Egypt, for several centuries, has been performing an important function of cultural and political synthesis between Islam and Christianity, the Arab world and Europe, Africa and Asia, and the civilization of the desert and that of the Mediterranean. This reality, together with the perennial character of the citizens of the oldest state in the area, acquired through the ages, constitutes an important factor that conditions the attitudes and behavior of Egypt toward the rest of the world.

However, the foreign policy of a country is the sum of various geopolitical, historical and economic components. From Gamal Abdel Nasser to Anwar el-Sadat, from Anwar el-Sadat to Hosni Mubarak, these same components have influenced and shaped the foreign policy of Egypt. Therefore, it is in the nature of things that this policy should have a character of continuity through the various periods, and, consequently, after the tragic death of President Sadat, that this continuity should prevail.

Broadly speaking, Egyptian foreign policy in the last three decades has been directed toward two main challenges: how to contain Israeli ambitions and how to solve the Palestinian problem, the core of the Middle East crisis. This task, difficult in itself and rendered more complex by virtue of the multifaceted nature of the conflict, has been further complicated by the differences among Arabs, and the inability of some to adopt a rational attitude or to discard shortsighted policies toward the problem.

Thus, Egypt's efforts to resolve the contradictions between Palestinian national rights and Israeli national aims had to take place in the framework of an equation that would strike a balance between Egypt's conviction that Arab initiative is an important factor in any peace process and the necessity for her to exercise her traditional leadership in order to break the deadlock that has existed for well over 30 years, a deadlock that was undoubtedly detrimental to the interests of Egypt and all the other Arab states as well as to those of the Palestinian people.

In an interdependent world such as ours, Egypt's initiation of the peace process would no doubt have worldwide implications, particularly concerning her relations with the Arab countries, Africa and the nonaligned countries in general. This essay is an attempt to analyze Egypt's response to that challenge and the impact of that response on her relations with the Arab world, Africa and the Third World at large, in the post-Sadat era.


A review of the history of the region demonstrates that Egypt is the central power in the Middle East. Major developments and events in the area during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been, to a great extent, shaped by the role played by Egypt, and major events have never left Egypt indifferent. Ever since the partition of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Egypt has been at the forefront of the opposition to the creation of a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian people. The Egyptian people were deeply affected by the injustice done to the Palestinian people and the usurpation of their rights. This Egyptian opposition did not in any way stem from any anti-Jewish sentiment, but it was rather based on the dismissal of the violation of the Palestinians' rights to sovereignty and independence, those rights guaranteed by the U.N. Charter and recognized with regard to all other peoples.

From this standpoint, Egypt also objected to Jordanian schemes to extend sovereignty over the West Bank. A violent controversy erupted at that time between the Arab states on the future of the West Bank. Jordan, supported by Iraq, favored the annexation of these Palestinian territories, while Egypt, supported by Saudi Arabia, rejected the Hashemite plan and did not recognize Jordan's domination of the West Bank. In 1950 Egypt demanded the expulsion of Jordan from the Arab League because of its measures to annex the West Bank and its disregard of the rights of the Palestinian people to determine their own future on their own territory.

The Council of the Arab League adopted a resolution warning Jordan against the consequences of such action and reiterating a common Arab attitude. The resolution laid down that the Council:

reaffirms the unanimous resolution of April 12, 1948, that the entry into Palestine of the Arab Armies was to save it from the conspiracies and atrocities it was subjected to and that it should be considered as a provisional measure void of any intention or power to bring about the occupation or partition of Palestine; and that the Palestinian territories should be restored to their rightful owners. In case of violation of this Resolution by any Arab State, that State should be considered as having violated the pact of the Arab League and will be dealt with accordingly.

On the other hand, Egypt preserved the Palestinian identity and character of the Gaza Strip. Egypt refused to annex it and never claimed sovereignty over it. Egypt considered the Gaza Strip, placed under her administration after the armistice agreement, as a Palestinian territory entrusted to Egypt provisionally, to be ultimately restored to the Palestinian people.

Not only did Egypt defend Palestinian rights, and oppose and resist the annexation of Palestinian territories by any power, Arab and non-Arab alike, but she also insisted that Palestine should be represented in the Arab League as well as in other international forums. Thus Egypt's struggle in favor of Palestinian rights led-from the beginning-to several inter-Arab disputes in addition to the Arab-Israeli confrontation. Egypt strongly believed that the Palestinians were entitled to freedom, self-determination and their own state if they so chose.

After four wars and 34 years of bloodshed and untold suffering, the unprecedented and courageous visit of President Sadat to Israel in November 1977, and the conclusion of the peace treaty with Israel and the exchange of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, Egypt in 1982 remains as solid in her commitment to the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people as she was in 1948.

