"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,[1] 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[2] -- 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.[3] 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.[4]"

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.

FROM PEACEFUL ATOMS, TO PURSUING WEAPONS, TO THE WMDFZ

"Next to Israel and Iran, Egypt has one of the most advanced nuclear programmes in the region," writes Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, in a background paper for a July 2011 EU seminar on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.[9] Yet Egypt's nuclear progress has aroused shockingly little attention beyond the arcane world of WMD specialists and anti-proliferation activists in recent years.

It all began with seeming innocence. Responding to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's December 1953 "Atoms for Peace" speech at the U.N., Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser did not wait long to bring his country into the atomic age. Despite the American instigation, Egypt's first (2MW) research reactor, the ETRR-1, was built by the Soviets at Inshas in the Delta between 1954 and 1961. Next came a larger (22.5MW) open pool research reactor (installed by Argentina), dubbed ETRR-2. This light water reactor, capable of producing 6 kgs of plutonium (enough for one nuclear weapon) per year, started construction in the early 1990s, achieving criticality in 1998. According to its website, the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA) now has a truly impressive wealth of expert personnel, with over 1,400 trained scientists, 2,300 technical staff, and roughly 1,300 in support staff as well. The EAEA lists its current activities as "research and technological projects," "radiation protection and safety," "society services activities" and "regional and international cooperation."[10]

Egypt's drive for nuclear capability seriously accelerated when in December 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion revealed that his country was building a nuclear reactor (started with help from France in 1957), ostensibly for civilian purposes, at Dimona. Henceforth the open, primary goal of Egypt's program was to produce atomic weapons. (No doubt this inspired the American musical satirist Tom Lehrer to write, "Egypt's gonna get one too / Just to use on you know who," in his anti-proliferation song, "Who's Next?") Not enough funds were committed (nor probably available), however, to reach that objective prior to the devastating Arab defeat by Israel in 1967. In the aftermath, with no money left to invest in the effort, Egypt signed the NPT in 1968. Soon many of its nuclear scientists left the country; many moved to Canada, others to Iraq to work on the ominous nuclear program there.

In 1974, Egypt and the Shah's Iran jointly launched an initiative for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East: in 1975, as noted by a recent study entitled, "Egypt's Nuclear Weapons Program," and posted on its website by the Federation of American Scientists:

The US promised to provide Egypt with eight nuclear power plants and the necessary cooperation agreements were signed. The plan was subject to a trilateral safeguards agreement signed by the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Egypt. In the late 1970s, the US unilaterally revised the bilateral agreements and introduced new conditions that were unacceptable to the Egyptian government.[11]

With the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, Egypt's emphasis apparently shifted to the creation of nuclear power to produce electricity instead of bombs. Egypt did not ratify the NPT until 1981, the same year that (again working with the United States, which brokered and guaranteed the peace treaty) President Anwar al-Sadat decided to build a reactor on the Mediterranean coast at El-Dabaa, about 120 kilometers west of Alexandria.

Eventually, however, Egypt's economy—weakened for decades by the lingering socialism installed by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser (despite liberal reforms under his successor, Anwar al-Sadat, and greatly expanded by his successor, Hosni Mubarak), and the Arab boycott of Egypt over its peace accords with Israel—could not sustain nuclear ambitions. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine also depressed enthusiasm for nuclear initiatives. As its program languished in near-limbo, in 1990 Egypt called for the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East, aimed primarily at pressing Israel to accept nuclear inspections, sign the NPT, and abandon its presumed nuclear arsenal. All the while, Egypt maintained a policy, which continues until today, of studied ambiguity regarding its own intentions.

