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memri
January 17, 2003 No.
119

Egypt Rethinks its Nuclear Program Part II: The Egyptian Nuclear Lobby

By: Yotam Feldner*

The Politicians

Although official Egyptian policy opposes the development of nuclear weapons, Egypt does have a nuclear arms lobby. In addition to many of the Egyptian nuclear scientists who support the development of a nuclear program that can be diverted for military purposes in the future, the nuclear lobby includes politicians, former senior military commanders, and clerics.

The most prominent of the politicians who have expressed support for the nuclear option is Egyptian parliamentary speaker Ahmad Fathi Srour. After India's and Pakistan's nuclear testing in May 1998, Srour said, "It is no longer acceptable for the Arabs to be content with watching international developments… They have to hurry up and act to become a mighty power in possession of all the elements of force and strength."[1]It should be noted that according to the Egyptian constitution, the parliamentary speaker is second in line for the leadership of the country.

One of the most coherent views in favor of the nuclear option among the politicians is that of Egyptian Parliamentary Foreign Liaison Committee head Dr. Mustafa Al-Faqi, who represented Egypt on the International Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1990s.In 2002, Al-Faqi published two articles on the nuclear weapons issue in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram.In the first, he wrote: "Years ago, Egypt adopted a clear option, calling to declare the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, on the assumption that this call would prepare the ground for a just peace that would lead to stability in the region.Now, the Israeli-Arab conflict has entered a most miserable stage, and we again mention the other options – not in order to cry over spilled milk, but to discuss the Arabs' lost opportunities and to think about the future of the region, after a peace is attained that will restore the rights to their owners and liberate the usurped land. Today, we need to go back and reopen the files about security in the Middle East, because it would seem that there is still a long road before we reach an arrangement…"

"The question that arises now is whether it wouldn't be better for the Arabs to obtain nuclear weapons that will guarantee them a degree of balance with Israel… whether it would not be better for us to advance, at an early stage, towards obtaining Arab nuclear weapons – not in order to use them, but in order to create a measure of strategic balance that will not permit Israel to run wild in the region as it did on many occasions?… The Arabs must search for alternative tools that they can use in hostilities. I am not referring strictly to military conflict, in the event that Israel forces it on the Middle East. I want to point out also the means that has been neutralized in the history of this conflict."

"We are a nation that volunteered to halt all development programs and its democratic process in waiting for peace that has tarried greatly, and perhaps will not arrive soon.

This comes at a time when economic supremacy and technological progress were meant to lead us to a much better situation than [our situation] today… I am not calling for preparation for military action… What I do want is to close the gap [on the] technological level and economic achievements in a way that guarantees some degree of strategic balance that will bring peace and stability…"

"The way is not blocked to us, and options are still open. Israel is not the same incredible and invincible power [it once was]; it is only a despotic power that does not implement the resolutions on international legitimacy [i.e. the UN] and does not honor international law… There is an Israeli decision from decades ago to deny any Arab country the possibility of attaining [the ability] to produce an atom bomb – which is no longer a scientific secret that is difficult to obtain, since the technology for using [atomic means] for peaceful purposes can be preparation for other uses. However, what is required is material means and professional knowledge. We have both. The Arabs have enough money to buy the components for nuclear production, and we have scientists on a high level. It is enough for us to know that Egypt alone has ten scientists working as international inspectors at the Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna, which is headed by an Egyptian diplomat. However, what is more important [now] than years ago is the factor of political will to move ahead in an integrative nuclear program – not for the sake of aggression towards others, or threatening them, but in order to create a strategic balance in the region that will defend the rights and the holy places…"[2] In an article that appeared in Al-Ahram a month and a half later, Al-Faqi added: "We need to begin a strategic nuclear and deterrence program that will constitute an incentive to raise the standard of education and security."[3]

Egyptian opposition members also support the nuclear option. The pan-Arab-leaning Al-Wifaq Al-Qawmi party, the founding of which was approved in March 2000, includes in its platform an article stating, "Egypt should obtain nuclear weapons in order to maintain peace in the region. It is true that Egypt is a signatory to the NPT, but Israel did not sign. Peace cannot be a reality unless there is a balance of powers in the region."[4]

Retired Military Commanders

Former top Egyptian military commanders also expressed support for developing nuclear weapons. The Egyptian chief of staff during the 1973 war, Sa'd Al-Din Al-Shadhili, said: "Nuclear armament is a fact. We all know that Israel has nuclear armaments and the means to launch them, as well as satellites that process data on the progress of the bomb launchings. Nevertheless, America refuses to allow any Arab or Islamic country to obtain the nuclear bomb. With an investment of $10 billion over ten years, it will be possible to produce a nuclear bomb." Al-Shakhali called for starting this undertaking.[5]

A former commander of Egypt's Third Army and member of the Egyptian Foreign Relations Council, Mahmoud Muhammad Khalaf, stated: "The key is the language of power. The Arabs must think about the political decision connected to the 'nuclear club.' This issue should be examined, and Israel can in no way have exclusivity in nuclear weapons. We must deal with the balance that has been violated…"[6]

Unequivocal support for the production of nuclear weapons was expressed by Lieutenant GeneralSalah Halabi, head of the Arab Industrialization Authority, who in a speech to the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Council said: "If Egypt does not manage to force or persuade Israel to relinquish its nuclear weapons, there is no way but to find an alternative solution, and that is to obtain this weapon. Even if Egypt has turned a blind eye, and temporarily accepted some of the Israeli excuses that some Arab countries are still in a state of war with Israel, this situation will not continue for a long time… Egypt can never forget this matter, otherwise the situation in the region will get out of control, and we will not manage to achieve balance in the region… The Arab situation in the Middle East is an exceptional situation, which does not exist in any region in the world: A single power has exclusivity in this weapon. Even if there is Egyptian-American cooperation in maneuvers, or in direct supply of weapons to the Egyptian military, this is not enough – unless the U.S. gives us the actual nuclear weapons."(It should be noted that "Egyptian military sources" reported to the Al-Ahram Weekly that the joint U.S.-Egyptian Bright Star military maneuvers in October 1999 were expected to include "nuclear, biological, and chemical training."[7])

"It is not possible to rely on the claim that a nuclear balance has already been achieved in practical terms because the region has more than one nuclear power… Where is that power? Does it agree to use its weapons on Egypt's behalf? When Pakistan exploded its nuclear bomb, it was thought in the region that it was an Islamic bomb, but Pakistan declared that it had no intention of exporting nuclear technology to countries in the region…"

"Egypt is not lacking the means to catch up with Israel in this area. Had the Arabs cooperated with Egypt in the Arab Industrialization Authority during the boycott, Egypt would have had today tremendous power in the weapons industry and [weapons] export areas."[8]

In contrast, another Egyptian chief of staff, Abd Al-Ghani Al-Gamasi, maintained that Egypt did not necessarily need nuclear capability to achieve balance with Israel. Al-Gamasi, and Major General Ismat Ezz, declared that Arab states can, in phased stages, achieve the necessary degree of balance with Israel. This can be achieved without waiting for the production of any nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, but simply by acquiring missile systems with traditional warheads."[9]

*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis


[1] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), July 2, 1998.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 21, 2002.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 2, 2002.

[4] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), March 9, 2000.

[5] Al-Bayan (UAE), April 23, 2002.

[6] Al-Bayan (UAE), August 7, 2002.

[7] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), October 21, 1999.

[8] http://www.islam-online.net/iol-arabic/dowalia/alhadath2000-jul-6/alhadath1.asp , June 7, 2000.

[9] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), October 22, 1998.