As the Middle East rages out of control, great emphasis is placed on the Islamic Republic of Iran as it scrambles furiously to produce a nuclear warhead. A lesser known evil boiling beneath the surface, however, is that Egypt, now led by the Muslim Brotherhood via its newly elected President Mohamed Morsi, may indeed have nuclear weapons-ambitions of its own. During an exclusive panel discussion with Professor Raymond Stock, former visiting assistant professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, delved deeper into Egypt's relationship with Iran and its plans to develop nuclear weapons.
Stock, a Guggenheim Fellow, lived in Cairo for 20 years until he was ultimately deported by the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, citing a 2009 article by Stock criticizing then-Culture Minister Farouk Hosni’s bid to head UNESCO. The panel was hosted by the Center for Security Policy and the Middle East Endowment for Truth and was moderated by Congressman Fred Grandy.
Dr. Stock explained that the ousting of Hosni Mubarak "made us realize" that while not wholly democratic, Egypt was indeed "liberal" under his regime. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood's goal is "to restore the caliphate."
Stock discussed the role the Brotherhood played in spawning support for the Arab Spring and ensuring that the masses would come out in support of various Middle East uprisings. He added that the current U.S. administration's penchant for defining the people in the Middle East based on their religion and not their respective ethnicities and state boundaries is a "real tragedy" as it only feeds into the greater Islamist "supremacist idea."
“This is the real tragedy of what we are doing.”
In terms of Egypt's nuclear ambitions, which began in earnest in 1954 under then-President Nassar, the country's first small research reactor was built by the Russians that year. Then, in the 1998 Argentina aided in the development of another reactor, also fueled by Russia.
Currently, the Egyptians can "produce 6 kilograms per year of plutonium," according to Stock. "That is the amount needed to make one bomb annually." Thus, since 1998, the professor concluded that while Egypt may use its plutonium for some peaceful purposes, it also has had the capability to produce 24 nuclear warheads.
"They have an ongoing fuel supply for it."
He added that in terms of enrichment, Egypt is but a heartbeat away from its current medium-grade enrichment capabilities to the high-grade capacity. "Once you get to 20 kilograms, you have essentially mastered the enrichment process."
The professor explained that Egypt has always been open about its nuclear ambitions, even if it was so under the guise of "civilian use" but that financial difficulties have precluded the country from moving a WMD-program along full-steam head.
"If they’d have had the money, they’d have gone for the bomb a long time ago," Stock said soberly.
"In the 1960s, it was a well known event that Egypt would pursue a nuclear warhead because Israel was going to as well." He added that when Anwar Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel, it allegedly took the issue of Egyptian nuclear weapons pursuits off the table.
Now, "Mubarak signed a nuclear non-proliferation treaty but did not sign additional protocol calling for spot inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he reminded.
"They [Egyptians] would say they don’t want anyone to have nuclear weapons, but they have left themselves in an ambiguous position. Mubarak said Egypt would not develop nuclear weapons unless Iran did."
Of course, Iran's nuclear ambitions are no secret, leaving one to conclude that Egypt feels justified in its own pursuit, according to the professor. Stock also reminded members of the panel that the IAEA did in fact find highly enriched uranium in Egypt, along with other materials not authorized by IAEA. Ironically, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed el Baradei was General Director of the IAEA at the time.
Drawing on other indications that point to Egypt's potential for pursuing weapons grade uranium enrichment, Stock noted that in August 2012, Morsi was invited to Iran and that the two countries are renewing relations that they had not officially enjoyed since the Shah's deposal in 1979.
"When Morsi went to Iran he spoke with Ahmadinejad spoke of WMD freezone in the Middle East," Stock said. The issue is that there is a caveat to ensuring such a freezone. According to the professor, Egypt may drop its membership in an upcoming international conference on nuclear disarmament.
But has Egypt always had nuclear weapons ambitions? According to Stock, the CIA uncovered in the 1990s that Egypt had attempted to intercept U.S. weapons-technology secrets and that the country may already have the technological capability of launching medium-range warheads.
"So they have a history of clandestine activity," Stock noted before reminding the panel that under a sharia law precept dubbed "taqiyya," Islamists bent on establishing a caliphate are permitted to lie and engage in deceitful acts in order to achieve their means. Thus, obfuscating the truth on Egypt's nuclear ambitions would be in line with taqiyya, according to Stock.
Stock also claimed that, in a September interview with CBS' Charlie Rose, Morsi admitted that he wanted his people to have civilian nuclear power. In that same interview, Morsi characterized Egypt's relationship with the U.S. as neither friendly nor adversarial.
The Muslim Brotherhood "is patient" and "does not want to jeopardize key allies just yet," the professor added. Meanwhile, U.N. leaders are "riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers."
With mounting violence in the Sinai Peninsula threatening Israel's security, and a growing list of Obama advisers with ties or sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood, Stock worries that Egypt's more nefarious pursuits could slip quietly under the radar.
Meanwhile, the U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5BN a year military aid.
"So long as we remain the major source of funding and technology, we do have a small amount of leverage," Stock said.
"But now the EU will give Egypt $6.4BN and Morsi went to China asking for $3BN. The Saudis, too, will give several billion." What's more, while Iran and Egypt are purportedly enemies, the two countries might now be working together.