In1995, Egypt would only sign an extension of its expiring NPT agreement when the U.S., Great Britain and Russia agreed to push for the WMDFZ, with a proviso for pressure on Israel to join. Yet, due to the alleged non-universality of the NPT (as explained in an August 2012 profile of Egypt's nuclear program published by the reputable arms control organization, Nuclear Threat Initiative, or NTI):

Egypt has therefore refused to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (the Pelindaba Treaty), and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.[12]

It is revealing that Egypt continued to nurture clandestinely what seem to have been more dangerous nuclear desires. In 2004, the IAEA discovered traces of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) at Egypt's facilities, and in 2005 it determined that Egypt's nuclear authority had not disclosed either the import of uranium and or irradiation experiments that had taken place from 1990 to 2003. (The items found suggested at least the possibility of a secret uranium enrichment program that could be used to produce weapons.) Subsequently, the IAEA's then-director, Mohamed ElBaradei — the Egyptian lawyer who won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize — did not take action against Egypt for its covert behavior, which the agency treated as minor.

The IAEA found still more traces of highly-enriched uranium from unreported activity at Inshas in 2007 and 2008. That discovery prompted Pierre Goldschmidt of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to write in 2009, "One should remember that the HEU particles found in Iran originated from illicit nuclear trade with Pakistan and were connected with unreported uranium enrichment activities."[13] Again, although it issued a one-page report on the matter in 2008, and kept the investigation open, the agency took no further action.

By 2007, after considerable public promotion of the nuclear energy alternative by his regime, Mubarak said that Egypt would build four nuclear power plants around the country. Then in August 2010, the IAEA approved the El-Dabaa site for the first of these reactors. Little, however, had been done by the time of the uprising against Mubarak launched on January 25, 2011.

Soon after Mubarak's fall on February 11, 2011, the MoEE, then operating under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military junta that ruled Egypt after his departure, said that four of the power stations would be built, beginning with a 1,200MW light-water reactor at the El-Dabaa site. In spite of this, the plan was quickly frozen during the chaotic, catastrophically cash-poor transition, and as part of the worldwide reaction to the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe that followed the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 off the coasts of Japan. In addition, in January 2012, in a show of local resistance, mobs of protesters, demanding that the plant be relocated away from the area, attacked the construction site; at the same time, "radioactive materials" were stolen from the property.[14] Then, on June 19, 2012, just before the final count of ballots for the second round of the presidential election, the project was tentatively approved again. Nonetheless, no known further action to implement it has been taken so far (although the nti.org analysis assumes it will proceed).

AN ASTONISHING CONSENSUS

All that is really lacking now is the money—and for Mursi to make public his decision.

But an astonishing consensus of media, government policy and expert opinion holds that, with tourism and investment at dismal lows, and vital foreign reserves rapidly nearing zero, Mursi will not choose to spend the large sums needed on the El-Dabaa plant. (The estimated cost of the four plants in the MoEE plan is $1.5 billion). Even with pledges of several billion dollars from Saudi Arabia and Qatar; a potential IMF loan ranging from $3.2 billion-to-$4.8 billion, and U.S. aid possibly to increase greatly beyond its current annual $1.5 billion in (mainly military), unless China accepts Mursi's $3 billion request, supposedly Egypt is so impaired economically that it simply cannot afford the dubious luxury of nuclear pretentions.

Yet that argument downplays or ignores Egypt's growing shortages of electricity. Even in Mubarak's waning years, the grid was spiraling outward too fast to avoid blackouts, which have only grown more frequent, long-lasting and unpredictable, especially in Greater Cairo, in the disorder since his fall. Nuclear power, at least theoretically, could end that chronic shortfall completely. It has now emerged, moreover, in a deal that has almost entirely escaped the media's attention, that Egypt is expecting to take delivery of two Class 209 diesel-electric submarines from Germany, over Israel's vigorous objections.[15]

Furthermore, pragmatic economic reasoning—integral to that consensus--might assume that Mursi is a normal leader, leading a normal political party, with a normal concern for the welfare of his nation's citizens. Unfortunately, based on the behavior of other Islamist regimes -- from Hamas to Hizbullah, the Taliban, al-Shabaab and even Iran, as well as the MB's own historic goals and ideology -- none of that applies to Mursi, or to the people behind him. About them, the consensus has been astonishingly wrong.