There is continuity and consistency in that position which can be explained by the fact that the goal to be achieved supersedes the ways and means to reach it. Egypt did not at any stage deviate from the goal of restoring Palestinian rights. The Egyptian peace initiative of November 1977 was in its essence a new approach, a new methodology to attain peacefully a solution to the conflict that would be based on these rights as recognized by the Charter and resolutions of the United Nations.

The October War of 1973 ushered in a new era in the Middle East and opened the door for the first time to the possibility of reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis. It constituted a turning point on the whole geopolitical map of the Middle East conflict, thus paving the way for President Sadat's peace policy. After attempting to obtain recognition of Palestinian rights through military confrontation, Egypt is now trying to achieve the same aim through diplomatic efforts. Egypt is now trying to demonstrate that this can be done through peaceful means, through negotiation and a continuous dialogue.

This shift in the means, but not in the objective, was based on a rational analysis of regional power relations as well as on that of the attitudes of the two superpowers. The interests of the peoples of the area, without exception, and in fact the interests of world peace and stability, required that all responsible and lucid policymakers should eschew irrational reactions and misconceptions and reject from their thinking the possibility of war as an alternative.

On November 20, 1977, President Sadat pressed on the Israelis, in his address to the Knesset, the hard facts about the Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to their own state. He said:

The problem is not that of Egypt and Israel. . . . Any separate peace between Egypt and Israel will not bring permanent peace. Rather, even if peace between all the confrontation States and Israel were achieved in the absence of a just solution to the Palestinian problem, there would never be the durable and just peace upon which the entire world today insists. . . . As for the Palestinian cause, nobody can deny that it is the crux of the entire problem. Nobody in the world today can accept those slogans propagated in Israel ignoring the existence of the Palestinian people and questioning even their whereabouts. The cause of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights are no longer ignored or denied today by anyone . . . Even the United States, your prime ally, has opted to face up to reality and admit that the Palestinian people are entitled to their legitimate rights, as the Palestinian problem is the core and essence of the conflict. There can be no peace without the Palestinians. It is a grave error of unpredictable consequences to overlook or brush aside this cause.

President Sadat presented the elements of Egypt's peace plan before the Knesset, as follows:

- the termination of the Israeli occupation of all the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;

- the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and their rights to self-determination including the right to establish their own state;

- the right of all states in the area to live in peace within secure boundaries, based on the recognition that the security of international borders can be established through agreed-upon arrangements and international guarantees;

- the commitment by all states in the region to conduct relations among themselves according to the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, in particular the peaceful settlement of disputes and the abstention from the threat or use of force; and

- the termination of the state of belligerency in the area.

Thus it was abundantly clear that Egypt viewed the Palestinian problem as being at the very heart of the Middle East conflict and that an unjust peace that would not guarantee the rights of the Palestinian people would have no future. Indeed, Egypt is seeking a comprehensive peace and not a separate or bilateral agreement with Israel. And during long hours of negotiations with the Israelis, Egyptians have sought to link the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Egyptian territory to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian territory. Every effort was exerted by Egypt to associate the solution of the Egyptian question with that of the Palestinian question, in order to lay special emphasis on her comprehensive approach to the peace process.

This view was rejected by the Israelis, who opposed the linkage in the timing of the two courses. But in substance as well as in fact, the linkage does exist: on March 26, 1979, Egypt and Israel signed what amount to two complementary treaties. The first one envisages a phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai, while the second one envisages the partial withdrawal of these forces from Gaza and the West Bank and the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian Authority in these territories during a transitional period. It also draws the outline for negotiations between all parties concerned on an agreement about the final status of these Palestinian territories.

Thus, the role of Egypt in the current autonomy talks is not to reach an agreement on this final status, but rather to agree on a number of transitional arrangements under which a Palestinian Authority would be established with a dual role: it would assume the powers and responsibilities now held by the Israeli military occupation regime, and it would also be able to participate in the negotiations on the final status of the Palestinian territories now under occupation.

Egypt does not pretend to speak for the Palestinians or to have a mandate to decide on their behalf. It is the Palestinian Authority which will be able to voice their wishes and concerns in the negotiations and pave the way for the process of self-determination. This, by itself, rationalizes the firm intention of Egyptian diplomacy to continue, after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai due in April 1982, to pursue the negotiations with the Israelis and the Americans with the aim of achieving full autonomy for the Palestinian people on their own territory according to the Camp David framework.

What Egypt has in mind is that the Palestinians and other Arab parties concerned join these negotiations. It is obvious, however, that only tangible and positive results would induce them to do so. Hence the emphasis laid by Egypt on the necessity for the Israelis to adopt a number of confidence-building measures, to discard the policies of economic sabotage, psychological warfare and cultural frustration being conducted against the Palestinians in the occupied lands.

