Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

From Harrods to the Pyramids | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Men feed their camels as they wait for tourists in front of a part of the Giza pyramid, near Cairo in this January 12, 2013 file photo. (REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

We have recently seen news reports about the Qataris wanting to buy the pyramids from the Egyptians. Prior to this, there were claims that they had also made an offer to Egyptian businessmen and deputy Muslim Brotherhood Guide Khairat El-Shater to buy the Suez Canal.

Although such claim have been denied and said to be nothing more than unsubstantiated rumors, there can be no doubt that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government is now facing a financial crisis to the point that it is now looking at any and all means of saving money, including reconciliation with businessmen imprisoned on corruption charges.

In principle, there is nothing strange about such bids, particularly in this era of globalization. After all Harrods, one of Europe’s most important stores and a historic British symbol, was bought up by Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed. He managed this store for a quarter of a century before selling it on to Qatar for a reported GBP 1.5 billion. So what would be the problem if the Egyptians sold the Suez Canal or the pyramids to the Qataris who have enough cash pay off the Brotherhood government’s deficit?

In reality, it would be easier to imagine New York City selling off the Statue of Liberty, or the French renting out the presidential Elysée Palace. It is impossible to imagine the Egyptians agreeing to sell off the Sphinx or any other historical monument in this manner. Egypt is a country in the midst of political transition and is witnessing many conflicts between different civil forces. In addition to this, the Egyptian people are very sensitive about the issue of foreign ownership. We must not forget that the Egyptian opposition, during the Mubarak era, raised hell with the government for taking the decision to sell off the country’s iconic Omar Effendi department stores to a Saudi food company. Even the Muslim Brotherhood criticized Mubarak at the time, despite the fact that Omar Effendi was just a store—not a historical landmark—and was losing money to boot. Today, the Brotherhood stand accused of being worse than Mubarak for putting Egypt’s historic and strategic wealth on sale.

The Suez Canal—which the Qataris are reported to be interested in buying—epitomizes the history of conflict in Egypt over control of national land and wealth. It is therefore natural for the Egyptians to be suspicious and angry about the idea of its sale, even if we are in an era of globalization where no commercial property is sacred. The Suez Canal began as a French engineering project during the eighteenth century under Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon wanted to secure maritime control over the primary area of European colonial activity in the world. The project also served as a French political move against the British. The digging of the canal was not complete until the second half of the nineteenth century. The Suez Canal deal saw the French being granted the right to operate the canal for 99 years. When the Suez Canal began operations in 1969, this represented one of the greatest events in the world, changing the balance of trade and contemporary history. Due to their debts, the Egyptians were subsequently forced to sell their shares in the canal to the British. Following this, the military conflict over control of this important strategic waterway began, with the British colonialists deploying their troops to control it. The situation became even more complex after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and Egypt’s refusal to allow the Israelis to use the canal. Eight years later, Israel, Britain, and France attacked Egypt following the nationalization of the canal. Egypt responded by sinking forty ships and shutting the Suez Canal. The rest is history. As a result of this, it is very difficult to imagine that Qatar being able to manage the Suez Canal. This is not a department store, while the Qataris are not an unaffiliated political party. Qatar is at odds with almost 80 percent of countries in the region and does not have Dubai’s experience in terms of successfully operating international ports.

Although selling the pyramids and renting out the Suez Canal are just ideas, or more like rumors, they perhaps reflect the greatest problem that is facing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, namely the economic crisis. It would be very difficult for any ruling party to feed eighty million people per day, regardless of ideology or political views. The Brotherhood came to power from opposition in the street, and even prison, and they do not know much about running an economy or state. As a result of this, we do not know how they will manage a complex state like Egypt that is burdened with numerous commitments. In addition to this, the Brotherhood is at odds with the other revolutionary forces and over-encumbered with a thirst for power, seeking control over the presidency, the government, the parliamentary and judiciary.