Legal safeguards in Egypt’s petroleum concession agreements

The Petroleum Industry is one of the most dynamic and flourishing industries in Egypt and petroleum production is by far the largest single industrial activity, representing eight to ten percent of Egypt’s GDP. The Egyptian Government is encouraging the International Oil Companies (IOC) to participate in the activity of exploration and exploiting oil and natural gas. Actually, more than 50 international companies are operating in Egypt. Hence, rules and regulations are crucial to control the foreign operations in the country

The petroleum industry in Egypt is managed by the Ministry of Petroleum, under which four companies function as government agencies. One of these is the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), which concludes the concession agreements in cooperation with the foreign oil companies on the basis of a production share agreement (PSA).

The Concession is granted in a specific area through the promulgation of a special law by the legislative authority (The Parliament) which allows the Minister of Petroleum to conclude the agreement between the Egyptian Government on one side and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) acting as the concession holder and the foreign oil investor (IOC) acting as a Contractor on the other side.

The “Preamble” of the Model Concession Agreement as prepared by EGPC (2) details the relations arising between the different parties and insists on the State ownership of all the natural resources. It reads as follows:

“Whereas, all minerals including petroleum, existing in mines and quarries in Egypt, including the territorial waters, and in the seabed subject to its jurisdiction and extending beyond the territorial waters, are the property of the State; and “Whereas, EGPC has applied for an exclusive concession for the exploration and exploitation of petroleum in and throughout the area referred to in Article II, and described in Annex “A” and shown approximately on Annex “B”, which are attached hereto and made part hereof (hereinafter referred to as the “Area”) ; and Whereas, ”The foreign oil company” agrees to undertake its obligations provided hereinafter as a CONTRACTOR with respect to the Exploration, Development and Production of Petroleum in the said area; and Whereas, the GOVERNMENT desires hereby to grant such Concession; and Whereas, the Minister of Petroleum pursuant to the provisions of Law No. 86 of 1956, may enter into a concession agreement with EGPC, and with ”the foreign oil company” as a CONTRACTOR in the said Area.
Now, therefore, the parties hereto agree as follows:”

Further, the Model Concession Agreement reveals the inclusion of legal safeguards in order to give the foreign oil companies an adequate protection to their important investments.
Such safeguards include
1-Granting the Concession Agreement the force of Law
2-Adding a “stabilization clause” to the Concession Agreement
3-Adapting the Concession Agreement mutually through renegotiation
4-Designing an efficient mechanism of dispute resolution system between the different parties

1-Granting the Concession Agreement the force of Law
According the Egyptian Constitution (article 123), a legislative act is required for each new concession agreement concluded for the exploitation of the State natural resources such as oil and gas.
The legislative act issued by the Parliament authorizes the minister of petroleum to contract in the name of the GOVERNMENT with the other parties on the provisions contained in the Concession Agreement.
The legislative act states expressly that:
“The rules and procedures (i.e. concession agreement) contained in the annexed clauses have the force of law, and are enforceable notwithstanding any legislative provisions contrary thereto”.
Accordingly, the contractual provisions of the concession agreement acquire the status and the authority of a (lex specialis). This scheme secures the supremacy of the vested contractual rights as detailed in the Agreement over the Egyptian law. In the same time, it excludes the applicability of any contradictory legislative rules either in the present time or in the future throughout the duration of the Agreement. 