In an official aide-mémoire dated October 13, 1980, Egypt specified her demands for such confidence-building measures and demanded a commitment by Israel to:

- freeze the establishment of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza during the five-year transitional period;

- affirm her readiness to engage in negotiations with any Palestinian group that would accept U.N. Security Council Resolution 242;

- give assurances that Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza would have no right to participate in the vote concerning the establishment of the Palestinian Authority;

- recognize the fact that the Arabs of East Jerusalem constitute an integral part of the Palestinian people and will participate in the vote establishing the Palestinian Authority;

- restore the expropriated lands and properties in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinian Authority;

- permit the resumption of the activities and commercial operations of the Arab banks in the West Bank and return expropriated or frozen deposits;

- lift the ban on political meetings and allow freedom of expression in the West Bank and Gaza;

- suspend any policies or practices that would create tension or render difficult the implementation of the Camp David framework's provisions concerning the establishment of the Palestinian Authority;

- abolish all restrictions on the freedom of movement of the inhabitants in the occupied territories;

- grant an amnesty to Palestinian political prisoners;

- cease military maneuvers in the West Bank and Gaza;

- reunite Palestinian families by allowing the return of those members who were forced to flee their houses and villages in 1967;

- allow a number of displaced persons to return to the West Bank and Gaza;

- put an end to the restrictions on the use of water for irrigation purposes in the Gaza farms; and

- refrain from imposing any restrictions on the Arab producers of citrus fruits, etc.

If the Israelis do want a comprehensive peace, if they do want other Arabs to join the peace process, then it is up to them to respond to these Egyptian proposals and to desist from practices that can only deepen mistrust and hatred. Mass arrests, deportation of mayors and notables, destruction of homes, building of illegal settlements, violation of property rights, collective punishments, and the denial of freedom are not only contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention but more importantly indicate a lack of will to reach a just settlement as defined in the Camp David accords. Only the achievement of positive results in the autonomy talks and a significant improvement in the quality of life of the Palestinians who for the last 15 years have been living under military occupation can give credibility to the peace process, and hope to the Palestinians. The alleviation of the sufferings of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the creation of a positive atmosphere are vital to the success of the peace process. This would not in any way make military occupation more acceptable to the people, because an alien occupation is unacceptable as a matter of principle, lenient or harsh as it may be. However, it would help to initiate a dynamic motion and a strong momentum toward transitional arrangements leading to a comprehensive peace.

Occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza will have to end, for three million Israelis cannot go on forever governing one and-a-half million Palestinians and ignoring their national rights and aspirations.

Needless to say, Egypt feels as strongly about ending the occupation of the Golan Heights as she does about ending the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Egypt rejects totally both the annexation of East Jerusalem and that of the Golan, as illegal, unacceptable and obnoxious measures that are not conducive to the atmosphere that is necessary to reach a peaceful comprehensive solution. Such unilateral measures contradict the letter and the spirit of the Camp David accords. Egypt in an official statement on December 15, 1981, strongly condemned the Israeli decision to extend Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to the occupied Syrian territory of the Golan Heights and termed it an illegal measure and a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. In U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which is the basis of the Camp David accords, it is stipulated that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible and that it is essential to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every state in the area, including Syria.

Negotiations may have been rendered more difficult by the Israeli measure concerning the Golan, but they must, and will, go on. Through negotiation and dialogue, Egypt seeks to convey, both to the Israelis and to the Americans, her strong opposition to this unilateral Israeli action. She also seeks to exert every effort to have these measures rescinded. After all, what the Israeli Knesset has done, the Israeli Knesset can undo.

In spite of this Israeli attitude, Egypt continues to work for a positive and successful outcome for the autonomy talks. But in these talks Egypt does not for one moment claim to have a monopoly on the ways and means to solve the intricacies of the Middle East problem, or that hers is the only source of wisdom. On the contrary, Egypt has welcomed any attempt to contribute to the peace process, and has even invited new initiatives and suggestions.

The "European initiative" on the Middle East was to a great extent prompted by Egyptian diplomatic efforts to convince Europe that it could not remain unconcerned about the future of peace in the Middle East. With President Sékou Touré of Guinea and with former President Leopold Senghor of Senegal when he was in office, Egypt discussed the shape and timing of a possible African initiative that would open new avenues to the peace process. Contacts between Cairo and several Latin American capitals also encouraged a genuine desire to contribute to the Middle East peace efforts by what might become a Latin peace initiative. In the meantime, when President Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev had new ideas and suggestions to make, Egypt welcomed them and indicated her willingness to discuss and study them thoroughly.

When Saudi Arabia took the bold step of putting forward what has become known as the "Fahd Peace Plan," Egypt could only welcome the fact that a major Arab state would opt for a constructive approach that could end the indecisiveness that has plagued the Arab scene. The Saudi proposals are a set of principles derived from Security Council Resolution 242 and other U.N. resolutions. But to translate these principles into practical realities, one would still need a framework and a negotiating process, which Camp David has provided. In other words, the Saudi proposals are not an alternative to Camp David, but they need a "Camp David" to be implemented satisfactorily.