The same consensus, after all, held that the Muslim Brotherhood played only a late and minimal role in the 2011 demonstrations against Mubarak—when in fact it was involved from the start, and, as of January 28, the second day of the protests, brought the overwhelming majority of bodies to the streets through its extensive social and political networks.[16] The consensus also held that the MB would not win the largest number of seats in last year's elections for parliament; the MB won them in a landslide. Nor did it seem that Mursi, its dull and uncharismatic candidate for president, would likely get the nod. The consensus insisted that the SCAF's now-deposed chiefs, Hussein Tantawi and Sami Anan, were implacably opposed to him, and that Mursi, although democratically elected, was much weaker than the ostensibly intractable military.

In truth, the MB had long since infiltrated and subverted the military; its aging leaders themselves were apparently not unsympathetic: throughout the interregnum, they had shown signs of close cooperation. What the senior generals evidently wanted was a promise not to be prosecuted for their business ties to Mubarak, or for their actions after removing him: calls to lynch Tantawi, for example, were common on the streets. Judging by their appointment as "advisers" to Mursi, they apparently got their wish—at least for now. The consensus also holds that Mursi and the MB are genuine moderates, when, in fact, Mursi was known as the group's hardline ideological enforcer. And while running for office, he and the other leaders in the group called for jihad (war in the name of Islam, not Sufi self-improvement), the establishment by violence of a caliphate based in Jerusalem, and the imposition of shari'a (Islamic religious law) -- positions he has not renounced, and likely never will.

The consensus also held that Mursi and the MB, whatever their harsh "campaign rhetoric" (as one U.S. senator described it) would be democrats in power. Yet once in office, Mursi quickly seized total control of the state media, began to prosecute prominent journalists on trumped-up charges of plotting to kill him, and replaced ten of the country's governors, putting Islamists in charge of Egypt's major human rights council.[17] Mursi has also made it known that his next target is the nation's historically independent judiciary, the only branch of government not yet in his grasp.

Of course, he has had a bit of help from his friends—many of them abroad. His first public defiance of the SCAF—his attempt to recall the parliament dissolved by order of the Supreme Constitutional Court on June 14—came within hours of a July 8 visit from U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, who offered him generous aid for the economy, and an invitation to visit President Barack Obama in the White House in late September. (Mursi evidently received the feasibility study for El-Dabaa the same day.) The Obama administration apparently helped negotiate the August 12 turnover of power to Mursi by his main adversaries in the SCAF, an intervention that enabled Mursi to establish a virtual one-man rule overnight, and that terminated the secular democratic promise of Egypt's massively overhyped January 25th Revolution.

Mursi's first trip abroad as president was to Riyadh, where he was promised billions more in aid (apparently with strings attached), much of it possibly to finance a nuclear program, perhaps with an order to produce atomic bombs for the Kingdom as well (which is also said to have tried to purchase nuclear weapons from Pakistan). Qatar has pledged $2 billion (of which it has delivered nearly half of that amount as of this writing), and has said it will invest 18 billion dollars in Egypt's economy in the next five years. Now Mursi has visited Tehran, perhaps to raise the possibility of a joint nuclear endeavor with Saudi Arabia's great Shi'ite enemy, an act that would have put them both in a seeming quandary. (Unless, of course, they agree it is more important that they have common enemies: especially Israel, and -- long-term --the U.S. and the West.) As Iran's support for Hamas—the Egyptian MB's Palestinian branch--and cooperation with al-Qa'ida have shown, claims that Sunnis and Shi'ites never work together have clearly been greatly exaggerated.

A number of questions remain: Will Mursi choose to go ahead with the El-Dabaa project (and if he does, will he make that public?) Should he approve it, will Egypt choose to master the entire production cycle (including its own uranium enrichment), or will it rely on help from others to complete the process? And does it already have some experience with enrichment?

The ETRR-1, Egypt's first research reactor, runs on 10% enriched uranium, for which Russia supplied the last known shipment before the reactor came online in 1961. The ETRR-2 light-water reactor runs on 19.75% enriched uranium, initially provided by Russia, then by Argentina (which delivered its shipment in 1997). Egypt fabricates its own fuel rods at Inshas for the ETRR-2,[18] but its source for the enriched uranium to make them is uncertain. (Most light-water reactors today operate on less than 5% enriched uranium. Once one has enriched uranium to the level of 5%, they are assumed to have mastered the hardest part of the process. The 19.75 % level required to run the ETRR-2 is but a notch below the critical 20% level, at which uranium is considered to be highly enriched. It is then comparatively not difficult to reach the 90% level needed to make bombs.) So far it is not clear if foreign shipments of fuel for either of these reactors have continued since they each went critical, or who the suppliers might be.

