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Egypt’s nuclear ambition raises question of stability
Egypt’s nuclear ambition raises question of stability
LAST week, on the eve of his ruling party’s convention, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his decision to revive Egypt’s nuclear program.
Wednesday, November 7,2007 07:00
by Dan Simpson Toledoblade

LAST week, on the eve of his ruling party"s convention, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his decision to revive Egypt"s nuclear program.

Like Iran and North Korea but unlike nuclear weapons holders India, Israel, and Pakistan, Egypt has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and will cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and its inspectors as it develops its program. He stressed - as Iran does - that Egypt"s intentions with the program were related to energy, not weapons.

Mr. Mubarak"s decision, and the party congress, put into focus the question of long-term stability in Egypt. After Israel, Egypt is America"s closest and largest ally in the Middle East. Under the leadership of President Anwar Sadat in the 1970s, Egypt also initiated the most important and reasonable relationship of any Arab state with Israel, a policy that Mr. Mubarak has continued during his own terms as president, starting in 1981.

Is Egypt stable? Or is it fundamentally unstable over the long haul and, if it possessed nuclear weapons, would it constitute the same kind of risk that the Bush Administration professes to find in Iran? .

Egypt almost certainly does present problems in terms of long-term stability and the resultant durability of its reasonable approach to Israel.

Mr. Mubarak is 79. He seems to have in mind being succeeded eventually by his son, Gamal Mubarak, but there are problems. The first is that the younger Mr. Mubarak is not a military officer.

Since King Farouk was tossed out in a military coup d"etat in 1952, Egypt has been led by military officers. Some of them - notably Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sadat - have been imaginative, bold, and even visionary in their governance.

Mr. Mubarak"s 26 years in power have been more humdrum, although he has generally been cooperative in America"s Middle East policies - but not the Iraq war - no doubt helped along by the $2 billion in annual U.S. aid Egypt has received since the 1978 Camp David accords, only topped by Israel"s $3 billion a year.

For a while, he seemed even to be cooperating with the Bush Administration"s "transformational diplomacy" approach to trying to bring democracy to the Middle East. There were some reforms in Egypt in the first half of this decade.

Even though the principal opposition grouping, the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in the 1950s, was not permitted to run candidates as a party, it ran people known to be its adherents in elections as "independents," the Sen. Joe Liebermans of Egypt. Direct election of the country"s president was approved in 2005, as opposed to the previous system of election by parliament with approval by a popular referendum.

The reforms came to a screeching halt when the Muslim Brotherhood showed its strength in the 2005 parliamentary elections, its "independent" candidates winning 88 of the 444 elected seats and gaining some 60 percent of the vote in the races they ran in.

That, coupled with Hamas"s January, 2006, victory in the Palestinian elections, also resulted in the Bush Administration"s quietly shelving its policy of pushing democracy in the Middle East. After all, why push democratic elections when the wrong people might win?

At that point, Egypt"s security forces, under President Mubarak"s direction, cracked down hard on Egypt"s opposition. Muslim Brotherhood leaders and other opposition figures were locked up. Scheduled 2006 local elections were postponed. The Mubarak government extended the state of the emergency in the country. Egypt"s judiciary, which had been showing greater independence since reforms were instituted, was put back under wraps.

Egypt"s economic situation is not great. Although there has been economic growth of an estimated 7 percent or so, inflation runs high, into the double digits, eroding the standard of living. There"s also been an increase in strikes in some industries, carried out by workers outside the government-controlled unions.

If there were truly free and fair democratic elections in Egypt, Mr. Mubarak"s government party likely would lose badly, based on the economic situation and the perception by religious Muslim Egyptians that Mr. Mubarak"s policies are far too responsive to the wishes of Israel and the United States.

This background, and the looming succession issue, lie behind Egypt"s reluctance to support the Bush Administration"s sputtering effort to mount a conference in the United States before the end of the year on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The policy the United States abandoned after the Palestinian and Egyptian parliamentary elections was not a bad one, but needs to be pursued gently and gradually. One institution that would be useful if it were in place for the next presidential elections would be an independent electoral commission, such as exists in the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Iraq in principle, and other countries with struggling democracies.

Other than that, all the United States should be doing is watching Egypt - not pushing Mr. Mubarak"s government to do anything that would further provoke his internal Islamic opposition - maintaining lines of communication to the Muslim Brotherhood, Kefaya, and other Egyptian opposition bodies, and crossing our fingers that an orderly presidential succession can take place, Egypt"s reasonable Israel policy remain in place, and the country not blowing up.

 


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