Thus, Egypt does not consider that peace in the Middle East is her own exclusive concern. Any proposals are welcomed by Egypt provided that they build upon what has already been achieved through Camp David, take into account what has already been acquired through the present negotiations, and meet with the approval of all the parties concerned. Until such a formula is proposed and accepted by these parties, Egypt under President Mubarak is intent on pursuing the negotiations and efforts to reach a comprehensive, peaceful solution that would bring justice and security for all. Egypt is equally intent on continuing to play her historical role in the peace process and in the negotiations that may take place between the Arabs and Israel to achieve that goal.

The diplomatic relations established between Egypt and Israel will, needless to say, continue at the same level. As stipulated in the peace treaty, relations between the two countries are "normal" relations, the word normal meaning exactly what it says and not implying in any way a concept of special relations, alliance or strategic cooperation. This kind of cooperation might be envisaged the day a comprehensive and just peace is achieved, but nothing in the peace treaty commits Egypt to anything that goes further than normal relations governed by the factors and interests that govern normal relations between any two given countries.

The role of the United States in establishing a just, comprehensive peace cannot be overemphasized. The full partnership role played by the United States in the negotiations between Egypt and Israel has borne fruit in the form of the peace treaty. It is expected that the United States would continue to play the same positive role in order to achieve a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian problem, the crux of the Middle East problem.

Egypt's conviction is that American participation in the peace negotiations is an essential element. This participation has been instrumental in reaching the Camp David accords and the peace treaty. But there is an even more vital role for U.S. diplomacy to play in helping to define the terms of full Palestinian autonomy and to convince the Israelis that only a self-governing Palestinian body with wide-ranging jurisdiction in all fields would have a chance to be accepted by the Palestinians. The United States can also play a part in convincing the Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that their legitimate rights can be obtained by negotiation and that they can find their place in the family of nations through a peaceful and legitimate process. But to be able to do that, the United States would have to start talking to the Palestinians, to the organization that is accepted by the majority of them as representative of their aspirations, to the organization that is recognized by the majority of nations-namely the PLO. Contacts have to be established between the U.S. government and the PLO and not only through impromptu meetings in the corridors of the United Nations or at diplomatic parties. This was the gist of the message carried by President Sadat on his last trip to Washington in August 1981. This remains a strong belief of Egyptian diplomacy.

Furthermore, attempts to work out a strategic consensus against foreign hegemony and intervention in the Middle East cannot be based on solid ground until significant progress is made on the Palestinian issue. Egypt, in the past, was drawn into armed conflict with Israel. We were sustained in our effort by Soviet help. We were compelled for long years to live in a "no war-no peace" stalemate. Now Egypt is attempting, with the help of the United States, to make peace, a comprehensive, just and permanent peace. The Camp David process is the only negotiating process in existence which provides hope for the future. Its ultimate goal is a just, comprehensive and permanent peace, based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Egypt's relations with the United States transcend the confines of the Middle East problem, although, as stated above, the U.S. contribution to a stable and just, comprehensive peace is imperative. Egypt and the United States share the common goals of a stable and peaceful Middle East that would significantly contribute to international peace and security.


Certain Arab governments criticize the peace process but have been unable to unite not only behind an alternative process but even behind the goals to be attained by such a process. This failure on the part of the Arab governments emphasizes the importance of Egypt's leadership. In playing a leading role in the search for a peaceful and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Egypt maintains a balance between her own national interests and the wider interests of the Arab nations.

This leading role is nothing new, for in 1949 Egypt was the first Arab state to sign, on February 24, an armistice agreement with Israel, and was followed a few weeks later by Lebanon (March 23), then Jordan (April 3) and Syria (July 20). Again, in 1974, Egypt concluded the first disengagement agreement with Israel on January 18, and was followed a few months later by Syria, which concluded a similar agreement with Israel on May 31, 1974. So it is in conformity with historical precedent that Egypt should take the first step toward a peaceful comprehensive settlement and that it would take some time for the other Arab states to be able to follow that lead.

The anxieties and pressures, internal as well as external, which have prevented Arab states from joining the peace process until now, are well understood by Egypt. Also understood are the factors that have induced them to voice, at least in public statements, violent and strong objections to the peace process and Egypt's peace policy.

Egypt, however, as early as December 1977 extended official invitations to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the PLO to attend the Mena House Conference together with the United States, Israel and the United Nations.1 Egypt was and still is discouraged by the Arab attitude and the emotional outbursts against the Camp David accords. Egypt intends to do her utmost to make Arab countries realize that her line of action is in the interest of the Arab peoples in general and of the Palestinians in particular. Egypt's diplomacy tends to convince the Arab states that the negotiations on full Palestinian autonomy can and will bring substantial and meaningful results and benefits for the Palestinians.