Also at Inshas is a so-called "hot laboratory," the Hydrometallurgy Pilot Plant (HPP), capable of extracting plutonium from spent fuel rods. It was at this facility that the IAEA had detected the traces of highly enriched uranium, which led to an investigation that concluded in 2005: "the repeated failures by Egypt to report the import of nuclear material and the construction of facilities to the Agency in a timely manner are a matter of concern." Added to ETRR-2's already noted ability to produce plutonium through extraction, and Egypt's failure to sign the Additional Protocol to the NPT (thus forcing the IAEA to rely essentially upon what information Egypt chose to share with them), and an even more disturbing picture emerges.

The questions now are: How much plutonium has been produced so far—and what has (or will be) done with it? Does Egypt already possess the missile technology to turn its plutonium into deliverable nuclear weapons? If not, how long would it take to acquire the required amount of plutonium? Where has Egypt been getting the enriched uranium to operate its two research reactors at Inshas since 1961 and 1997? If Egypt decides to build the El-Dabaa reactor (and perhaps others too), would the IAEA be able effectively to monitor what happens there—or in other parts of Egypt's nuclear program? And while some may wonder if Egypt's nuclear materials--present and future—will be safe from terrorists, the question probably should be: will they be safe from misuse by its current jihadist regime?

SUNNIS, SHI'ITES AND JIHAD AGAINST THE JEWS

Other questions: Would Iran—which has enthusiastically praised the Islamist victory in Egypt (and throughout much of the Sunni Arab world)—actually want to assist the MB-led regime's nuclear program—and, if so, would Mursi accept such help? Would Saudi Arabia really fund a project that could potentially benefit not only Egypt, but its main Persian Gulf rival, Iran (whose nuclear program, leaked diplomatic cables revealed, Saudi King Abdullah urged the U.S. to bomb)? Would the U.S object to Mursi's approval of the El-Dabaa plant? How would it--and the international community--react if Iran really did become involved in Egypt's nuclear development? Would the European Union or its key member states, as well as Russia and China, support efforts to suppress either an entirely independent Egyptian nuclear program that showed signs of a hidden military purpose, with or without the participation of Iran? (Based on Russia's and China's lenient treatment of Iran and North Korea, probably not.) And how will all this play out at the upcoming Conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in Helsinki (tentatively set for December 2012), which a number of Arab states are slated to attend (though both Israel and Iran have already indicated they will not take part)? Given the accelerating crisis over the obvious military character of Iran's nuclear program (despite its denials) and its ever-accelerating progress toward the bomb, that conference is bound to fail—and Egypt has threatened to withdraw from the NPT if it does.

Direct Iran-MB cooperation may seem unprecedented, until one recalls that in addition to Iran's financing of Hamas, the Mubarak regime, with apparent reason, accused Tehran of funding the MB in the final years of his rule. Additionally, in April 2011, Magdi Hussein, head of the Islamist-oriented Labor Party (banned under Mubarak, like the MB) claimed to have discussed Iranian help for uranium enrichment with Ali Akbar Salehi, the Islamic Republic's foreign minister, during a good-will trip to Iran. Commenting on his talks with Hussein, Salehi, as quoted by Al Arabiyya News, said that Iran's successful nuclear enterprise, "could pave the way for similar Arab projects."[19]

As former CIA operations officer Clare Lopez, currently an expert on Middle East WMD at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, remarked, "The most startling leitmotif here is the potential for new Sunni-Shi'a rapprochement, once again for the purpose of acquiring another Islamic bomb. After all, Pakistan and A.Q. Khan were the first sources of assistance to which Iran turned for its own weapons program in the 1980s."[20]

As if to buttress this point, an Iranian website belonging to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency asserted in an article on Mursi's then-presumed visit to Bushehr last month:

