Gas deals: ‘Big win for Egypt’

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 8 Sep 2021

Cairo is negotiating deals that will see locally liquified natural gas pumped to Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria

‘Big win for Egypt’
Officials from seven founding member countries finalise the charter that establishes the organisation

The last step to the official establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) was taken on 2 September after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ratified the forum’s charter and approved Egypt’s membership.

The charter, signed by the forum’s founding members in Cairo in September and approved by parliament in December last year, aims to bring the major producers and exporters of natural gas in the East Mediterranean region into one organisation to promote their interests in this sector.

The founding members are Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Palestine, and France. Both the US and the EU are observers.

Established in 2019 as an international organisation headquartered in Cairo, the forum also seeks to kick off dialogue among its members on natural gas issues and lay out policies and programmes necessary for them.

According to a report released by parliament’s Energy Committee, the forum will ensure proper investment in the natural gas reserves of the East Mediterranean region at the present and in the future. 

“It aims to create a kind of sustainable partnership among its members and an international market for natural gas in a way that will guarantee the needs of consumers,” the report said.

The energy ministers of the member states of the EMGF held their first ministerial meeting via video conference in Cairo last March, where they endorsed the EMGF’s statutes and programme for 2021.

The meeting also discussed developing a long-term strategy for the forum and launching initiatives on gas decarbonisation and liquefied natural gas as a shipping fuel, in line with global environmental trends.

“Dedicated groups of experts will be formed to draft a long-term strategy for achieving the two initiatives,” said a statement released by the Egyptian Petroleum Ministry.

The EMGF’s energy ministers agreed to hold their next ministerial meeting in Cairo during the last quarter of 2021, said a statement, adding that in January next year, Cyprus, as the first founding member in alphabetical order, will be the first president of the forum.

Osama Mobarez, undersecretary at the Petroleum Ministry in Cairo, was named acting secretary-general of the EMGF.

Following President Al-Sisi’s ratification of the EMGF’s charter last Thursday, Mobarez tweeted that “this is a very important step for the East Mediterranean countries and a big win for Egypt in particular. The fact that the charter selected Cairo to host the headquarters of the forum will turn Egypt into the region’s major hub for natural gas producers and exporters.”

Mobarez said that EU Ambassador in Cairo Christian Berger has officially requested to join the EMGF as an observer. “The EU has been a strategic partner to the forum since the launch of its meetings,” Mobarez said.

Berger indicated during a meeting with Minister of Petroleum Tarek Al-Molla that “Egypt’s continuous efforts in the Mediterranean region and its initiative to establish the EMGF highlights its role in reinforcing cooperation in the field of energy. Egypt has received full support from the European Union, which is looking forward to joining as an observer of the forum.”

According to the Ministry of Petroleum, any East Mediterranean country producing or consuming gas or any transit country whose objectives are in line with the forum can join the EMGF after taking necessary membership measures.

Gas reserves in the East Mediterranean were also on the agenda of a meeting between Al-Sisi and his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades in Cairo on Saturday.

In a press conference on 4 September at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo, Anastasiades said the formation of the EMGF would push energy cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus to a new level.

 “Within the framework of this forum, we are currently working on establishing a pipeline under the Mediterranean to transfer liquefied gas from Egypt to Europe via Cyprus,” Anastasiades said, also noting that “specialised committees made up of officials from the two countries will meet on 15 September to turn this project into reality.”

Cypriot Minister of Energy, Commerce, and Industry Natassa Pilidou said on Saturday that Egypt and Cyprus had decided to reopen discussions over a joint scheme that will see natural gas from the offshore Aphrodite Field in Cyprus piped to liquefaction plants in Idku and Damietta in Egypt to be re-exported to European markets.

“It was expected that Egypt would start receiving Cypriot gas during 2022, but recent estimations say the project could be finalised around 2024-25,” said Pilidou, adding that “the Egyptian-Cypriot gas pipeline will contribute to supporting growth and containing the negative economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic; hence the need to accelerate the implementation of the new project.”

Al-Molla said Egypt has two natural gas liquefaction plants, one east of Alexandria at Idku owned by the Egyptian Liquefied Natural Gas Company and the other in the port city of Damietta belonging to the Spanish-Italian Union Fenosa.

Hossameddin Saleh, chair of parliament’s Energy Committee, said in a statement that the Egyptian-Cypriot agreement on the new gas pipeline reflects the growing friendly relations between the two countries and shows that energy, particularly in the form of natural gas and electricity, can be a tool for reinforcing friendships among nations. 

Al-Sisi and Anastasiades are set to meet again in October and December at two planned tripartite summit meetings with Greece to push economic cooperation further among the three countries.

Egypt’s natural gas also figured prominently during discussions in Damascus in Syria on Saturday. According to reports by Reuters and AP, Syrian officials welcomed a Lebanese request to import Egyptian gas for energy generation via Syrian territory after a Lebanese minister paid a high-level visit to Damascus on 4 September.

The plan would revive a 2009 agreement that allows Egyptian gas to be pumped via a pipeline from Jordan to a Lebanese power plant in the country’s north.

The petroleum ministers of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan were scheduled to meet in Amman on Wednesday to discuss reviving the 2009 agreement after approval from the US which is imposing sanctions on Syria. The meeting would take place upon the invitation of Jordan's Minister of Energy Hala Zawati.

Awad said that “pumping the Egyptian gas to Lebanon will help the country ease its chronic fuel shortages and also generate economic benefits for Syria, which is suffering from US economic sanctions.” 

“The Egyptian gas sends a message of friendship and cooperation to most countries in the region,” he added.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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