by Raymond Stock:
“We [Egyptians] are ready to starve in order to own a nuclear weapon that will represent a real deterrent and will be decisive in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” — Dr. Hamdi Hassan, Spokesman, Muslim Brotherhood Parliamentary Caucus, 2006
When Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected dictator, Mohamed Mursi became his country’s first head of state to visit Iran since its own Islamic revolution in 1979 for the annual meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on August 30, the two leaders might have gone beyond the scheduled turnover of NAM’s leadership from Mursi to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran: they most probably discussed Egypt’s quietly reviving drive to acquire nuclear power — possibly including nuclear weapons — and how Iran might be of help.
Since taking office on June 30, Mursi has reportedly offered to renew diplomatic relations with Tehran, severed for more than three decades — but then repeatedly denied that he had planned to do so. His visit for the NAM conference, however, along with his sudden recent proposal to set up a committee of four nations including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to end the fighting in Syria, and Egypt’s refusal to inspect an Iranian ship passing through the Suez Canal en route to Syria, all indicate that Cairo’s relations with Tehran are improving dynamically. Meanwhile, in advance of Mursi’s arrival, Iran was said to have offered to assist Egypt in developing a nuclear program.
Almost completely overlooked in Mursi’s warp-speed takeover of total state power in Egypt since his election victory, was that on July 8, the Ministry of Electricity and Energy (MoEE) handed him a feasibility study for the creation of a nuclear power plant at El-Dabaa in the Delta — possibly the first of four nuclear power plants around the country, the last of which would be brought online by 2025, according to a plan announced by MoEE in spring 2011. (Under the plan, El-Debaa would reach criticality—become operational–in 2019.) While Mursi has not yet announced his decision on whether to proceed with the projects, a number of international companies from Canada, China, France, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. have expressed interest in the bidding for them. In his trip to Beijing just prior to heading for Tehran, Mursi requested $3 billion for “power plants” from the Chinese, according to the geostrategic analysis firm Stratfor. Meanwhile, the website israelhayom.com reported on August 30 that the previous day Mursi had told a group of Egyptian expatriates living in China that he was considering the revival of Egypt’s nuclear power program. Now comes the possibility that Iran will transfer its nuclear capabilities to Egypt. As Stephen Manual reported from Tehran on August 26 for the website allvoices.com:
“Mansour Haqiqatpour, a member [vice-chairman] of the country’s Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, told the state-run television station, Press TV, that Iran also plans to invite heads of states to visit the country’s nuclear facilities on sidelines of NAM summit. The purpose of the visit is to counter the propaganda unleashed by Western countries that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. He said that Iran was ready to share experience and expertise on nuclear facilities with Egypt and there was no harm in it. One can easily infer from the statement of Haqiqatpour that Iran is indirectly urging Egypt to go for the nuclear technology.“
Iran later denied that it had invited any foreign heads of state to visit any of its nuclear sites during the NAM conference—but not, apparently, the offer to assist Egypt’s nuclear program. Although in Tehran Mursi also renewed Egypt’s long-standing call for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East, since at least 2006 the Muslim Brotherhood (MB, in which Mursi served as a major leader before his election) has called for Egypt to develop its own nuclear deterrent. This view is so popular that in an interview on the Cairo channel ON-TV, on August 21, 2011, a retired Egyptian army general, Abdul-Hamid Umran said that it was “absolutely necessary” for the nation’s security to have “a nuclear program.” By this, he made clear, he did not mean a purely civilian program to produce electric power, to which Egypt is technically entitled as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). He said, rather, that Egypt should declare the program’s peaceful purposes, and then systematically fool the international inspectors to achieve the needed levels of uranium enrichment to manufacture bombs — citing Iran as an example of how this can be done, and providing detailed steps to accomplish it. In another interview (for Egypt’s Tahrir-TV) on August 6, 2012, Umran again demanded that Egypt develop its own nuclear weapons, stressing that if Israel finds itself in a “difficult situation,” it would use its own nuclear shield: in that instance, Egypt must also have one to defend itself. The unmistakable implication is that Egypt would need nuclear weapons against Israel’s expected atomic retaliation in the event that Egypt went to war against the Jewish State.
Given the MB’s extreme hostility to Israel, its anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideology, and its recent, apparently complete takeover of the military and the rest of state power in Egypt, the possibilities raised are deeply unsettling. While none of this is conclusive, it definitely points to questions that have long been overlooked or too-easily dismissed in the debates about nuclear proliferation in a region that may soon explode in military conflict over Iran.
However it turns out, a review of the history and capabilities — past, present and future — of Egypt’s 58-year nuclear program will quickly reveal why approval of the El-Dabaa plant could signal the rise of a whole new level of danger in the already fraught Middle East, following the Islamist Spring.
Read more at Gatestone Institute