April 23, 2002 Special Dispatch No. 371

Mubarak Dismisses War with Israel; Pro-Iraq Paper Attacks Egyptian President

April 23, 2002
Iraq, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 371

In an April 13th interview with the editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government weekly Akhbar Al-Youm, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak again stated: Egypt will not be dragged into a war with Israel. Similar positions were voiced in recent days by several editors of Egypt's government newspapers.[1]

Mubarak's statements came under fire from editor-in-chief of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi (known to be affiliated with Iraq) 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan. Over the past few weeks, Atwan has written articles calling for military action against Israel and for Egypt and Jordan to completely sever relations with Israel. In addition, he urged the Arab masses to topple their regimes. The following are excerpts from the interview with Mubarak and Atwan's response:

Mubarak's Interview

"Question: Mr. President, some fear that Israel's barbarism against the Palestinian people will lead us to falling into the trap of war [with] Israel. [This is] encouraged by the television channels broadcasting from the capitals of Arab states…"

Mubarak: "…I do not usually make decisions only to please the man in the Arab or Egyptian street. All decisions I have made since I became Egypt's president have been… for the good of the Egyptian people in particular, and of the Arab peoples in general. I do not seek kudos from people who want us to revert to [the past]. I have no interest in the media attacks waged by people inciting against me or against Egypt's policy, because I know better than they what harms and what benefits the affairs of the Arabs."

"Some of these people are demanding, through Arab satellite channels, a war against Israel in response to its barbarity… I do not want to reiterate what I have said time and again… that violence begets only more violence, and the proof of it is that the barbaric operation by the Israeli army against the Palestinians has led to suicide operations by Palestinian youths who have despaired of everything."

In response to another question about calls to wage war against Israel, President Mubarak said:

"The people voicing these calls [to go to war] do not know what it means to start a war. Only those who have participated in a war know its consequences and its horrors. The [Egyptian] people has charged me with safeguarding its security and stability, and I am sworn to defend the interests of the people and to preserve the integrity of its lands, and to open the gates of livelihood, prosperity, and security to the generations [to come]. My obligation, to which I have committed myself before my people, is to ensure that I accomplish what the people expect from me."

"The Egyptian people has suffered alone, more than others, from the disasters and tragedies caused by wars. I do not object to what my predecessors did; on the contrary, I accept what they did out of a conviction that war was the only means available to them at that time."

"But today the situation is different, and the means have changed as well. It is proven… that violence begets only more violence; thus, with regard to what is happening between the Palestinians and Israel, war will be of no benefit, and will not achieve the required security and peace."

"Egypt was the first to claim that peace can achieve what war cannot. The effectiveness of this principle was proven when Egypt conducted negotiations with Israel in order to achieve peace from a position of strength and not from a position of weakness. The peace talks concluded with the return of every inch of occupied Egyptian land. Jordan did too, and the Palestinian leadership, which surprised us by signing the Oslo accords, also became convinced… Only sitting down at the negotiating table will stop the violence and the reciprocal violence between Palestinians and Israelis… On the other hand, it has already been proven that war accomplishes nothing, except to increase hatred…"

"You ask me about the drums of war that we hear these days. I say to you that the Egyptian army has no interest or goal except defending its country, safeguarding its borders, and deterring any aggression against Egypt. For a long time, our armed forces have been capable of meeting their supreme obligation. They are also capable of defending their country, protecting their people, and defeating their enemies, as set out in the constitution. Along with these agreed-upon principles, it is my obligation to point out that the Egyptian armed forces are not an army of mercenaries and do not fight merely for the sake of fighting. Egypt has sacrificed over 120,000 martyrs, and we have absorbed losses in the tens of billions – which obliged us to halt our development plans, one after the other. But we do not regret our sacrifice, and we make sacrifices and will continue to make sacrifices for our Palestinian brethren, and we will continue to invest faithful efforts in order to eliminate their suffering and help them, as best we can, to regain their rights and their sovereignty over their territory, which is internationally recognized."[2]

