x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Disruption of gas supplies affected Cairo's image

In Jordan, there will be a sigh of relief this week as Egyptian gas supplies are restored. Amman's energy ministry, Alaa Batayneh, appears to have won concessions for a resumption of supply during Cairo talks that began on Tuesday.

The dispute will still leave an unpleasant cloud hanging over relations, however. On and off again negotations had dragged on for weeks after Egypt cut supplies from 250 million cubic feet per day to 40 million cubic feet. For Amman, which heavily subsidises energy prices, the supply cuts have cost billions of Jordanian dinars since they were put into effect in October.

Egypt blamed the cutback on mechanical failures and rises in its own domestic demand - it is contractually obligated to supply gas to Jordan through 2016. Amman, however, has good reason to suspect political motivations in the disruption.

When the supply cuts first began, it appeared that Egypt's government - led by President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies - preferred to negotiate with their Muslim Brotherhood counterparts in Jordan, who form the political opposition. Last month, Jordanian Brotherhood members even momentarily appeared to have negotiated a deal to restore supplies.

Regardless of the political uncertainty in Amman, with opposition groups threatening to boycott a January election, surely energy deals must be negotiated government to government - not government to opposition. Cairo's eventual deal with Mr Batayneh seems to indicate this principle prevailed, but the process raises questions about what kind of political force Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood aspires to be.

Mr Morsi, and his colleagues who dominate the contested parliament in Cairo, won at the ballot box fair and square. Egyptians have every right to elect the government of their choosing. But one question that has dogged Islamist groups is this: is it one person, one vote - but only one time? Will Cairo's Islamists allow the next elections to be contested fairly, allowing the political institutions - through which they won office - to continue to function?

Even the appearance of political manipulation in favour of like-minded political groups in Jordan raises those concerns. Egypt's return to regional prominence is an important development, but it needs to act as a positive force.