Out of the blue, the Israeli media reported late Sunday that Egypt had unilaterally scrapped an agreement to supply Israel with natural gas.
Ampal-American Israel Corporation, a partner in the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline, said it was notified of the decision by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company “last week”.
Under the deal singed in 2005, Egypt exports 7 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Israel, nearly 40 percent of Israel’s gas needs.
Egyptians were dumbfounded by the announcement.
For the zillionth time they learned of their country’s decisions from the Israeli side, not Egyptian government officials or media.
Officials immediately went live on all state and private channels to say the decision was a business dispute because Israel had failed to pay for gas imports for months.
But the attempt to claim that such a highly-charged decision with all its political and diplomatic ramifications was simply a business dispute is hard to swallow.
This could not have been possibly decided without a crystal-clear go-ahead from the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).
But why would the very unpopular SCAF take such a move, which has already triggered angry Israeli reactions and demands for U.S. interventions, two months before the deadline to hand over power to an elected president?
The decision will be warmheartedly welcomed by Egyptians who have long seen the Israel gas deal as a national disgrace.
Let’s not forget that scrapping this unpopular deal has always been the demand of the general public, political parties and the opposition for years.
Ousted president Hosni Mubarak and several of his regime officials and cronies are standing trial for selling gas to Israel below market value.
The gas pipeline across the Sinai desert has been subjected to 14 sabotage attacks since the 2010 revolution.
So, the decision brings the SCAF a much-needed breeze of popularity and may be even descriptions of heroism against a country still being seen by Egyptians as “the” enemy.
This would not have come at a better timing for the generals.
SCAF is being accused by parliament of stymieing a legislation banning former Mubarak regime figures from contesting the presidential elections in May.
It is also at logger heads with political parties and revolutionaries for insisting that the new constitution be written before handing over power on June 31.
For these reasons ─ and many more ─ the generals continue to face the ire of disgruntled Egyptians.
Hundreds of thousands of people converged on Tahrir Square, the iconic symbol of the revolution, the past Fridays to protest the SCAF’s policies and demand a handover of power.
Subscribing to different political ideologies, or none, protestors were only united in chanting “Down with Military Rule.”
The SCAF will also face more protests in case rife rumors about the dissolution of parliament turn real.
Though the dissolution, if it happens, will be based on a ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court, lawmakers from different political affiliations are already accusing the SCAF of being behind such a move.
So, are the gas deal termination decision and the expected face-off with Israel, and possibly the U.S., a smokescreen for some unpopular imminent decisions?
Or is it, along with other decisions in the days to come, part of a publicity stunt on the part of the unpopular generals before the day of reckoning comes after handing over power to the new president on June 31?
Only the coming days can tell.
(Ayman Qenawi is a writer and editor based in Cairo.)