Atwan's Response
In a front-page article in Al-Quds Al-Arabi titled "President Mubarak and His Priorities," Atwan responded:

"President Mubarak answers to hundreds of thousands of Egyptian demonstrators, men of honor, who are demanding that their country's army act against the Israeli massacres in Palestine by saying, 'The Egyptian army has no interest or goal except defending its country, safeguarding its borders, and deterring any aggression towards Egypt…'"

"President Mubarak should, perhaps, be reminded that when the Egyptian army fought under American military command in the Gulf War, it was not fighting to defend Egypt and its interests – otherwise, the commander of the unit that was sent to [the Gulf]… would not have resigned, and the Egyptian soldiers would not have hugged and kissed each other whenever Iraqi missiles hit the headquarters of the American forces or struck deep into Israel during that war."

"Even if President Mubarak does not want to fight to defend the honor of the Arab nation and the religion of Islam… it would be better for him to refrain from declaring it morning and night. By doing so, he reassures Sharon that his southern border with Egypt is safe, and he can go on with his massacres without fear."

"No one wants Egypt to cast forth its sons, the sons and defenders of the Arab nation, into a massacre whose timing and conditions Sharon determines. However, this does not justify completely removing the Egyptian military force from the equation – as if Egypt were Switzerland or Sweden."

"The most dangerous thing about President Mubarak's declarations is that they send a clear message to Sharon: Egypt, which has washed its hands of the Palestinians and relinquished its northern gate and an important part of its pan-Arab security, is also capable of turning its back on Syria and Lebanon…"

"Egypt grew and prospered, politically, economically, and militarily, when its leadership knew its place and its role in the region. Muhammad 'Ali, who laid the foundations for Egypt's prosperity, sent the Egyptian army to Al-Sham [Syria] and the Arabian Peninsula and nearly reached Istanbul [in the first half of the nineteenth century]. The [Egyptian] Mameluke commander Qutuz did not stop at the border of Sinai; he crossed it and entered Palestine, battled the Tatars, and vanquished them at 'Ein Jalut [1260]. Saladdin Al-Ayoubi did the same, going out from Egypt to face the Crusaders at Hittin [1187] – not only to liberate Jerusalem, but also to defend Egypt and its security."

"I had hoped that President Mubarak would not praise the [1978] Camp David negotiations, and would not present them as an optimal model by means of which Egypt managed to regain every inch of its land. He knows very well that the Hebrew state reaped strategic gains, and that its concessions in the Sinai Desert seem modest in comparison to the losses. Egypt regained its lands in negotiations only after the October War [1973], which it waged shoulder to shoulder with its sister Syria and with the support of all the other Arab countries, primarily the Gulf states under Saudi leadership. It was these countries that introduced the weapon of oil into the political and military lexicon, as one of the most important and dangerous of weapons."

"I had also hoped that President Mubarak would not 'reproach' us, as Arabs, by saying that Egypt sacrificed more than 120,000 martyrs and absorbed losses of tens of billions of dollars, which forced it to halt its development plan. The president knows that the Arab countries did not, even for a moment, refrain from supporting Egypt's military war effort. More important, Egypt has received $50 billion in American aid since signing the Camp David agreement in exchange for relinquishing war and renouncing the fulfillment of its pan-Arab duties."

"[Mubarak claims that] the wars defending Pan-Arab security and the support of the Arab right to Palestine derailed the development plan. But the last war in which Egypt participated was exactly 30 years ago. Where are these development plans? Is the Egyptian economy better off now than it was 30 years ago?…"

"If President Mubarak does not want war because he knows its horrors… we hope that he will [at least] stop, once and for all, applying pressure on the Palestinians and their leadership to comply with Sharon's and America's schemes to reach a humiliating ceasefire and to raise the flag of surrender – in exchange for nothing at all."[3]

[1] See MEMRI Editors of Egyptian Government Newspapers: Egypt Will Not be Dragged into War Against Israel by Syria's 'Boy President'

[2] Akhbar Al-Youm (Egypt), April 13, 2002.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 15, 2002.

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