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May 25, 2015 Special Dispatch No. 6055

Egyptian Columnist: Arab Countries Should Become Nuclear Threshold States, To Gain Global Influence

May 25, 2015
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 6055

The Fourth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was held April 27-May 22, 2015.[1] At the end of the conference, the U.S. blocked an Egyptian-led proposal to convene a summit by March 2016, with or without Israel's assent, on disarming the Middle East of nuclear weapons.

Prior to this, Dr. Muhammad Al-Sa'id Idris, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, published an article in which he argued that, instead of being members in the NPT, the Arab countries should strive to develop real nuclear programs and become nuclear threshold states. He wrote that the Arabs' participation in the conference was meaningless, since Israel, backed by the U.S., would not sign the NPT and would continue to oppose a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. Hence, in order to gain global influence, the Arab states must leave the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and develop their own nuclear capabilities.

It should be noted that Dr. Idris published several articles in the recent year calling for Egypt to advance its nuclear program and to start enriching uranium.[2] This, following statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a February 9-10, 2015 visit to Egypt about cooperation between the two countries in the nuclear domain and following the signing of an Egyptian-Russian memorandum of understanding on the establishment of a nuclear power plant in Al-Dab'a. In an article from February 17, 2015, Idris called for Egypt to "revive its nuclear dream" and launch a "nuclear economy," namely, "a full nuclear program including not only the purchase of a nuclear power plant but also uranium enrichment and local production of nuclear fuel."[3] In a February 24, 2015 article, he wrote: "The entire world is turning to peaceful nuclear energy, and there are those who have nuclear weapons. How is it that Egypt has remained completely outside this arena, making it a country that is easy to direct and to control?"[4]

Egypt's former IAEA delegate, Dr. Mustafa Al-Fiqi, also called recently for the Arab countries to launch an Arab nuclear program in order to restore the strategic balance in the region.[5]       

The following are excerpts from Dr. Idris's article:[6]


Dr. Muhammad Al-Sa'id Idris (image: alwafd.org)

"Egypt and the other Arab states participating in the NPT Review Conference, which began April 27, 2015 in New York and will continue until May 22, understand the crisis of the two main topics that concern all Arab countries. The first topic is the refusal of Israel, with the backing of the U.S., to sign the NPT, which currently has 190 signatory states, and to adhere to all the rules and principles of the IAEA, chiefly [the demand to] open all Israeli nuclear facilities to inspection by the IAEA. The second topic is the refusal of Israel, also with the backing of the U.S., to hold an international summit to disarm the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction.

"Arab countries, chiefly Egypt, understand this and know for certain that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since the late 1960's and that not only will it not relinquish these weapons, but it will also not allow any Arab country to possess advanced nuclear technology...

"In that case, the obvious question is: Why are Egypt and [other] Arab countries participating in the activity of the NPT Review Conference? Do they have a joint calculated plan to attain achievements at this conference that would force Israel to sign the NPT and to obey all the safeguards and arrangements enforced by the IAEA... [and would bring about] the holding of the international summit that was meant to be held in Helsinki and was tasked with disarming the Middle East of its weapons of mass destruction - which Israel opposed and the U.S. thwarted in 2012?

"Thus far, even though over two weeks have passed since the current round of the review conference began, there have been no collective Arab moves, or coordination with the nonaligned bloc regarding a course of action or any plan to benefit from this round of the conference. Thus far, the only thing that happened was a [mere] statement of criticism regarding the crisis over the NPT's future. These criticisms and positions, despite their importance, in no way constitute pressure on the conference [especially] considering Israel's confidence that this conference will achieve nothing and that it is totally protected from any pressure...