Sooner or later, Egypt's actions will make the other Arab governments grasp that the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the return of Sinai to full Egyptian sovereignty constitute a valuable precedent, in accordance with the text of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace, which states in its preamble that: "The (Camp David) Framework is intended to constitute a basis for peace not only between Egypt and Israel, but also between Israel and each of its Arab neighbours . . . ." The success of the Camp David accords is bound to have a "snowball" effect and give the peace process more strength, more dynamism and more credibility in Arab eyes. Sooner or later, Arab governments are bound to join the peace process and Egypt's efforts to induce them to do so will be successful.

This is because the present disagreement between Egypt and a number of Arab countries is not in any way the first inter-Arab dispute and will not be the last. In the last three decades alone, more than 30 conflicts between Arab states have erupted, in the Maghreb as well as in the Mashrek, between revolutionary regimes as well as between conservative governments. Some of these conflicts have turned into full-scale local wars and others have caused tensions and diplomatic confrontations. To name only a few, one can refer to the crisis between Syria and Lebanon in May 1949, between the Sudan and Egypt in February 1958, between Lebanon and the United Arab Republic in May 1958, between Kuwait and Iraq in June 1961, between Algeria and Morocco in October 1963, and, last but not least, the Yemen war in 1962 in which Egypt and Saudi Arabia were deeply involved.

Neither is this the first conflict of opinion among Arabs concerning the future of Palestine. And it is not the first attempt by a number of Arab regimes to isolate Egypt from the rest of the Arab world. From the Chtaura Conference in 1962 to the Baghdad Conference in November 1978 or the ill-fated Fez Conference in November 1981, Arab states have tried but failed to take collective action against Egypt, to find an alternative to Egyptian leadership or to solve their differences and quarrels without Egypt.

Meeting in Tripoli in December 1977, after President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, five Arab states (Iraq, Syria, South Yemen, Libya and Algeria) and the PLO vehemently condemned Egypt and the Jerusalem visit. Diplomatic relations between Egypt and those states were severed thereafter. The summit meeting which was held in Baghdad on November 2, 1978 denounced the Camp David accords and decided to suspend Egypt from the Arab League, to transfer the seat of the League from Cairo and to boycott Egyptian products in the event of Egypt's signing a peace treaty with Israel.

After the signing of the peace treaty on March 26, 1979, Jordan severed diplomatic relations with Egypt on April 1, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on April 23, followed by other Gulf states, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Djibouti, and North Yemen. In all, official relations between Egypt and 17 Arab countries were severed. The notable exceptions were Oman, Somalia and Sudan. The PLO is still maintaining a diplomatic mission in Cairo.

Several Arab meetings convened afterward (Baghdad, March 1979; Kuwait, April 1979; Tunis, November 1979) to take measures against Egypt and to isolate her. But all these moves proved futile. In fact the proposition that Egypt is or can be isolated from the rest of the Arab world is absurd: and the total failure of these attempts is due to the fact that the Egyptian population constitutes almost half of the Arabs. (The populations of Sudan and Egypt together constitute more than half.) Needless to say, the influence of Egypt in culture, science, the arts, technology and economics overshadows by far the rest of the Arab world.

In spite of the severance of diplomatic relations between Cairo and those Arab capitals, transnational relations have continued and even increased: more than two million Egyptian workers, technicians and experts, teachers, doctors and judges are performing a well-appreciated mission in these Arab countries; private Arab investment continues to flow into Egypt; and Cairo remains the favorite destination of Arab tourists. Thousands of Arabs of every nationality are learning in schools and colleges in Egypt, and Arab military and police officers are still being trained in Egyptian academies.

Reconciliation at the official level between Egypt and the governments of the other Arab states is bound to come and President Mubarak has made it quite clear that Egypt does not object to such a reconciliation. Ever since his accession to the presidency, he has underlined the futility of press campaigns among Arabs that can only exacerbate the differences, and he has urged Egyptian journalists and editors to refrain from attacking or abusing Arab governments.

There is hardly any doubt, however, that a rapprochement between Cairo and the dissenting Arab capitals will have to take into account the reality of the relations existing between Egypt and Israel. Egypt would not be the only country able to maintain relations both with Israel and the Arab states. A number of countries in the area itself manage to do that quite successfully, namely Turkey, a Muslim country, and Cyprus which has diplomatic representatives from both Israel and the PLO. Besides, the European and the Latin American countries and the United States all have excellent relations with both the Arab states and Israel. So why should the same thing be impossible to realize in Egypt's case? Certainly the fact that Egypt is an Arab country might seem to complicate the issue, but should not the Arabs accept from a sister state what they readily accept from others?

Cooperation in various fields of endeavor and at a variety of levels between Arab states is not only an historic inevitability, but also a matter of political necessity. Inter-Arab cooperation is imperative if we are to face the eco-political and strategic requirements of the future with effectiveness and efficiency. The question is what form such cooperation will take. The Arab League was created in 1945 as an instrument for inter-Arab cooperation. The League of 1945 exists no more. Conditions in 1982 are not those that prevailed in 1945.

