Foreign Broadcast Information.4 Washington.
The analyses in ihis report are based exclusively on lhe content and behavior of selected foreign public media. They are issued without coordination with. Government components.
Thi* publication ti Intended for official we o(. Gp*cmmcn< only- Tho <on-irolonth) after dale of publication.
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Iraqi Treatment of Egyptian Workers Sours Ties
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Iraqi Treatment of Egyptian Workers Sours Ties
Egyptian media have stepped up iheir criticism of Iraq for in reported financial end physical harassment of Egyptian workers and iheir lonsequenl mass departures in recent months. Al the same lime, however. Cairo's restrained official statements, combined with Ihegovernmenl-owned media's limited anvrage of the most sensational allegationthe shooting deaths of moreundred Egyptians inan effort to prevent the issue from seriously damaging bilateral lies. Official reslruint notwithstanding, ihe crisis seems to strip the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC) of much oflhe substance that Egypt had hoped it would have and impose son Egypt's already overburdened economy the additional strains of newly relumed unemployed workers.
A spate uf recent press accounts indicate* that the Egyptian workers in Iraq are returning home in increasingeportedly because Iraqi obstacles make it difficult for them to obtain their legitimate earnings and transfer them back lo Egypt. The international edition of Ihe government-owned Al-Ahramovember claimed0 workers arc returning to Egypt every week. While the figures are less than reliable (the same report claimedillion workers had already returned sincea far higher ratehe reports indicateassive influx has been taking plate.
This migration, which has apparently been continuing for some months, appears to have reached massive proportions more recently with Ihe implementation of new Iraqi regulations that severely limit the amount of money that can be Transferred out of the country lAl-Ahram internationalovember. At-Jumhuriyah.he new regulation* come on top of longstanding but apparently growing delays by the Iraqis in implementing permitted transfers of funds to Kgypt. Taken together, the delays
'PuNuhed figure* on UM numhrr ul Fpptiam empimed in Iraqan ram onupM puiillion, mhtkr another in the paper'* international editionovember cUimrd therei.icr thai man*.
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ami the new restrictions seemoVsigned to encourage Egyptian workers tu relurn home withoutormal expulsion order (hat would fly in the face of recent efTom to facilitate economic movement and other aspects of relations between ACC member countries.*
A report in the government-owned daily At-Jumhuriyaheptember cited the head of the Arab-African Development Bank in Egypt, one of several banks engaged in processing remittances from Iraq, as saying that Iraqi authorities had attributed the nearly year-long delays to depletion of hard currency needed for postwar reconstruction projects. In arty event, the return of hundreds of thousands of demobilized Iraqi troopsow glutted labor market givestrong reason for inducing Egyptian workers to leave.
Reports on the bleak situation for Egyptian workers in Iraq have recently expanded to allege other forms of abuse, ranging from mass dismissals without notice or proper compensationensational accusation inovember issue of the government-owned daily Al-Akhbarodies of Egyptianof them bearing bulletarrived in Egypt in October. While no government-owned media other than Al-Akhbar have been observed lo report the allegations of shooting deaths, neither have they been denied by the media or through official statements.
Public Airingsome of the problems beingas
in the transfer of workers' remittances-
2The ACC.Egypt. Iraq. Jordan, and Nonh Yemen, wis founded in8 primarily to hoUter economic reunion*.
have existed for some time and have been reported in the press, Cairo recently stepped up pressure on Baghdad with an unusual airing of grievances in the government-controlled media. The moveeparture from Egypt's usual practice of glossing over such tensions with Iraq in public and portraying instead only the positive aspects of their relationship. The official Middle East News Agency (MENA)ovember reported at length on comments by the chairman of Egypt's official trade union federation, who said be bad appealed to thenistry "to quickly intervene with the Iraqiver the plight of Egyptian workers. Still more unusual was an editorial inovember Al-Ahramgenerally considered the most representative of official policy among the governmentcalled tm Iraq for an -urgent" solution to the problems facing Egyptian workers there. The editorial appeared to pave the way fofthe subsequent blitz in media
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coverage of Ihe issue in the government-owned media, as well as in the opposition press.
This public airing of the problem probably reflects Egyptian officials* heightened fears of the potential social, economic and political impact not only of delaying remittances but also of the increasing numbers of newly unemployed workers arriving back in the country. The timing may also reflect Cairo's frustration over the failure of past efforts to prod Baghdad through private channels.
Moreover, the deteriorating situation depicted in media accounts has already subjected the government toprimarily in the oppositioninaction on theolumnist in the government-owned Al-Ahram on theh claimed thateil of silence" surrounding the issue "is not appropriate" and called on "the responsible authorities in Egypt" to take up the matter with Iraq. Media coverage has undoubtedly helped to heighten both popular resentment against the Iraqis and pressure on the Mubarak government to solve the problem. The opposition newspaper Al-Wtfd. for example, has stepped into the issue with scathing accounts of Iraqi mistreatment of workers and combined criticism of both the Cairo and Baghdad governments. An editorial by AJ-WtftTs chief editor Jamal Badawi on the 6th concluded: "If political and diplomatic restrictions prevent the "Alif Sidqi government from raising the issue, the democratic institutiims inhould raise their voice against the wave of racist persecution of Egyptian workera in Iraq."
Officialwhile publicizing the issue, however. Cairo
haseasured approach in an apparent effort to prod the Iraqis without allowing the matter to undermine bilateral relations. Accordingly, the initial allegations of mass shootingkind of development that might be expected to draw extensive media coverage and certainly far more than the remittancesince been virtually ignored in the government-owned media, with the exceptionollowup Al-Akhbar report that the embassy in Baghdad has received inttrucrjons to investigate the matter (MEN A.ovember).
Moreover, an Al-Jumhuriyah report on the 9th cited Minister of Manpower and Training Abd-al-Haqq as calling the problem of Egyptiantransient one" that "will not affect the close brotherly relations between the twoumerous press reports have cited contacts currently under
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way to resolve the problem, anil Egyptian Foreign Minister 'Abd-al-Majid has stated lhat the issue will be discussedreviously scheduled meeting in Cairo onh of tbe Higher Joint Egyptian-Iraqi Committee, cochaired by Egyptian Prime Minister Sidqi and Iraq's First Deputy Prime Minister Ramadan (MENA.ovember).
the labor issue has soured the
atmosphere of the Egyptian-Iraqi relationship. Cairo's handling of the problem and its continued stress on good relations clearly represent an effort to contain the crisis and prevent it from seriously damaging bilateral ties. The Egyptian Government has prided itself on having restored and maintained dose relations with almost all Arab states and on lhe central role these relations have afforded it in the inter-Arab and international arenas, and il probably continues lo value the benefit of military and economic cooperation with Baghdad. Nonetheless, the crisis undermines one of Cairo's primary objectives in forging close ties with Iraq both bilaterally and through thepreservation of its role in the Iraqi labor market.
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Perhaps more significant are the social and economic burdens facing Egyptesult of the diminishing labor market in Iraq and lhe accompanying constriction of the flow of foreign currency. Cairo appears intent on pressing the Iraqis to resolve the labor problem in some fashion, but il is probably resignedess than idealas arrangements to expedite remittance transfers and compensation plans for the dismissedwill nol stem significantly the continued flow of returnees. Accordingly, the Al-Ahram editorial on the 6th. as well as other press reports and commentaries, focused lea on the displacement of workers than on the long delays in nuking permitted transfers of funds and qualified their grievances with recognition of Iraq's circumstances in the aftermath of the Gulf war.Original document.