2-Adding a “Stabilization Clause” to the Concession Agreement
Another safeguard practiced since a long time in international investment contracts has been the inclusion of a “stabilization clause”. Such clauses aim to ‘freeze’ the laws of the host country during the term of the agreement, and to prevent the enactment of any legislation inconsistent with the investor’s rights embodied in the concession agreement.
As one of the parties to the Agreement is the Host State, this means a large attribution of sovereign powers. The State may operate unilateral changes to the Concession Agreement or to amend its laws at any time that negatively affect the operation of the contract, especially the financial arrangements of the investor.
Moreover, some recent stabilization clauses are more likely to permit the host State may amend its laws, but provide that such amendment will not affect the rights of the investor, granting stabilization to the contractual relationship.
An author describes such clause as “it creates an enclave where things stand still – a place apart from the rest of the country where, in contrast, for good or for ill, legislative changes must take place”(3)
From the Egyptian Legal point of view, Concession Agreements are considered State Contracts and are governed by the administrative law, which contains some exorbitant rules in favor of the Government.
In this matter, a distinguished academician observes:
“Considering that such petroleum concessions are falling within the category of “administrative contracts”, the Government – as party to the agreement- may give itself the right to interfere in the course of the administrative contract so as to impose, through its unilateral decision, amendments deemed necessary for achieving the public interest or to rescind the contractual relationship. In order to avoid recourse to such exorbitant administrative law powers, the Government party normally accepts to insert in these contracts a standard stabilization clause by virtue of which it has no possibility to impose any amendments to the contract without the consent of the IOC. This clause will be completed by a “freezing” of the contractual relationship throughout the duration of the agreement”(4).
As for Egypt, the stabilization clause in the model agreement appears clearly as it reads:
Art. 18(a): CONTRACTOR and Operating Company shall be subject to Law No. 66 of 1953 as amended by Law No. 86 of 1956 and the regulations issued for the implementation thereof, including the regulations for the safe and efficient performance of operations carried out for the execution of this Agreement and for the conservation of the petroleum resources of the A.R.E. provided that no regulations, or modification or interpretation thereof, shall be contrary to or inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

Art. 18(d): “The rights and obligations of EGPC and CONTRACTOR hereunder, and for the effective term of this Agreement shall be governed by and in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement and can only be altered or amended by the written mutual agreement of the said contracting parties in the same procedures by which the original Agreement has been issued”
Extension to the sub-contractors of the contractor and operating company:
The contractors and sub-contractors of the foreign oil company will enjoy by extension the same safeguards as to the main contractor.

Art. 18(e) reads “The contractors and sub-contractors of CONTRACTOR and Operating Company shall be subject to the provisions of this Agreement which affect them. Insofar as all regulations which are duly issued by the GOVERNMENT apply from time to time and are not in accord with the provisions of this Agreement, such regulations shall not apply to CONTRACTOR, Operating Company and their respective contractors and sub-contractors, as the case may be.”

Inapplicability of the stabilization clause to the environmental laws and regulations:
To the contrary, no stabilization clause will protect the foreign investor regarding the application of the environmental law on its operations and activities in Egypt
Art. 18 (b) stipulates: “The Contractor and the Operating Company shall be subject to the provisions of the Law No. 4 of 1994 concerning the environment and its executive regulation as may be amended, as well as any laws or regulations may be issued, concerning the protection of the environment”.

3-Adapting the Concession Agreement mutually through renegotiation
As it has been stated earlier, recent stabilization clauses do not prevent the Host Country from enacting new laws but declares them inapplicable if they appear contradictory to the agreement provisions. So, if substantial legislative changes take place and threaten significantly the contractual equilibrium or affect seriously the economic interest of this Agreement to the detriment of the foreign investor, a mechanism of adaptation through renegotiation will be applied.

Article 19 of the model concession agreement reads as follows:
“ In case of changes in existing legislation or regulations applicable to the conduct of Exploration, Development and production of Petroleum, which take place after the Effective Date, and which significantly affect the economic interest of this Agreement to the detriment of CONTRACTOR or which imposes on CONTRACTOR an obligation to remit to the A.R.E. the proceeds from sales of CONTRACTOR’s Petroleum, CONTRACTOR shall notify EGPC of the subject legislative or regulatory measure and also the consequent effects upon issuing legislation or regulation which impact on the stabilization. In such case, the Parties shall negotiate possible modifications to this Agreement designed to restore the economic balance thereof which existed on the Effective Date.

The Parties shall use their best efforts to agree on amendments to this Agreement within ninety (90) days from aforesaid notice.
These amendments to this Agreement shall not in any event diminish or increase the rights and obligations of CONTRACTOR as these were agreed on the Effective Date. In case of the parties’ failure to solve the disputes, Article XXIV (arbitration) of this Agreement shall be applied.”