Clearly a new formula for inter-Arab cooperation needs to be devised. But what shape and content should such a formula have? Examples of regional cooperation mechanisms are available, for example the European Economic Community, the Andean Pact, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Important lessons may be drawn from such experiences. But do such mechanisms suit the particular characteristics of Arab states and the imperatives of inter-Arab cooperation? Arab states have much more in common among themselves than any of the states that comprise the existing regional cooperation mechanisms.

Thus it is important to ask whether an improved version of the League should be set up. Should the Arab League Charter of 1945 be amended or replaced by an entirely new one? What shape and structure should the mechanism have? Should consideration be given to a series of subregional groupings-such as the Council of Cooperation of the Gulf States that is already in existence-linked together in an appropriate manner? These questions have to be answered if a viable and effective mechanism for inter-Arab cooperation is to be established.2

The special relationship between Egypt and the Sudan deserves particular mention. Sudan shares with Egypt the blessings of the waters of the Nile and an African, as well as an Arab, identity. History and geography have woven a very special relationship between the two countries and a cooperation that covers many fields. On more than one occasion, Sudan has proved to be a trustworthy ally and has constituted a vital strategic depth for Egypt. For her part, Egypt has never failed Sudan and considers any aggression against Sudan an aggression against Egypt herself. The two countries are bound together by the Arab Common Defense Pact of 1950 and by a bilateral military agreement signed in July 1976. The close and special relationship between Egypt and Sudan has been illustrated by the presence of President Nimeiry at the inauguration of President Mubarak and by the continued consultation and coordination between the two heads of state. This consultation and coordination puts special emphasis on African affairs and aims at working out a common approach between Cairo and Khartoum toward African problems.


The observation that Egypt is a gift of the Nile remains true, as long as the sources of the Nile are secure and the flow of its fertile waters continues freely. In this context, Egypt has reached the conclusion that establishing close cooperation among the countries of the Nile Basin can serve both the interests of the riparian states and those of the river itself. The idea was to start with a kind of technical cooperation on the model of the cooperation existing among the riparian states of the Senegal or the Niger Rivers. This "Nile Basin Organization" would consider joint projects, work or programs which would be of an interstate nature within the Nile Basin, in the fields of water, hydropower, agriculture, livestock, forestry, mineral exploitation, disease and pest control, transport and communications, trade, tourism, wildlife conservation, fisheries and environmental protection.

This project relies on the fact that the Nile Basin constitutes a hydrological and geographical unit providing a formidable base that could ensure effective cooperation among the riparian states and secure the harmonization of national development programs. This form of cooperation would be in accordance with the Lagos Plan of Action adopted by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1980, which commits African countries to establishing national, subregional and regional institutions in order to promote the objectives of self-reliance and inter-African economic cooperation and integration.

Serious studies have been made by Egyptian experts, a blueprint for a charter of a Nile Basin Organization has been drafted, and contacts have been made with the other states concerned. All of these states have shown themselves as being perfectly aware of the importance of this project.

Toward that end, Egypt extended an invitation for a meeting of the ministers of irrigation and water supply of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaïre, which was due to be held in October 1981. Although that meeting had to be postponed after the tragic death of President Sadat, the new Egyptian president has expressed interest in the project, and steps to implement it are expected to be taken quite soon. In fact, preparatory talks between Egypt and Sudan have already started in an encouraging way.

The Nile alone might explain the importance Egypt attaches to Africa, but Egyptian vital interests are not confined to the Nile-Egypt's African policy is much broader. Egypt is organically, culturally and physically an African country, which contributed in a decisive way to the birth of the OAU in 1963 and before that played an essential role in the struggle for independence of the African continent. A majority of African leaders who are now at the helm in the governments of their own countries, have, at one time or other during their fights for freedom and independence, found refuge and assistance in Cairo and set up their headquarters there in the "African Society" in Zamalek.

Today, Egypt cannot remain indifferent to the struggle in southern Africa between the remnants of colonialism and forces of racism on the one hand, and the people of Namibia on the other, or to the plight of those Africans living under the detestable regime of apartheid. Neither can Egypt remain indifferent to attempts to introduce the new cold war and superpower rivalries into a continent that has been until now remarkably well preserved from such ills.

Likewise, Egypt opposes the attempts of a number of African Arab countries to introduce inter-Arab disputes to the African scene. These countries have tried to create a tactical alliance with a handful of Marxist African regimes to use them in their own confrontation with Egypt. This has failed in swaying the African countries against Egypt. This failure became abundantly clear in the Monrovia (1979) and Freetown (1980) OAU summit conferences. Later these Arab countries shifted their emphasis and worked hard to enroll Muslim African countries against the Egyptian peace policy. But the Nairobi summit (1981) showed the futility of such attempts.

