Egypt, who cares? – Radio Free Asia reported on February 2 that news of the massive demonstrations in Egypt had finally seeped into North Korea via cell phone. Despite the massive quarantine by the North Korean government on all news about the attempts to oust Egyptian President Mubarak, news had begun to spread by word of mouth. The effect? Absolutely none at all.
The Daily NK, a South Korean news site, that reports on the North wanted to get the reactions of North Koreans to Egyptian popular revolt against Mubarak. They managed to reach a woman on her cell phone who had got out of North Korea to China a few days before on the excuse of visiting relatives. Not surprisingly she insisted that she be known as “Kim.” They got an earful.
“Nobody in North Korea has any interest in political issues like Egypt, Yeongpang Island (the South Korean Island recently shelled by North Korea) or even the succession,” Kim said. “Their only concern is survival.”
With North Korea facing famine once again, and with the World Health Organization, WHO, reporting a large scale outbreak of Hoof and Mouth disease that is forcing the North Koreans to destroy what few farm animals still remain, Egypt is far away and means little indeed.
Once again, Egypt — Nasser Sawiris, CEO of Osram Construction Industries (OCI), has been talking to business newspapers including the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal that North Korea is a great place to invest. His brother Naguib Sawiris is Egypt’s biggest businessman, whose Osram Telecom built and runs the cell phone network in North Korea.
“I see North Korea as a nation with hidden potential for development,” he said. “And with it, a coming increase in demand for concrete as one of the bases of North Korean economic development. We’re also looking into North Korean labor, industrial parks on the North Korea-China border and activities throughout the Middle East, too.”
When OCI speaks about cement, they know what they’re talking about. It is one of the largest producers of concrete in the Middle East and Near East, with factories in Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq and several other countries. Like Osram Telecom, they have a real knack for getting along with repressive regimes and semi-police states. That should serve them well in their next venture, which is in North Korea.
“We have invested 151 million dollars in a joint venture with Pyongyang Myondan Trading in the San Won cement factory outside of Pyong yang,” Sawiris said. This represents the largest direct foreign investment to date in a North Korean state owned industry. “OCI will control half the shares. The factory is equipped with modern, up- to- date European made machinery.”
Perhaps someday this will be a great investment. But then again, maybe not. According to various estimates by the United States and South Korean governments, North Korea industry is running between 20% to 35% of capacity, with electrical generation less than 30% of capacity.
North Korea is being forced to engage in direct barter of vital natural resources such as coal and gold with China in an attempt to buy enough rice and grain to stave off starvation. It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of food production in North Korea of over one million tons this year. The machinery is there and everyone no doubt has a nicely pressed uniform but the question is, will there ever be enough electricity to turn on the lights?
And yet once again…Egypt — Asahi TV’s News Station, which starts at 10 p.m., is one of the most popular news programs in Japan. Perhaps because Egypt was in the news, News Station aired some little known facts about the relationship between Egypt and North Korea. These have had a pretty direct impact on Japan.
A person identified as a commentator on North Korea told viewers, “Egypt and North Korea have had a deep relationship since the Yom Kippur War. North Korea sent pilots to man Egyptian Mig 21s and current President Hosani Mubarak was head of the Egyptian Air Force at that time. This was the beginning of their friendly relations.
“Later to thank the North Koreans for their support in the war against Israel, the Egyptians gave the North Koreans Scud 1 and Scud 2 missiles complete with the blueprints, which marked the beginning of the North Korean missile program.”
This is the truth and explains the improbable alliance—if you can call it that—that exists to this day between North Korea and Egypt. With the outbreak of the Yon Kippur War, North Korea sent 20 pilots and 19 other personnel to aid the Egyptians.
There was also massive aid from other Arab states, but other than the Russians, the North Koreans were the only non-Arab state to aid Egypt. North Korean pilots encountered Israelis perhaps five or six times during the course of the War. The Egyptians never forgot this gesture.
Egypt later supplied Scud B missiles to North Korea in 1979 or 1980 where they were reverse engineered and became the basis of North Korea’s first missile, the Hwasong 5. It wasn’t Scud 1 and Scud 2, and the cooperation wasn’t extensive as was claimed, but basically Egypt supplied North Korea with missiles at a time when the Russians would not do it.
The next time you give a thought to North Korea’s atomic weapons program and their ballistic missile programs all aimed at Japan, you perhaps now know who to thank for it.