The above provision concerns the substantial change of circumstances which occurs after the date of the Concession signature including changes in existing legislation or regulations applicable to the conduct of exploration, development and production of Petroleum in Egypt or which significantly affect the economic interest of this Agreement to the detriment of the foreign investor (CONTRACTOR)

In this event, the parties have to renegotiate in good faith and using their best efforts for the establishment of a new contractual balance and readapt accordingly their initial Agreement whenever it becomes necessary.
If such renegotiation fails for any reason, the parties will resort to arbitration.

4-Designing an efficient mechanism of dispute resolution system between the different parties
No doubt that the foreign investor prefers arbitration as an efficient alternative dispute resolution to the national judiciary system of the host country.
In fact, Egypt has enacted in 1994 an arbitration law largely inspired from the UNCITRAL model law and there is in Cairo a regional permanent center for international commercial arbitration. Besides, Egypt is signatory of the 1958 New York Convention on the recognition and the enforcement of the foreign arbitral awards.
However, due to the hybrid nature of the agreement and the participation of the Government as a contracting party, the Model Concession Agreement in Egypt observes two different relations subject to disputes between the parties and accordingly two different means to settle them.

First, if a conflict emerges between the Egyptian Government on one hand and the other parties (the National Oil Company and the foreign contractor) on the other hand. In this case, the conflict will be settled the jurisdiction of the national appropriate courts of Egypt (i.e. The State Council or the Conseil d’Etat)
Second, if a conflict exists between the National Oil Company on one hand and the foreign investor on the other hand. In this case, arbitration will serve to settle the conflict.

I-Conflict between the Government and the Contractor
ARTICLE 24 of the model Agreement states:
(a) Any dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the breach, termination or invalidity thereof, between the GOVERNMENT and the parties shall be referred to the jurisdiction of the appropriate courts of A.R.E. to settle any dispute arising on the interpretation or the execution of any term of this Agreement.
It results from the above mentioned provision that any conflict emerging between the Government and the parties (including the foreign oil company) shall be settled by the competent Egyptian courts who will apply the administrative law and not by any other dispute resolution mechanism.
It is important to announce that the only existing precedents of a litigation between the Government and the parties in the field of oil concessions is related to the challenge before the Egyptian State Council (Conseil d’Etat) of decisions adopted by the Minister of Petroleum prohibiting truck transportation from the “Aegypto concession area” and the consequent sanctions, which were declared illegal because they imposed obligations on the parties which went beyond the contractual provisions and considered to be in violation of the Concession agreement(5).

However, it is important to raise the fact that Egypt as a Host Country to all forms of foreign investment, is signatory of several tens of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) with the different countries whose nationals (either moral or physical persons) invest in Egypt such as the Oil Companies.
Such BITs contain usually an arbitration clause granting the foreign investor (national of the other contracting State) the option to file an arbitration request against the Host Country before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington(6).
The Question is whether or not the Oil Company ignores the Settlement of dispute clause figured in the Concession Agreement and resorts directly to the ICSID.
The Answer can be found in the light of the precedent established in the ICSID Case of AAPL vs. Sri Lanka(7) (ICSID Case ARB/87/3) where a foreign investor (namely Asian Agricultural Products Limited) can file an arbitration request directly and exclusively on the basis of the BIT text in case of a dispute with the governmental authorities of the Host State.    

II- Conflict between the National Oil Company and the Contractor
When a conflict emerges between the national oil company (such as EGPC) and the foreign oil investor (called the contractor), arbitration is the way to settle it according to rules and procedures detailed in the model agreement.
Two alternatives are presented either an Institutional Arbitration or an Ad Hoc Arbitration.

a)Institutional arbitration:
ARTICLE 24 (b) states
Any dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or breach, termination or invalidity thereof between EGPC and CONTRACTOR shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the Cairo Regional Center for International Commercial Arbitration (the Center) in effect on the date of this Agreement, the approval of the Minister of Petroleum is provided in case EGPC only turn to arbitration. The award of the arbitrators shall be final and binding on the parties.
According to this provision, the arbitration may be filed by either the Foreign Investor or by the national oil company. However, in the latter case, and according to article 1 second paragraph of the Egyptian arbitration law, the authorization of the competent minister is provided in case EGPC only turn to arbitration. More provisions in the same article 24 of the Concession indicate the appointment of an arbitrator by each party and the assistance of the Center in appointing the second arbitrator in case of the opponent party’s failure or refusal to do it.