The injection of inter-Arab quarrels into the huge number of already existing African problems has only resulted, in several instances, in the disruption of the work of the OAU and the complete failure of the institutions of Afro-Arab cooperation, set up in the Afro-Arab summit in Cairo of March 1977. This attitude is harmful both to the interests of Africa and to the peace effort. The foremost priority of African concern and action should be the fight against colonialism and apartheid, and the war against poverty, hunger and underdevelopment.

With that in view, Egypt established in 1980 a special Egyptian Fund for Technical Assistance to African States, through which Egyptian technicians, doctors, teachers and other experts can be sent to these states, thus contributing to their economic development and the welfare of their people. During 1981, this fund, which has an annual budget of $2 million dollars, concluded agreements with four African states (Burundi on September 6, Tanzania on September 28, Kenya on November 3, Zambia on November 22) and is in negotiation with 12 other states with a view to concluding similar agreements with them. Applications from 17 African governments for experts and technicians are currently under study by the fund. Until November 1981, the fund had already approved sending 282 experts and granting 187 scholarships.

If the accession of President Hosni Mubarak brings any change in Egypt's African policies, it will certainly be toward confirming the Egyptian commitment to African causes and a vigorous and active diplomacy in the search for peaceful solutions to African conflicts within the framework of the OAU. This can be attributed to the fact that President Mubarak has traveled widely across the continent, met with the majority of African leaders and established excellent personal relations with them. The new president has also attended a large number of African summits and acquired a wealth of experience in African affairs and a deep understanding of African problems. Egypt under President Mubarak will continue to strive for the freedom of Africa, its nonalignment and the welfare of its people.


Nonalignment is one of the cardinal features of Egyptian foreign policy, as Egypt played a major role during the 1950s, together with India, Yugoslavia and Indonesia, in defining nonalignment and creating a movement that today brings together two-thirds of the nations of the world.

Today, more than ever, the nonaligned movement can help shape long-term solutions that would lead the world out of its political and economic crisis, but no such solutions can be found through the power politics and the rivalry between the two blocs. Egypt strongly adheres to the principles of nonalignment and remains faithful to the ideals set out by the founding fathers of the movement. This has given Egyptian diplomacy a strong motivation to exert all efforts to preserve the identity of the movement and its independence from blocs and bloc politics. The contention that one of these two blocs could be described as a natural "ally" of the nonaligned movement is a fallacy and a dangerous one at that. This notion goes against the very essence of nonalignment, its philosophy and its raison d'être and could destroy the entire movement.

Egypt, together with a number of other nonaligned countries which remained in the mainstream of nonalignment, has been instrumental in exposing the dangers that would derive from linking the movement to one or the other of the two blocs. The nonaligned movement will be in a position of political equidistance between the superpowers or it will not exist. The aim of genuine nonalignment is to avoid polarization and power-bloc rivalries in international relations.

This Egyptian attitude has induced a number of Marxist nonaligned countries to forge an alliance with those Arab states which rejected Egypt's peace policy after the signing of the Camp David accords. These countries have done their best to use the rift in the Arab ranks for their own purposes. This unholy alliance attempted to have Egypt expelled from the movement during the sixth conference of heads of states and governments in Havana in August 1979. But this attempt failed and the majority of the nonaligned movement acknowledged the fact that Egyptian peace policy was in conformity with the principles of peaceful coexistence on which the movement was erected. The ministerial meeting of New Delhi in February 1981 has reaffirmed strongly the original principles of nonalignment and the necessity of the continued independent orientation of its policies.

Egypt has exerted all her efforts toward that end and has considered the positions taken by the New Delhi Conference as a step in the right direction and a success for all authentic nonaligned states and for the movement itself. Egypt's own nonalignment is not in question. Egypt's relations with one superpower or the other have not in any way or at any time impaired her capacity to make her own decisions and adopt positions toward superpowers only on the strength of their political behavior and attitudes toward Egypt, the Arabs and in international relations in general.

Furthermore, in spite of the problems that have in the past clouded relations between Cairo and Moscow, Egypt would like nothing more than to turn a new page and establish friendly relations with the Soviet Union on the basis of the principles of respect for the sovereignty and independence of states and of nonintervention in one another's internal affairs. In addition, a positive and constructive Soviet contribution to the peace efforts, especially in regard to the framework of Camp David, would be welcomed by Cairo and might help to overcome a number of obstacles that lie on the road to comprehensive peace. It is also significant that the problems that arose in Egyptian-Soviet relations did not affect Egypt's relations and cooperation with several East European countries or other socialist countries in Asia.

Close cooperation with the United States in the political, economic and even military fields is qualified by our adherence to the basic principles of nonalignment. The Americans have been told: no military bases in Egypt, no military pacts, no ties that would restrict in any way Egypt's total freedom to assess the behavior of each and every country, be it in the Western or Eastern bloc. The only criterion for Egypt's attitudes in international relations would be conformity with her principles and her national interests.