Referring to Iran's announcement that it has planned a visit to nuclear centers for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member states, the lawmaker [Mansour Haqiqatpour ] said, "The Iranian nation and government care about Egypt, as an Islamic state, and want Egypt to be a glorious country in international circles, so Egypt's president can visit all Iranian nuclear centers."[21]

Ironically, although there have been suspicions about Egypt's nuclear intentions for decades, it was assumed that Mubarak, as an ally of the West, would only aggressively seek to obtain atomic weapons if faced with a nuclear-armed Iran. Now it could be a nuclear-arming Iran that helps and encourages Mubarak's successor to follow the same path: not in an arms race, as many have feared, but as part of a common ideological enterprise, an Islamic nuclear one, that few dreamed possible but a month or two ago.

Egyptian-Iranian relations ruptured in 1979, when al-Sadat made peace with Israel, and when he offered safe haven in Cairo for his friend, the deposed Shah Reza Pahlevi (who died in Egypt of cancer in 1980). In revenge, the Khomeini regime named a street in Tehran for Khaled al-Islambouli, al-Sadat's chief assassin. Mubarak—wounded in the hand in the shooting of al-Sadat at a military parade on the eighth anniversary of the start of the 1973 war with Israel, on October 6, 1981—refused to visit Iran unless that street was renamed. He also feared and repressed the MB and its more openly violent offshoots at home—who, even though they were Sunnis and the Iranians were Shi'ites—drew tremendous impetus and inspiration from Iran's Islamic revolution.

Now that the Brotherhood has its first man in the Egyptian presidency, one of his first acts to was to call for the release of "the Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel-Rahman -- the Egyptian cleric who issued the fatwa calling for al-Sadat's murder -- from an American prison, where he is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the World Trade Center bombing on 1993 and for plotting to blow up other major landmarks in New York City. (Abdel-Rahman also issued the fatwas that called for the killing of foreign tourists and Egyptian policemen in the Islamist insurgency of the 1990s; for the murder of anti-Islamist activist Farag Foda in 1992, and for the assassination of Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature, Naguib Mahfouz, who was stabbed nearly fatally by one of Abdel-Rahman's followers in 1994. It was also Abdel-Rahman's fatwa that Osama bin Laden cited as justification for the attacks of September 11, 2001.) Clearly, Mubarak's objections to visiting and dealing with Iran would make no sense when applied to Mursi.

As the clock ticks quickly toward the Iranian bomb, there has been much speculation about a possible Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. There is also a great deal to suggest that—however necessary it might be for the Jewish State's survival—such a strike will not happen (although Israel is not in the habit of announcing its major military decisions in advance.) Nor is it probable that America will intervene militarily, especially under its current leadership. It is obvious as well that sanctions will never succeed in stopping Iran from fulfilling the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's reported 1988 fatwa, calling on his country to acquire all types of WMD, including nuclear weapons, for both offensive and defensive purposes.[22] America's dithering over Iran and its indulgence of Mursi—whom it mistakenly sees as a "moderate" Islamist bulwark against al-Qa'ida (with which it differs mainly in strategy on reaching the same ends)—can only encourage its duplicitous ally on the Nile.

Lest anyone think that the MB does not want nuclear weapons and would not impose material hardship on the Egyptian people to attain them, anti-proliferation expert Ibrahim Said, in a précis of the Brotherhood's view of WMD for the website middleeast-armscontrol.com, recounts:

"…at a July 4, 2006 joint meeting of the foreign affairs, Arab, defense, and national security committees of the Egyptian parliament, Dr. Hamdi Hassan, spokesperson of the MB parliamentary caucus, made clear that his organization was interested not merely in using nuclear power for meeting Egypt's energy needs, but in creating an Egyptian nuclear deterrent: '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.'"[23]

