Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Morsi’s Egypt Eyes Nukes

by P. David Hornik

There are certain obvious parallels between the 1979 rise of the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran and the 2012 rise of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. In both cases, the political takeover was enabled by a Democratic U.S. president who had some degree of sympathy for it. In both cases, a moderate U.S. ally—Reza Shah Pahlavi and Hosni Mubarak respectively—was abandoned in favor of the radicals.

In Iran’s case, it took another ten years for intensive work to begin on building a nuclear-weapons capability. It then took another two decades for the West even to impose sanctions that seriously affect Iran’s economy. In recent days, of course, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been emphatically warning that this is not enough and there is a real danger of allowing Iran to sprint the final distance to a nuclear breakout capability.

Dr. Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a research associate at the BESA Center of Bar-Ilan University, now warns that there is a danger as well of President Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt going down a similar path.

While noting that Egypt has no nuclear energy program at present, Shay points out that this “may be changing.” As Morsi said while visiting China at the end of last month: “Cairo is considering renewing the Egyptian nuclear program, which will be purely for civilian purposes, to provide clean energy to the citizens of Egypt.” During the visit, Shay notes, Morsi “requested $3 billion from the Chinese to build ‘power plants.’”

It turns out that already in July 2012—Morsi having taken office on June 30—Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy was calling to restart the country’s nuclear program. The ministry said Egypt’s increasing demand for electricity could no longer be met otherwise, and proposed having four nuclear power plants online by 2025, with the first one becoming operational in 2019. Although Morsi has not yet finally and officially declared himself in favor, Canadian, Chinese, French, Russian, South Korean, and U.S. firms have already shown interest in bidding for these plants.

Of course, calls for nuclear plants to meet Egypt’s civilian energy needs may sound innocuous enough. The trouble is that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has already, for years, been openly speaking of nuclear facilities of a different kind.

Shay details:

By 2006, members of the Muslim Brotherhood began advocating for a nuclear weapons program. Dr. Hamdi Hassan, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson, stated that Egyptians “are ready to starve” to obtain a nuclear weapon. Similarly, Saad Al Husseyni, another Muslim Brotherhood representative, suggested thatEgypt develop a “strong and deterrent military power,” arguing that…nuclear weapons would be more effective…than promoting a nuclear weapons-free zone.In 2009, Muslim Brotherhood MP Dr. Ibrahim Al-Ja’afari called for the militarization of Egypt’s nuclear program….

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who called for Israel’s destruction in a speech to a million followers in Tahrir Square soon after Mubarak’s overthrow, is the global leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2009, Shay notes, Qaradawi said Muslim countries needed to possess nuclear weapons “in order to strike terror in our enemies.”

The possibility of Egypt going for nuclear weapons should, first of all, add to the urgency of stopping Iran. Doing so would give Morsi’s regime the message that the West has the resolve to protect itself and plans similar to Iran’s should be shelved. Failing to stop Iran would not only, of course, mean failing to discourage Egypt but also a raft of other countries likely to join a Middle East nuclear arms race including Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and smaller Gulf states.

As for Western firms, and their governments, that perceive opportunities in a possible revival of Egypt’s nuclear program, one hopes the recent display of a besieged U.S. embassy in Cairo, and Morsi’s weak and temporizing response, would induce second thoughts about the rationality of selling this regime the rope with which to hang its proclaimed ideological enemy—the West. As Netanyahu put it on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday: “You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

By “fanatics,” of course, he was referring both to zealots out in the streets and to the sort of zealots who are not hard to find in regimes themselves.

P. David Hornik


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