In that same context, Egypt, which traditionally had close ties and cooperation with the countries of Western Europe, lays a special emphasis on her relations with these countries and is exerting efforts to strengthen and deepen her cooperation with them. Not only is this happening because these relations are beneficial in themselves, but also because they are an important factor that can counteract the effect of magnetic polarization by the two superpowers. This concern is also present in the desire to increase and strengthen cooperation with China, which has had a special place in Egypt's foreign policy ever since Egypt became one of the first non-socialist countries to recognize the People's Republic and opened an embassy in Beijing in 1955.

The fact of the matter is that Egypt, by virtue of her geographic position and cultural heritage, her belonging to the Third World, her African and Arab identity, and by her leading role inside the movement, will continue to be one of the staunchest nonaligned countries, out of conviction as well as interest. Besides, President Mubarak was keen in his first major speech as head of state to stress his strong attachment to the policy of nonalignment. He declared in this speech, delivered to a joint meeting of the People's Assembly and the Shura Council at the beginning of the parliamentary session on November 8:

We adhere to the policy of non-alignment and positive neutrality. We call for the strengthening of the non-aligned movement and ridding it of impurities which were introduced in it in recent years disrupting its balance which had existed among member states when the Movement was at its peak.

The President also said:

We believe that the course of non-alignment is the best course which serves the interests of people with respect to freedom, security and justice.

In formulating our relations with the big powers we are keen to deal with them in accordance with the good will shown by each and their readiness for true cooperation without interfering in our internal affairs or transgressing on our sovereignty or our free will. Egypt is an Arab African Country neither eastern nor western.

After recovering her full territorial integrity in April 1982, Egypt will certainly be able to devote more of her energy and effort toward achieving greater unity and solidarity within the nonaligned movement and toward more efficiency in its action.

In a period when the new cold war seems to be gaining ground, and when tensions between the major powers are mounting in an alarming way, the nonaligned movement needs more dynamism, more cohesion, and more effectiveness. Its vision and its role in helping to solve international disputes becomes all the more necessary at a time when the superpowers have resumed their frightening nuclear arms race and when attempts to build a badly needed new economic order are faltering.


Inasmuch as Egypt's policy of peace and reconciliation is not a tactical option but a strategic one that reflects the spirit of Egypt and her conception of her national interests and the interests of all the peoples of the area including the Palestinians, the government of President Mubarak will pursue this policy and persist in its endeavor to attain a comprehensive and just peace that would ensure that the October 1973 War will indeed have been the last war between Arabs and Israelis. Egypt's desire for reconciliation is, however, by no means restricted to Israel. It includes other countries which at a certain stage have chosen to take a path that has led to a confrontation with Egypt.

Egypt thus has every intention of assuming fully her responsibilities as an Arab country, as an African country and as a co-founder of the nonaligned movement. She will continue to play her traditional leadership role of bridging civilizations and different concepts, thus serving the cause of peace and justice and helping the forces of progress and conciliation. In short, Egypt will continue to work for a better world for future generations.

The personality of President Hosni Mubarak, a man with a deep sense of respect for the Egyptian heritage and institutions, implies that Egypt's foreign policy will acquire a new style, dominated by a spirit of conciliation and moderation, and characterized by the refusal of the new president to let Egypt be drawn into any kind of political or military adventures-a new style for a policy that reflects the aspirations and hopes of the Egyptian people.

Nevertheless, history and geopolitics are bound to continue to play their part, in imposing upon Egypt a dynamic and active diplomacy that might not always be related to the real means and resources of the country but that stems from the burdens Egypt has assumed during past centuries.

1 The Mena House Conference was proposed by President Sadat after his return from Jerusalem to prepare for the Geneva Conference on Peace in the Middle East, and took place in Cairo in December 1977.

2 The author has devoted a number of publications to the Arab League, its organizations, and the reforms that might enhance its action. Those publications which are readily available in specialized libraries are: "The Arab League 1945-1955," International Conciliation, No. 498, New York, May 1945; "La Crise de la Ligue Arabe," Annuaire Français de Droit International, Vol. 14, Paris, 1968; "The Arab League 1945-1970," Revue Egyptienne de Droit International, Vol. 25, Cairo, 1969; "The Arab League 25 Years After," East Africa Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 6, June 1970; "La Ligue des Etats Arabes," Academie de Droit International, Vol. III, The Hague, 1972; "Les Relations Entre la Ligue Arabe et 1'O.U.A.," Annuaire Français de Droit International, Vol. 123, Paris, 1977.


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  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali is Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Arab Republic of Egypt. He is President of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies at Al-Ahram and was Professor of International Law and International Relations at Cairo University from 1949 through 1977. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Foreign Policy in a World of Change.
  • More By Boutros Boutros-Ghali