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Egyptian foreign policy tone scathing in 2007 - Daily News Egypt

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Egyptian foreign policy tone scathing in 2007

The tone of Egypt’s foreign policy was scathing in many respects this year, and through it Egypt’s position on most issues were made pertinently clear.January saw Egypt declare its intention to pursue the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The move was seen as a riposte to the then assumed Iranian program as well …


The tone of Egypt’s foreign policy was scathing in many respects this year, and through it Egypt’s position on most issues were made pertinently clear.January saw Egypt declare its intention to pursue the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The move was seen as a riposte to the then assumed Iranian program as well as the long established Israeli one.President Hosni Mubarak had made statements that Egypt might begin developing nuclear weapons if Iran were to develop a weaponized nuclear program and then ally itself with Israel. Discussions about nuclear power ran all year and are still hot as we enter 2008. The frostiness with Iran was also a running theme, and in late January Al-Ahram newspaper claimed Iran was behind the death of Egyptian ambassador to Iraq Ihab Al-Sherif.A political spat also erupted with Israel in March over the Israeli documentary “Spirit of Shaked after which the local press alleged that Israel killed 250 Egyptian POWs in the 1967 war. Counter allegations also emerged that Egypt responded in kind in the 1973 war.Emotions ran high in the country after the press had reported on Shaked, and demands were made in parliament for an official government response despite denials about the event by the filmmaker himself as well as the then unit commander and current Israeli infrastructure minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.Aboul Gheit sent a harshly worded letter to Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni demanding that Israel investigate the affair after being criticized for previous comments deemed too lenient. Egypt also made an official request to the International Committee of the Red Cross to launch an independent inquiry. Egypt, ever the mediator, proposed a ceasefire agreement early May between the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq to be tabled at an Iraq security conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. This was met by a less than favourable response by the Shia government, which commented that the Arab nations favoured the Sunni insurgents – terrorists in their eyes – over the rest of the Iraqi population and the Shias in particular.Egypt played the broker in many areas of conflict regionally, mainly in Sudan and Palestine. However Egyptian statements were in general clear about who had most support, with the backing of the Sudanese government against the rebels in Darfur and the Palestinian Authority over Hamas.On Sudan, Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said in late May after a week of meetings with Sudanese leaders and leaders of neighboring countries that “Mubarak emphasized that Egypt sees no use of some international powers’ inclination for increasing pressure on Sudan, thus backing the position of Khartoum.Meanwhile, relations with Iran took a turn in May when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that his country was willing to restore diplomatic relations with the Egypt the “very day it agrees.Egypt responded two weeks later with FM Aboul Gheit describing Ahmadinejad’s overture as a positive sign.Closer to home, Aboul Gheit exerted his influence to secure a stay of execution for an Egyptian man accused of murder in Libya. He also attempted to seek delays in the cases of nine other Egyptians due to be executed in the same country.After Palestinian clashes in June saw Gaza fall to Hamas and the closure of the Rafah crossing, the dynamics of the Egypt-Israel-Gaza border changed. In August a State Information Service report citing a “senior diplomatic source said that Egypt informed Israel it was under no obligation to readmit refugees who had infiltrated the border between the two countries. In the only foreign policy U-turn of the year, Egypt accepted over 2,000 African refugees expelled from Israel a month later.However, the biggest border issue was that of smuggling of arms into Gaza, with Israel accusing Egypt of not doing enough to secure the border. The Egyptian response, given by Aboul Gheit in a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was that due to the ceasefire agreement between the two countries, Egypt was heavily undermanned on the border.This issue is still in play with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent visit to Egypt centering on this very topic.In September, Aboul Gheit declared that the Palestinians must realize that their future lies with the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas in a clear indication of who the Egyptian government backed in the internal political dispute marring the territories.Despite that, and the closure of the Rafah crossing – which left 4,000 Palestinians fleeing the June fighting stranded in Egypt for two months – Egypt allowed the return of 100 Hamas loyalists through the Rafah crossing a week after Aboul Gheit’s comments. Again this was an indication of Egypt always maintaining relations with both sides of any dispute even if they support one more than the other.Egypt’s relations with the US were also a mixed bag in 2007. Egypt refused any interference in internal affairs, such as in the areas of human rights and press freedom and criticized the US on many occasions for making public comments about these issues. There were talks of suspending $200 million of US aid to Egypt to further pressure it. But on a regional level, the US and Egyptian stances were practically sung from the same music sheet.Egypt was one of the biggest supporters of the Middle East Annapolis peace conference hosted by the US and immediately accepted the invitation, in addition to helping persuade the Arabs to attend. And throughout the year it supported US policy in Iraq, citing concerns about undue Shia influences.In late October, Aboul Gheit was capping off a busy year by visiting Lebanon and helping mediate the presidential election crisis. In Beirut, Aboul Gheit offered total Egyptian support for the success of the fraught presidential elections, which faced interminable delays and is still unresolved as 2008 kicks in.The final month of 2007 saw progress on the Iranian front, with an envoy from the Foreign Ministry making a visit to Tehran and more positive talk from both sides about the future of bilateral relations.Yet the year ended with more accusations against Israel, with Egypt saying that the Jewish state was undermining the results of the Annapolis conference, creating a smokescreen with the border issue to build more settlements on occupied land; and harming Egypt’s relationship with the US by lobbying Congress to suspend $100 million of aid to Egypt.

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