There are two stories making headlines this week, though one is overshadowing the other.
The first of course, is the Egyptian protests over the corruption and brutality of their dictator Hosni Mubarak. And while most nations are backing the protestors, our own government barely even attempts to posture.
Jennifer Ditchburn with the Canadian Press believes that this has a lot to do with Israel and Harper's blind support of that nation, to win votes at home. I did love the comments by Lawrence Cannon though:
"In order for us, here in Canada, to recognize and support the future Egyptian government, it must meet four basic conditions: first, it must respect freedom, democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women; second, it must recognize the State of Israel; third, it must adhere to existing peace treaties; and fourth, it must respect international law," Cannon said.Where was he during the G-20 in Toronto, when his government condoned human rights abuses and the arrests of journalists? And where was he when his government filibustered the committee meeting looking into those abuses, leaving the hapless Dean Del Mastro to explain their actions? And I actually laughed out loud when he mentioned women's rights, with Canada now in 25th place (from 4th) in terms of gender equality.
Their talking points are nothing if not consistent.
But there is another related story, that I was tipped off to, that speaks to possible corruption involving the Egyptian and Canadian dictators, though officially their titles are president and prime minister.
I think this story needs further investigation, but for now, I'll lay it out as best I can.
The Dictator and the Dictator
The story began when Canadian businessman, Anthony Lacavera, paid a visit to wealthy telecom giant Naguib Sawiris, to garner his interest in the Canadian cell phone industry. His pitch was successful and he walked away with a cheque for $700-million.
The Canadian branch of Sawiris' Orascom, is Globalive, and the resulting cell phone company, Wind Mobile. In the fall of 2009, Lacavere attended a government of Canada auction, and for 442 million dollars, bought into the Canadian telecommunications industry.
However, there was a problem. Orascom/Globalive did not meet the criteria to invest in this type of business in Canada, so CRTC put the brakes on. Our laws clearly prohibit foreign companies from controlling investment in the telecommunications sector.
Sawiris was livid promising that he "will make pain, and they will suffer", referring to his Canadian competition. But he didn't really have to worry. Our industry minister Tony Clement came to the rescue, overstepping his bounds and reversed the arms length CRTC decision.
But this week we learn that a federal court has sided with Canadians, though I'm sure Clement and Harper are busy with their lawyers, to challenge that decision.
A judge has struck down the Harper cabinet’s 2009 decision to overrule the CRTC and let a cell carrier with Egyptian ties operate in Canada. “That decision was based on errors of law and must be quashed,” Mr. Justice Roger Hughes of Federal Court wrote on Friday. He put in place a 45-day stay of judgment in order to avoid chaos and give the carrier, Globalive, a chance to go back to the federal telecom regulator. This means Globalive can keep operating for now.I wish they'd put half as much effort into protecting Canadian companies.
So Who is Naguib Sawiris?
One of things we hear often, in relation to the protests in Egypt, besides brutality, is corruption. And one name that comes up often in that alleged corruption, is Naguib Sawiris.
In July of 2010, the UK Guardian ran a piece, Naguib Sawiris: prospering under Mubarak’s Government. In it they emphasized the connection between Sawiris and President Mubarak, suggesting that the Egyptian dictator had become a glorified salesman for Orascom.
One example was his bullying of Syria:
The current round of leaders' visits to Washington, and the headlines in Arab newspapers, might create the impression that the only thing Arab rulers have on their minds at present is the peace process. When a three-way summit between Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, Assad and Mubarak was held three weeks ago at Sharm al-Sheikh, a private talk between the Egyptian and Syrian presidents attracted little notice. The diplomatic statement issued after the summit, emphasizing that the three leaders denounce the use of violence, won attention; but alongside this display of unity, the meeting featured a stormy discussion about a matter that troubles Egypt deeply.But at issue, besides going to bat for an Egyptian company under the guise of security, was the deep ties between Mubarak and Sawiris.
The issue involves a huge Egyptian telecommunications company, Orascom Telecom, which does business throughout the Middle East, Africa and India and which stands to lose close to $40 million, which it invested in Syria in the establishment of a cellular phone network. Orascom purchased 25 percent of the shares of Syriatel, one of the two companies that hold concessions to erect a cell phone network in Syria (the other is the Lebanese-owned Investcom). Two months ago, the Syrian government designated two Syrian judges to serve as
acting directors of the Egyptian-Syrian cell phone enterprise. This step precipitated a major battle between Egypt's Orascom and the Syrian government.
- Mubarak's son, Alaa Mubarak, is a significant shareholder in Orascom and its affiliates, as well as a personal friend of Sawiris
- Naguib Sawiris' wife, Yousriya Loza Sawiris, serves as chairman and secretary general of the Sawiris Foundation, and President Mubarak's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, is on the board of directors.
So is the Harper government remaining cool, in part, because of their connections to Orascom?
I think this story could have legs, because it's about more than just guilt by association.
As James Travers said this week "In the Middle East, Canadian policy is skewed to winning votes at home." And Jennifer Ditchburn concurs. "Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staunch support for Israel and strong backing within Canada's Jewish community could offer clues about why."
But before anyone accuses me of being anti-Semitic, there are just as many Jewish voices denouncing Harper's policies in the Middle East. He has aligned himself the Jewish Defense league, often referred to as "radicals". In fact in 2001, the FBI referred to them as a "violent extremist Jewish organization" and they are on the watch list of many anti-hate groups.
So why is our government supporting violent extremists, and allowing them to conduct witch hunts on Canadian citizens? (see video below)
But back to the Sawiris story. Given that Harper's Middle East polities are to win financial and political support at home, it's interesting to note that in Israel, their government is also being criticized over their connections with Orascom.
BUSINESS tycoon and Orascom Telecom Holding (OTH) Chairman Naguib Sawiris was in the international spotlight last week. A report published by Israeli newspaper Maarev, translated by many local websites and privately-owned newspapers, claimed that Sawiris had paid bribes to Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud Barak and his wife Nili Priel to help him get the approvals needed for OTH to increase its stake in Israeli operator Partners Communication (PC). OTH currently owns 10 per cent of PC, Israel's second largest mobile network operator.And according to Time magazine:
With all the turmoil in the Middle East, few took much notice when Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris signed a deal last December involving a firm from a neighboring country. This was no routine transaction. Sawiris, CEO of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, in Cairo, purchased 9.9% of Partner Telecommunications Co. Ltd., in Tel Aviv, considered to be the biggest investment, valued at $150 million, ever made in the Jewish state by an investor from an Arab country. Sawiris expected the rebukes he received from some fellow Arabs for doing business with Israelis even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still rages.Canadians have no idea the things that are being done in their name, though its reassuring that some in the mainstream media are starting to question Harper's bizarre relationship with Israel. It's time we also started to question it. This one-sided approach to foreign policy is not the Canadian way.
And it would appear that the connection is as much financial as personal.