Egypt’s newly established initiative to boycott Israel kickstarted its activities with a campaign demanding telecoms provider Mobinil put pressure on its multinational owner, Orange, to end investments in Israel.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Egypt announced the campaign at a press conference on Saturday, highlighting that Orange owns 98.9 percent of Mobinil. On Sunday, Mobinil met with representatives from the BDS campaign to better understand their demands.
The campaign issued a statement on the company’s violations in the Occupied Territories, explaining that Orange is in partnership with the Israeli telecommunications company Partner Communications, which operates under its name.
According to the statement, Orange committed several violations in favor of the Israeli army, by contributing to the economic viability of the settlements, building at least 176 telecoms towers and sites in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Israeli settlements, taking advantage of the Israeli ban on Palestinian investments, while returning no taxes to the Palestinian people.
Orange also reportedly offered free mobile services to Israeli army officers who participated in the 2014 military operation in Gaza, so that they could be in constant contact with their families. Representatives from the company were also available at the borders to provide charged batteries, cake and fruits for Israeli officers.
The campaign added that the company, in collaboration with the Israeli postal service, provided a special service titled “Greetings from the Field,” whereby soldiers could send cards to their families when cell phones couldn’t be used for security reasons. The company increased internet bandwidth on their phone lines, wishing them a safe return to their homes.
Employees of the company visited injured soldiers in hospitals and offered them computers to entertain them during their hospitalization, as well as supporting two military units — one since 2005 and the other since 2008.
Activist Ramy Shaath, co-founder of the campaign, told Mada Masr that the campaign’s members met on Sunday with representatives from Mobinil, who invited them to enquire about their demands. “We presented a report on Orange’s violations and the representatives were alarmed and confirmed that they had sent the report to Orange’s management in France, who also expressed immense shock over the violations of the Israeli branch.”
Shaath added that he told the representatives that Orange’s general assembly is scheduled to be held in France this week, which would be a good chance to present the report. “In which case, Orange can terminate its services in Israel and we halt our campaign. If they continue their collaboration, our campaign will accordingly continue,” he said.
According to Shaath, the campaign adopts a different approach from previous boycott campaigns that used to include long lists of products and companies that people should boycott.
“We want to work on companies that collaborate with the occupation one after the other. We will issue a complete report with each company’s crimes, how to boycott it and a list of other demands,” he says.
Shaath adds that other targets for the campaign will include Egyptian cement companies that export to Israel.
“The Arab market is extremely important for the BDS movement,” Zaid Shuaibi, the Arab World outreach officer of the Palestinian BDS National Committee told Mada Masr. “Companies such as G4S, Orange, Veolia and HP, which violate international law and which are complicit in the Israeli occupation have contracts worth billions of dollars around the Arab World. Targeting those companies will be an added value for the BDS campaign globally and regionally.”
Shuaibi adds, “Egypt in particularly plays a major strategic role economically and politically within the region, which will help in ending the complicity of the targeted companies.”
Iman Hamdy, professor of Israeli politics and society at the American University in Cairo, explains that thorough research should be conducted on the question and nature of normalization between Egypt and Israel. “Aside from the government’s diplomatic relationships, there is a lot of stuff going under the sea: Israel is the number one importer of Egyptian cement, which is used to build the West Bank wall. Also, there is an increasing number of Egyptian laborers in Israel,” she said.
Besides the campaign’s function in support of the Palestinian cause, BDS activists in Egypt also think it is a way to engage in political action at a time where little to no space for dissidence has been left.
Shaath explained that the campaign allows people in Egypt to re-engage politically, without taking the risks associated with protesting, which have become increasingly high.
The campaign has been critiqued by some political forces for utilizing the Palestinian cause as a way to try and strike some successes, given the numerous defeats on the domestic level with regards to democratization.
Shaath responded by saying that reinvigorating interest in the Palestinian cause is “particularly important at this time. There have been constant attempts to discredit the Palestinian resistance and represent Palestine, Qatar or Iran as the real enemy,” he says, referring to the state’s encouraging of anti-Palestine sentiments, particularly in the midst of the Islamist-military divide that ended with the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood rule in mid-2013. At that time, Palestine’s Hamas was often cited by the military-appointed regime as a force working to destabilize Egypt.
Hamas’ members have been on the list of defendants in more than one recent court case, accused of espionage and plotting to harm the country’s national interests.
Some also wonder what the function of BDS would be in the Arab World, given the already existing public sentiment against Israel and the general anti-normalization stance, as opposed to the West, where BDS campaigns serve to raise awareness about the occupation to audiences that are not necessarily sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
“BDS becomes an effective Arab solidarity campaign that can have successes against companies implicated in Israeli violations of our rights,” Shuaibi said, adding that this is particularly needed, given how most Arab regimes are engineering anti-Palestine sentiments.