And in 2009, the global Muslim Brotherhood's senior jurist of Islamic law, Egyptian cleric Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, broadcast a sermon on Qatar TV, in which he declared that Muslim nations must acquire nuclear weapons "in order to strike terror in our enemies."[24] Notably, although Israel has probably possessed nuclear weapons since the mid-1960s, it has (unlike Iran) never threatened to use them, or even hinted at a desire to wipe any other country off the map. Al-Qaradawi, recalled from his forty-year exile in Qatar to lead the victory celebration for Egypt's revolution at Tahrir Square on February 18, 2011, has also enjoined the Muslims to "punish" the Jews, as Hitler had done in the Holocaust.[25]

Just as the U.S. looked away while Mursi used the August 5, 2012 terror raid against Israel by Islamists in Sinai to move tanks, anti-aircraft batteries and troop levels banned by the peace treaty into the peninsula,[26] it will also likely fail to rebuke, much less restrain, Mursi, should he choose to develop a nuclear program, with or without aid from Tehran.

It now appears, in fact, that Mursi has so cleverly positioned himself to be independent of all other powers that none of them can have effective control over his behavior. That independence means he may be able to take money from China (whose aid to Egypt may soon surpass that of the U.S.), and the IMF, as well as the Persian Gulf states--and still allow none of them to dictate what he does with it. He has so far maneuvered every other major player into a corner. Checkmate may be when he attains nuclear independence—possibly with a nuclear bomb. Of course, many observers are reading this as a sign that he is now being "integrated" into the international system as a "normal," if unusually fast-off- the-mark, statesman. More likely, his actions are the result of a strategy developed by the MB over years of planning for its eventual rise to state power in Egypt -- at least in terms of manipulating the international community to gain complete autonomy in foreign (as well as domestic) policy.[27]

Certainly Mursi's visit to China, immediately followed by Iran, and his confident proposal for a Middle East quartet including Iran to negotiate the end the Syrian civil war (which the local MB branch is winning, also with American backing), show that he fears, like other Middle Eastern despots at present, very little from U.S. pressure. Apply too much, he is hinting, and he could be gone. Nothing, therefore, would attest to a failed policy of appeasement quite like a complete break with the country, which--after we lost Iran--was, for over thirty years, our staunchest Muslim friend in the region.

For Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who for decades have demanded war against Israel and death to the Jews, while calling for the subjugation and destruction of the U.S. too, the road to nuclear jihad may soon open before them—and with America's complicity. Who, then, would stand in their way?

Raymond Stock is a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a former Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University.


[1] Zvi Mazel, "Analysis: Brotherhood Taking Total Control of Egypt," The Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2012

[2] Egypt State Information Service (Cairo), "Energy Minister Reports on Dabaa Nuclear Program to Morsi," July 9, 2012.

[3] Daniel Siryoti and staff, "Egypt may resume civilian nuclear program," August 30, 2012.

[4] Stephen Manual, "Iran Ready to Transfer Nuclear Technology to Egypt." August 26, 2012. For another writer suggesting possible nuclear cooperation between Mursi's Egypt and Iran, see Nasser Saghafi-Ameri, "The New Egypt: A Potential Ally," Iran Review, July 18, 2012.

[5] "Iran denies plan to show nuclear sites to diplomats," Reuters, August 28, 2012.

[6] Ibrahim Said, Visiting Scholar at the Technical Nonproliferation and Disarmament Project of the UK/Norway initiative hosted by the Center for Accelerator-based research and Energy Physics, University of Oslo, "The bomb and the beard: The Egyptian MB's views toward WMD, June 11, 2012.

[7] Egyptian army general (ret.) Abdul-Hamid Umran, interviewed by ON-TV (Egypt), August 21, 2011.

[8] Egyptian army general (ret.) Abdul-Hamid Umran, interviewed by Tahrir-TV (Egypt), August 6, 2011.

[9] Mark Fitzpatrick, "background paper, EU seminar to promote confidence building and in support of a process aimed at establishing a zone free of WMD and their means of delivery in the Middle East, Brussels 6-7 July 2011".

[10] Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority website, "About".

[11] "Egypt's Nuclear Weapons Program." Federation of American Scientists, lasted updated May 30, 2012.

[12] Nuclear Threat Initiative, country profile, "Egypt: Nuclear," last updated August 2012.

