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Egypt Will Go Nuclear: Mubarak
[Analysis] Many Egyptians think if Iran has the Shiite bomb, then theirs is the Sunni bomb
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (ludwig)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-08 12:21 (KST)   
On Sept. 19, during the fourth annual convention of his party -- The National Democratic Party -- Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, announced that his country will pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Three days later, during the closing session, President Mubarak confirmed the decision.

"We must take more advantage of new and renewable energy sources, including the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and I call for a serious dialogue which takes into account the clean and cheap sources of energy available through nuclear technologies," he said.

Less than a week later, and for the first time in almost two decades, the Egyptian government's Supreme Council for Energy met to discuss the issue. Hassan Yunes, the electricity minister, laid out a plan that would provide Egypt with 1,000MW of nuclear power over the next decade.

During his speech, President Mubarak made it crystal clear that Egypt will go ahead with this program.

"Whatever the outcome of the dialogue, we will continue to implement [the nuclear program] without hesitation, out of conviction that future sources of energy are a primary aspect in building the future of our homeland, and the energy issue is an integral part of a system governing Egypt's national security."

The Case for Nuclear Energy

Egypt's nuclear program was first initiated by late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. After much hesitation, it eventually came to a complete halt in the wake of the Chernobyl accident.

Egypt's nuclear scientists have nevertheless continued to pursue small scale research, justifying a statement of President Mubarak according to which Egypt's nuclear scientists "do not start from a vacuum, and possess a knowledge of these techniques which enables [them] to proceed."

Egypt relies entirely on hydrocarbons for its electricity production. As Egyptians buy oil at the subsidized price of $0.23 a liter, the government loses billions per year. Thus the nuclear alternative makes good economic sense.

Regional Considerations and Nuclear Proliferation

Considering Israel's nuclear arsenal, Iran's suspected nuclear military program, rumors of Saudi Arabia buying nukes from Pakistan and Turkey's decision to acquire "nuclear plants" by 2012, it is hardly surprising that Egypt has decided to join the nuclear race.

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President Mubarak is deeply frustrated with the double standards attitude of the International Community towards Israel's nuclear weapons. Egypt has been a major proponent of the establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East and insists on Israel signing the Non Proliferation Treaty.

On Oct. 29, 1990, Egypt submitted a draft resolution entitled "Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East" to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly. On Nov. 13, 1990, the resolution was adopted by the First Committee and recommended to the General Assembly for adoption. On Oct. 26, 2005, Egypt resubmitted a similar draft resolution.

Top Egyptian officials agree that the current situation is unstable. In their opinion, the choice ahead is rather simple: either Israel gives up its nukes or the Arab nations will become nuclear powers -- the former being unlikely, the later seemingly unavoidable.

"The Middle East cannot have one nuclear state. It may live with two nuclear states, but certainly not one," said Amro Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister.

President Mubarak himself has warned the world of this gloomy reality. "We have a nuclear reactor at Inshas, and we have very capable experts. If the time comes when we need nuclear weapons, we will not hesitate," he told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, in October 1998.

To this old dilemma, one needs now to superimpose the new paradigm created by Iran's nuclear quest that challenges undoubtedly Cairo's willingness to exercise a leadership position in the Middle East.

In Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the Sunni-Muslims feel a common need to deter the threat of a Shiite atomic bomb.

"It comes at a time when Iran has shocked the region with its nuclear activities," said Mohammed Sayed Said of the Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, adding that "Egypt needed to establish a sense of legitimacy in the region."

Egypt and the Non-proliferation Treaty

Egypt is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed on July 1, 1968, and ratified on Feb. 26, 1981. Its nuclear activities are therefore subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Authority.

During the NPT Review and Extension Conference (April 17 to May 12, 1995) it strongly voiced its opposition to the indefinite extension of the NPT Treaty because of Israel's refusal to accede to the treaty. No progress could be achieved during the 2005 NPT Review conference because Egypt would not proceed unless the case of Israel was addressed.

Egyptian nuclear experts strongly oppose Egypt signing the additional protocol.

"It will allow inspectors to enter Egypt at any time and to inspect any place. They will search schools, hospitals and universities which would leave Egypt naked before the international inspectors," said top three nuclear scientists in an interview with the daily Al Masri Al Yom.

Is Gamal Mubarak Egypt's Next President?

Mubarak's son Gamal, 42, an assistant secretary-general of the party and head of the policies team, has said that he had no presidential aspirations. Yet many analysts observe that the speech was carefully crafted to enhance his image among the population, the military and the religious establishment.

The Religious Ruling Committee of the Al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo has issued a fatwa stating that "Developing nuclear weapons was a religious obligation."

"If a weapon appears in the hands of one of the nations of the world, whether it was a friendly nation or a hostile nation, the Muslims must obtain this weapon, or a more powerful weapon, and the clerics are in consensus about this," said Sheikh Abu-Al Hassan, in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam on Dec. 27, 2002.

Egypt's top military commanders seem to have made up their minds in favor of the bomb.

"Nuclear armament is a fait accompli," Saad Al-Din Al-Shadhali, the former chief-of-staff has said.

"Israel can in no way have exclusivity in nuclear weapons. We must deal with the balance that has been violated," said Mahmoud Khalef, the former commander of the Third Egyptian Army

To ordinary Egyptians, if Pakistan owns the Islamic bomb, and Iran possesses the Shiite bomb, then it seems logical that Egypt should acquire the Sunni bomb.

U.S. Reaction to the Announcement

With Egypt receiving about $2 billion a year in aid from the United States, many analysts have wondered how the Bush administration would respond to Mubarak's announcement.

Last week, while visiting Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Egyptian media that the U.S. supported "the Egyptian initiative to acquire peaceful nuclear technologies."

U.S. ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone said that an Egyptian nuclear program poses no problems for the United States and that his country stands ready to supply technology and experts to help.

Last month, Ricciardone had said that "the United States encourages the peaceful use of nuclear power for civilian purposes throughout the world."

This surprisingly prompt and positive reaction from the U.S. has led many observers to believe that Egypt had actually consulted the White House prior of making the announcement, as it is unlikely that Mubarak would seek to challenge the U.S. even if President Mubarak and his son harshly criticized Bush administration foreign policy in the Middle East.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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