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Saturday, December 18, 2004


To QIZ or not to QIZ


Egypt, Israel, and the US signed an unprecedented trade agreement that entails the US to remove all custom duties on Egyptian imports of ready made garments. A clause in the agreement states that 12% of the Egyptian products should come from Israel. This agreement is called Qualified Industrial Zones or QIZ (pronounced as Quiz).

QIZ was initiated by President Bill Clinton at the height of the Middle East peace talks. Clinton thought that countries that traded together do not usually go to war. Egypt was very reluctant to forge such a huge trade agreement with Israel especially since the relation between the 2 countries was very cold because of the intifada.

Egypt had no choice but to join this agreement for 2 main reasons. First, quotas that protected small developing producers (such as Egypt) from large ones (such as China) will be removed next month. Egypt must have unprecedented access to the lucrative US market in order to compete worldwide. If Egypt failed to do so, we can kiss the country's most important manufacturing sector goodbye. Second, the QIZ will employ 250,000 Egyptians and boost this vital sector. Manufacturers were already laying off people and closing down their factories as a result of the coming onslaught next year.

Jordan, that has many QIZs with Israel, saw its economy skyrocket because of such agreements. The small kingdom's exports of clothes and garments went from $100 million in 1998 to $400 million in 2004.

Now, reaction to this treaty varied across the Egyptian society. A small group of the American University in Cairo students (clad in Armani shirts and Levis jeans) held a small sit-in to protest this agreement. Intellectuals ranging from hardcore Arab nationalists to Islamists also voiced their protests on Arab satellite channels. The vast majority of Egyptians were busy putting food on the table and so they didn't pay much attention.

What was really amazing was how the government announced this agreement. The treaty made headlines in all government owned papers. I mean the government literally was saying "hey I signed it and I am not embarrassed." Watching journalists as they tried to explain the benefits of this agreement was so fun to watch.

If this agreement showed anything it showed the level of control that the government has over the country's main media. If the government can compel all major media outlets to report an agreement with such a hated country in such positive tones, it surely can make its journalists use words such as "horror", "massacre", "crime against humanity" when reporting the news of the mass murderer Salafi/Wahabi who plants a car full of explosives into a queue of poor Iraqi policemen waiting to receive their monthly salaries.



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