[13] Pierre Goldschmidt, "The IAEA Reports on Egypt: Reluctantly?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2, 2009.

[14] Patrick Werr, "Radioactive material said stolen from nuclear plant," Reuters, January 19, 2012.

[15] "Germany declines comment on report of submarine sale to Egypt," Speigel Online, September 3, 2012, and "Israel seeks to dissuade Germany from selling Egypt two submarines," Egypt Independent, September 2, 2012.

[16] Raymond Stock, "The Donkey, the Camel and the Facebook Scam: How the Muslim Brotherhood Conquered Egypt and Conned the World." (Philadelphia: Foreign Policy Research Institute, E-Notes), July 2012.

[17] Maggie Michael, "Islamists installed in Egypt state institutions", AP, September 4, 2012

[18] Fitzpatrick, 12.

[19] Abeer Tayel and Mustafa Ajbaili, "Iran, Egypt Renewing Ties?" Al Arabeya News, April 18, 201

[20] Interview with Clare Lopez, August 25, 2012. See also: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/6170145/A.Q.-Khan-boasts-of-helping-Irans-nuclear-programme.html. I wish to thank Ms. Lopez, an expert in Middle East non-proliferation issues, for reviewing the technical aspects of my findings, and for her great encouragement and friendship as well. However, the research, writing, analysis and any errors are my own.

[21] "Iranian MP Hopes for Start of Iran-Egypt N. Cooperation after Mursi's visit to Bushehr Plant." Ahlul Bayt News Agency, August 26, 2012

[22] Con Coughlin, Khomeini's Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam. (London: Ecco, 2009), 242-43.

[23] Said (see note 6, above).

[24] Ibid. Strikingly, al-Qaradawi's phrase is taken from the Qur'an, Surat al-Anfal, 8:60, "Muster against them what fighting men an d steeds of war you can, in order to strike terror in the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them whom you do not know, but Allah knows well," as found in The Al-Qaeda Reader, edited and translated by Raymond Ibrahim, with an Introduction by Victor Davis Hanson. (New York, London, Toronto: Doubleday, 2007), p. 54. One of al-Qa'ida's favorite verses, in Arabic it begins with "Wa'iddu," "Prepare," which is found at the bottom of the Muslim Brotherhood's official shield, featuring crossed swords under an open Qur'an. The reference is in fact to this verse, one that speaks volumes about the group's "peaceful" intentions. And it is the MB's official motto, as well.

[25] Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, "Allah imposed Hitler upon the Jews to punish them: Allah willing, next time it will be at the hand of the believers." Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar), January 23-28, 2009.

[26] Under Israeli pressure, Egypt has withdrawn some of the tanks sent into Sinai last month, but has left the majority in place. Nor does it seem that Egypt has withdrawn the anti-aircraft batteries, which also violate the peace treaty, and which have no obvious role to play in counterterrorism. In addition, there are reports in the Egyptian media that Salafi groups have made deals with the militants for the government, including elements linked with al-Qa'ida—a worrying but logical development if true: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/middle-east/news/article.cfm?l_id=8&objectid=10830459&ref=rss and http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/11600

[27] The always-brilliant and provocative "Spengler" (David P. Goldman), in "Egypt is an adversary, not a neutral" (PJ Media, September 4, 2012) has suggested that Mursi will not get what most of what he's asking for from the donor countries cited above, but is entering into an alliance with Iran to check the power of Saudi Arabia, which fears the MB's revolutionary reach within the Kingdom. (And to snub the U.S.—its common enemy with Iran, despite some overrated criticisms of Iran's ally Syria at the NAM conference.) Nor, he asserts, does Mursi really care if he gets the cash he needs to keep Egypt's economy afloat, for he hopes to control the masses in the manner of classic one-party totalitarian regimes, via rationing--turning the country into a "North Korea on the Nile". About all these points, he could be right, though he may have underestimated Mursi's fundraising talents in the end. In this writer's view, Mursi may want cash to develop his nuclear program, at the very least, and would be willing to make a deal with any number of devils to get it. And others—from China to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and beyond—may be willing to bribe him in order to use him against their respective rivals, all pawns in the same shrewd game.

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