Egypt Restricts Reporting on its Contract with Rosatom for Construction of the Dabaa Nuclear Plant

On December 21, the Egyptian government instituted a ‘‘‘media gag order‘ for reporting on the Dabaa nuclear power plant project being constructed by Russian nuclear giant, Rosatom.  According to the government order, approval must be obtained from Egyptian security authorities or the Energy Ministry before any article on the project can be published in the Egyptian media.  The announcement comes after a meeting between Egyptian President, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, and the Minister of Electricity, Mohamed Shaker.

In this meeting the two discussed Shaker‘s talks with Russian officials regarding the Dabaa project during his recent trip to Moscow.  Egyptian officials have not revealed their reasons for instituting this gag order or from whom within the government the instructions emanated.  A spokesman for the Energy Minister told media representatives that an updated statement will be made by the end of the month.  The Dabaa nuclear power plant is Egypt‘s first and is scheduled for completion by Rosatom within 12 years.  When finished it will house four nuclear power units capable of generating 4,800 MW of power.

This case parallels the Paks nuclear power plant project in Hungary, also involving Rosatom and its subsidiary TVEL, the details of which were made state secrets by the Hungarian government for thirty years.  Nuclear projects such as these create long-term dependencies on Russian technology and fuel, providing clear political leveraging opportunities for Moscow.  The opaque nature of these nuclear deals is not normal market practice, as exemplified by the European Commission‘s (EC) launch of an infringement procedure against Hungary for its violation of EC procurement rules.

The Egyptian media has voiced its anger over the gag order and many have speculated that the order is being put in place to silence environmental criticism of the project.  It could also be motivated by fears of stories on ‘‘‘inside dealing‘ or corruption.  Media representatives have also questioned the legality of the order, since no regulations or reasons for the order have been made public.  Within the Egyptian government itself there is confusion, with State Council Judge Magdy Al-Agati stating to the media ‘‘‘the Al-Dabaa project is not a judicial issue and there are no lawsuits against it to order a media gag.‘