Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 October 2008
Issue No. 917
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Climbing on the bandwagon

Recent calls that the UK must compensate Egypt for its occupation of the country are unlikely to be heeded, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Three MPs belonging to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have asked Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit to demand Britain pay 29 billion pounds sterling in compensation for "looting the country's resources" over more than 70 years of colonial occupation. The three MPs' request is supported by some political activists who point to the precedent set by the recent promise of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to pay Libya $5 billion in compensation for 40 years of occupation.

In a request submitted to speaker of the People's Assembly Fathi Sorour, NDP MP Omar Haridi proposed forming a joint parliamentary committee to examine a British document which sheds light on the financial relationship between Egypt and Great Britain during World War I. The document, unearthed last month by Egyptian professor Ashraf Sabri, is alleged to show that the United Kingdom borrowed three billion pounds sterling from Egypt between 1914 and 1918. Sabri told Al-Akhbar newspaper that the amount was registered by Lord Milner as a loan borrowed from the Egyptian government, to be paid back at the end of the war. Sabri said in current prices the loan amounted to 29 billion sterling. "International legal experts believe Egypt has every right to ask Britain pay back the loan and that the Egyptian government has no authority to waive it," said Sabri.

Haridi says the role of the proposed parliamentary committee should not be confined to discussing and scrutinising the document but to pursuing all legal and diplomatic channels to ensure repayment.

Heidar Boghdadi and Mohamed Qiwita, also NDP MPs, have suggested similar compensation be sought from Israel, Italy and Germany. Qiwita told Al-Ahram Weekly that Israel should pay at least $19 billion in compensation for its six-year occupation of Sinai.

"During this period the Israelis looted Sinai, stealing its oil resources and archaeological heritage," says Qiwita, who points out that Israel itself received billions of dollars from Germany in compensation. "The Israelis know how to extort rich nations such as Germany but they give themselves every right not to pay a penny for their crimes against others," said Qiwita. He does not, however, expect his suggestion to be taken up, saying that diplomatic relations with European powers are prioritised by state officials at the expense of the rights of Egyptian citizens.

Boghdadi wonders why Italy should pay Libya $5 billion but refrain from paying for the huge damage it inflicted on Egypt by planting millions of mines in the Western desert during World War II battles.

"Italy and Germany caused huge damage and deprived Egypt of the chance to develop the Western Desert which has huge agricultural and mining potential," claims Boghdadi. He deplored that, "while Germany was ready to pay Israel billions of dollars upon false grounds, it has not shown an ounce of interest in either financially compensating Egypt or helping it clear the Western Desert of mines."

Ibrahim Saleh, the former chairman of the Court of Cassation, soon jumped on the bandwagon, saying Italy was not only forced to apologise to Libya but also to pay compensation. "I think England has to pay Egypt no less than 100 billion sterling pounds and Germany and Italy both no less than $50 billion," he said. "They plundered Egypt during World War I to cover the costs of their battles against the Turkish, bought Egyptian high-quality cotton for 10 years at very cheap prices, killed many Egyptians who joined demonstrations against their occupation, and manipulated the country's wealth in violation of democratic rules and human rights," he opined. Saleh also notes that Israel not only looted Sinai during 1967 and 1973 but, in complicity with England and France, killed hundreds of Egyptians during the 1956 Tripartite Aggression. "Are these crimes not serious enough for England to pay compensation or even offer an apology?" he asked.

"They completely destroyed the city's infrastructure, dropped tons of bombs on houses and apartment buildings and committed massacres and mass murders against citizens," said El-Badri Farghali, a former leftist MP for Port Said city, referring to the Tripartite Aggression. "Is this not enough for our government to follow Libya in asking England, Israel and other Western nations for compensation?"

Sources at the British Embassy in Cairo told Al-Ahram Weekly that Italy's compensation to Libya did not involve cash payments. "It is just a promise which Berlusconi said would take the form of Italian investments estimated at $5 billion in the Libyan oil sector," said one source. "The promise is just media propaganda aimed at appeasing Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi and opening the door for Italian companies to tap the lucrative oil market." The source added that the UK had apologised several times for its colonial past but that compensation had never been a matter for debate.

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