought the battle was over. This morning, she was found.

If we had saved you Latifa, I would tell you I'm sorry. I'm sorry you were left alone, left as one of the forgotten horses of Cairo. I am sorry the light in your eyes dimmed and went out. I am sorry you crossed over the rainbow bridge without knowing the touch of a kind hand again.

Rest well, old friend. I will forever carry you in my heart, and walk away with the knowledge that your suffering is finally at an end. I wish I had been a few hours earlier.

Your passing was not in vain. Your passing serves as a reminder to me to at least provide a life free of suffering for those we can still help. Run free and happy on the lush grasses, where one day we will again run together. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Charity is Born

Equine welfare in Egypt is a contentious subject. Many living outside of Egypt will see pictures posted by one animal charity or the next, and remark with horror the condition that many of the horses are kept in. As a horse lover in Egypt, it is a brutal reality that never gets any easier. It was the continued abuse and neglect of equines here, along with the mass starvation crisis prompted by the January 25th Revolution, that saw the birth of the Continental Rescue and Rehab.

The journey began with Cleo, a wonderful little grey mare who was first rescued in October. It has taken 6 months, but Cleo is now fully rehabbed and I get the pleasure of beginning her again under saddle next week. Cleo has been adopted already in Hurghada, and can look forward to a quiet life with the Continental.


It was not long after Cleo was rescued that Claire Dunkerley and Susan Richards-Benson were drawing attention from other animal activists. In November, the Continental rescued three additional horses, Cinderella, Ali Baba, and Rocky.

Cinderella, photo taken 28th March
Cinderella had been at one of the feed days organized by a Cairo based charity, ESMA, aiming to at least provide little feed for the horses in great need. At the feed day, Cindy went down to the ground from weakness. Claire and I did not actually realise that the mare we rescued was in fact the same horse until a few weeks later. Cindy was spotted being dragged behind a cart, grossly emaciated and with a saddle sore wound stretching half way down her back. There was no question she was in need of immediate help.

Next up was Ali Baba, essentially a walking skeleton. Ali Baba was still being worked. Ali Baba's rags to riches story was made possible by a donation from a couple from Germany who had met Cleo, and asked that if we were able to rescue another horse, to name him Ali Baba and they would cover the cost of purchase. He was so malnourished that 40 percent of his body was missing hair, he was listless, and had problems moving due to the sheer starvation.

Ali Baba on the 17th of February

Rounding out the trio was Rocky, who had also been at the same feed day as Cindy. His story is unique; grossly neglected, he would reach out to bite anyone that came close to him as a means of protecting himself. Rocky is covered in old scars from being branded, beaten, and whipped. He had an abscess in his hoof, that rather than treat his old owner had covered with a metal plate. It caused a massive infection in his leg, and for the better part of two months, he was rendered almost completely lame with poultice after poultice applied to his food to pull the infection out.

Rocky on the 13th of March

With the Continental's herd growing, Claire and I had a talk about where the future would take us. We wanted to ensure that we had the legitimacy that would continue allowing people to support us, and provide the transparency so crucial to the success of any charity. With that, the decision to register as a charity was born.

In the months of bureaucracy that the charity registration took, the Continental acquired two new rescues. First was Chili, rescued in the end of December, who has become the poster boy of the Continental.

Chili's story gripped many people's hearts. He came to us with a leg so swollen, and completely unable to bear any weight on it, not to mention he was covered in wounds and riddled with infection. For the first week, Claire and I debated back and forth on whether the most humane thing to do was to put this little horse to sleep, but his will to live was so strong he answered the question for us himself. Chili's first month with the Continental was very touch and go, and the fans on the page watched with bated breath for each new Chili update. The cost of Chili was covered by generous donations, and he continues to receive sponsorship on a monthly basis.

Chili on the 6th of April

To show you the dramatic difference, this is Chili
2 weeks after his rescue, on the 6th of January

We now know that Chili has an old break in his leg, which has caused a massive infection in the joints of his leg. He has been permanently retired, and his job from now on out will be to teach people about the will to live that horses possess, and the quiet nature that trumps all despite his tremendous suffering.

Rounding out the current herd was Sheba. We were asked to rescue Sheba after she was seen at another feed day. Her eye socket had been broken due to blunt force trauma to her head = translation, she was beaten upside the head. She also had a massive wound alongside her back and was underweight. Sheba, like Rocky, has taken a long time to learn to trust people again. Understandably, she would get very defensive around people and would often reach out to bite. Day by day she is learning to trust again and relax into life with the Continental. Sheba's adopted mum is based in the UK, but we hope will come to see us soon!

Sheba on the 6th of April

As of the 29th of March, Claire Dunkerley, Mohamed Ramadan, and Susan Richards-Benson are the very proud co-founders of charity number 310 in Hurghada, Continental Rescue and Rehab as an officiated and registered charity in Egypt. Plans for the future are well underway, and I hope you will join me in tracking our development as we undertake this new road towards improving equine welfare in Egypt.

There is never any rest for the wicked, and already the Continental has been called on again to help with another horse in a dire situation. I will update here in the next few days about that! To everyone that has watched and supported our work, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Our work wouldn't be possible without you. For more information on our rescues or to see the pictures from their first arrival and their progression with us, please like and follow the Continental Rescue and Rehab on facebook. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A taste of Egypt: Hummus

I know, I know, Hummus isn't really a traditional Egyptian dish, but seeing as how it is often the complementary partner to Tahina and frequently served as a staple appetizer here, it's Egyptian for the day.

Hummus is surprisingly easy to make, and serves as an amazing appetizer, a dip for veggies, a spread on pita breads, and the list goes on. Did I mention that it's suitable for vegans and vegetarians? Yum!

So here's what you'll need: 

1 can Chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp sesame oil (if you want more of a "Tahina" taste to your hummus, add 1 - 2 tbsp of sesame paste)
Fresh juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp EVOO (or more, depending on how thick you want your Hummus)
Seasonings to taste. Popular seasonings include paprika, pepper, and in some cases cumin.

Image source Wikipedia


Drain your can of chickpeas and set the liquid aside. 
Add your chickpeas and garlic in a blender / food processor, and pulse until the chickpeas and garlic are cut up. 
Add your sesame oil (and / or paste), and EVOO. If you want to spice up the hummus, add your spices here too. 
Pulse until smooth. 
Slowly add your lemon juice and chickpea liquid and continue pulsing until you reach the desired consistency.

Garnish with parsley and enjoy :)
Bil hana wa Shiva!