Another important sub-safeguard is found in the procedures of appointing the presiding arbitrator of the tribunal and of some specific conditions required in his person where paragraph (e) of the same article stipulates:
“The two arbitrators thus appointed shall choose the third arbitrator who will act as the presiding arbitrator of the tribunal. If within thirty (30) days after the appointment of the second arbitrator, the two arbitrators have not agreed upon the choice of the presiding arbitrator, then either party may request the Secretary General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague to designate the appointing authority. Such appointing authority shall appoint the presiding arbitrator in the same way as a sole arbitrator would be appointed under Article 6.3 of the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. Such presiding arbitrator shall be a person of a nationality other than A.R.E. or (the foreign investor’s country) and of a country which has diplomatic relations with both A.R.E. and (the foreign investor) and who shall have no economic interest in the Petroleum business of the signatories hereto”.

The seat of arbitration will be the Cairo Center for International Commercial Arbitration, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. The arbitration will be conducted according to the procedural rules of the Center and the Egyptian law will be applicable to the merits of the dispute. In the event of any conflict between Egyptian Laws and this Agreement, the provisions of this Agreement (including the arbitration provision) shall prevail. Finally, the arbitration shall be conducted in both Arabic and English languages.

b) Ad hoc Arbitration:
The second alternative of arbitration proceedings is to settle the dispute by an ad hoc arbitral tribunal and in accordance with the UNCITRAL Rules of arbitration applicable at the time of the dispute. However, this kind of arbitration will not be followed unless the foreign oil company observes under certain circumstances that its right to a fair arbitration is prejudiced.

ARTICLE 24 (i) of the Model Agreement provides:
“May EGPC and CONTRACTOR agree that if, for whatever reason, arbitration in accordance with the above procedure cannot take place, or is likely to take place under circumstances for CONTRACTOR which could prejudice CONTRACTOR’s right to fair arbitration, all disputes, controversies or claims arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the breach, termination or invalidity thereof shall be settled by ad hoc arbitration in accordance with the UNCITRAL Rules in effect on the Effective Date”.

Oil and Gas Concession Agreements have a specific nature in Egypt. A legislative act gives them supremacy in application over any contrary legislation or regulation. After the conclusion of the Agreement, any changes in the legal environment or in the economic circumstances will be remedied through adaptation of its provisions. An arbitration system of resolving disputes completes the safeguards panoply. Finally, the safeguards aim to forge trust to the foreign investors and to improve the investment climate in Egypt.

(1) Attorney at Law & International Arbitrator, Managing Partner Egypt Legal Desk, Visiting Professor of Energy Law – PhD. International Arbitration, LLB. International Agreements. E-Mail :
(2) The model concession agreement is available on the web site of the Egyptian General Petroleum Company (
(3) Roland Brown, The relationship between the State and the multinational corporation in the exploitation of resources, 33 (1) International and comparative law Quarterly, 1984, p. 221.
(4) Ahmed El-Kosheri, The particularity of the conflict avoidance methods pertaining to petroleum agreements, ICSID Review, Foreign Investment Law Journal, Vol. 11, n. 2, Fall 1996, p. 273
(5) Ahmed El-Kosheri, idem, p. 283
(6) See Alan Redfern and Martin Hunter, Law and Practice of International Commercial Arbitration, fourth edition 2004 (with Nigel Blackaby and Constantine Partasides), chapter 11, p. 562
(7) See the complete text of the arbitral award on the website of the ICSID (

By Dr. Minas Khatchadourian, Professor of Energy Law, International Arbitrator


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