"The Israelis' confidence that the conference convening in New York right now will produce no results stems not only from the complete American support for Israel's position or from the rumors of an 'American-Israeli-Iranian deal' regarding a barter involving 'the nuclear agreement with Iran and Israel's military nuclear capabilities' - meaning that Israel would turn a blind eye to the nuclear agreement with Iran in return for leaving the issue of its nuclear weapons sealed. [It stems as well from] an Israeli understanding that, in the current bleak reality, the Arabs do not constitute a force that can pressure Israel into complying with its demands regarding [Israel's] military nuclear capabilities. The main factors in this bleak reality are the takfiri Islamic terrorist groups, the deepening and widening rift between what the Israeli and American media call 'Sunni Arabs' and 'Shi'ite Arabs,' and the emergence of Iran as a regional power that is a threat to many Sunni Arab nations - to the point that Israeli is now convinced that certain Arab countries are more concerned by Iranian expansionist aspirations than they are worried about and fear the Israeli nuclear weapons monopoly [in the region]... The UN Secretary-General's expectations from the Review Conference in New York are no less depressing, for... he was not eager to deliver remarks at the opening session of the conference, instead deferring the [task] to one of his aides, even though the session took place at the UN headquarters. More importantly, he preferred to speak generally and avoid the complexities of the Middle East topic, and did not say a single word on how we must disarm the Middle East of its weapons of mass destruction. Prior to [this conduct by] the Secretary-General, IAEA members opposed a proposal submitted by the Arab bloc in September 2014 which called on Israel to join the NPT.

"The Arab delegations currently attending the NPT Review Conference in New York... all know and remember these things by heart, but no one will answer our question of why they came [to New York] to participate in the conference [in the first place], knowing in advance that their efforts were destined to fail as they did in previous rounds. And if anyone is wondering whether we have an alternative option, the answer is yes. We do have alternative options, but it is more important to have the political will for these options to succeed. Arab countries can collectively withdraw from the NPT, since this is a right granted to us in the treaty itself. Furthermore, they can suspend their participation in the activity of the IAEA and of the Review Conference, to protest against the[se institutions'] double standards, which have become one of the most important characteristics of the [current] unjust global order.

"If some think that these options are [too] passive, then we [also] have proactive options, chiefly to transform the issue of Middle East nuclear disarmament to one [that engages] public opinion and civil society organizations, in order to disgrace the Israeli position and especially the American position. However, the more important thing is to strive for a real nuclear program, including the so-called 'nuclear fuel cycle,' without striving for nuclear weapons. Meaning that [Arab countries] will become nuclear threshold states, like at least 50 other countries around the world. Then the world will hear our voice because we will be countries with capabilities and resources, and not just countries voicing objections that no one heeds."

Endnotes:

 

[1] This conference, held every five years since 1995, is aimed at formulating a new treaty to replace the NPT from 1970.

[2] Egypt's nuclear program was launched in the 1950s with the aim of building nuclear plants in Al-Dab'a, in the Matrouh Governorate  in north-western Egypt, but was suspended in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster. The program was renewed in the early 2000s under then-president Mubarak, and was again stopped after his ouster in 2011. Muhammad Mursi considered renewing the program during his short presidency, but did not advance very far in this initiative. In October 2013, then-president 'Adly Mansour officially announced the renewal of the nuclear project in Al-Dab'a and the commencement of first steps towards establishing peaceful nuclear power plants there. On the Egyptian nuclear program, see MEMRI reports:

Special Dispatch No. 5477, "Egypt Renews Nuclear Program," October 11, 2013;

Inquiry & Analysis No. 118, "Egypt Rethinks Its Nuclear Program Part I: Scientific and Technological Capability Vs. International Commitments," January 14, 2003;

Inquiry & Analysis No. 119, "Egypt Rethinks its Nuclear Program Part II: The Egyptian Nuclear Lobby," January 17, 2003;

Inquiry & Analysis No. 120, "Egypt Rethinks its Nuclear Program Part III: The Nuclear Lobby (Continued)," January 17, 2003. 

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 17, 2015.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 24, 2015.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 12, 2015.

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