Lynchpin of Middle Eastern politics. Nation of strategic importance. Element of regional stability. In the view of American foreign policy for the Middle East and North Africa over the last thirty years, Egypt has merited mostly flattering comments on the regional role it has played. And all things considered, the comments have reflected what Egypt has really meant to the USA’s political strategies towards the Middle East, the Arab nations, and the whole region. Including Iran. If only because, in that part of the world, the alliance with Egypt has been the most important and most unexpected diplomatic success, the Department of State and the White House’s prize exhibit from the last fifty years. The US diplomacy knew that this surprising American diplomatic success in the Middle East has been made possible, for the most part, by the presence as Egyptian leader of a statesman capable of making astonishing choices, Anwar el Sadat. In fact, it was the successor of Gamal Abdel Nasser the sole protagonist of a drastic change in alliance after the 1973 war, and of an equally sudden abandonment of traditional Nasserite foreign policy which had as its three fundamental pillars the Soviet Union, the Non-Aligned movement, and pan-Arabism.
While it is true to say that Sadat’s presence was essential to Washington considering Cairo as its Arabian bridgehead in the Middle East and North Africa, it has to be said that the alliance between the United States and Egypt has succeeded in surviving without Sadat, and above all in surviving various political earthquakes in the region that could have damaged the alliance’s stability and indeed destroyed the entire relationship between Cairo and Washington. But despite initial misgivings, despite the difference in character between himself and Sadat, and the difference between their conceptions of Egypt’s political role, Hosni Mubarak has nonetheless managed to maintain the commitments made by his predecessor. That’s to say, he has managed to preserve the alliance with the United States. although in different terms than those foreseen by Washington. Furthermore, it may well be that Washington has benefited from the changes that Mubarak has imposed during his twenty years of rule, in some cases without its ally’s approval.
At the time of Sadat’s assassination, on October, 6th, 1981, the relation between Egypt and the United States was founded on the Americano-centric premises decided by the Egyptian head of state, but after Sadat’s disappearance these premises soon evolved in ways that corresponded more to Egypt’s than to America’s strategy. The final balance, after twenty years of Mubarak’s presidency, is nonetheless positive for both partners in the alliance. The United States have had in Egypt the lynchpin of its foreign policy for the region, although Mubarak’s presidency passed almost undamaged through a turning point in world contemporary history, such as the end of a more than thirty-year lasting Cold War. Although both Egypt and the US were obliged to adjust their strategies in the Middle East, US continued with ups-and-downs to consider Cairo as a pillar of its Arab policy, based on four priorities. Firstly, guaranteeing safe passage for crude oil from the Persian Gulf through the Suez Canal. Secondly, protecting the security of Israel. Thirdly, containing those nations in the region which, at different moments, have most threatened American interests (Iran and Iraq). And finally, during the first half of these twenty years at any rate, limiting the influence of the Soviet Union and exporting the policy of global containment to the Middle East and North Africa.
Mubarak’s regime too, from its point of view, has obtained more positive than negative results from maintaining the alliance with the United States. On the one hand, as a reward for its role as a bridgehead, it has continued to benefit from the largest economic aid package dispensed by America in the whole area (second only to the first recipient, i.e. Israel), indispensable for the country’s internal stability. On the other hand, in an analysis that is only apparently paradoxical, it has exploited its privileged relation with the Americans to gradually revive and reinforce its own position within the Arab world.
All things considered, therefore, this has been an alliance that has given satisfaction to both partners. Despite its ups and downs, and despite the changes which the United States could never have foreseen at the time when Sadat put himself decisively in the American camp and carried out the two principal acts of his presidency: the leap from one side of the Iron Curtain to the other, and the peace with Israel.
“ABRASIVE AND UNBENDING”
The Americans could have never imagined that Sadat would have disappeared from the Middle Eastern scene so soon, and in such a sudden and tragic way. They therefore witnessed Mubarak’s coming to power after the 1981, October, 6th Sadat’s assassination at the military parade remembering the 1973 Victory, with considerable scepticism. The initial caution among the US administration regarding Mubarak’s presidency was based on two factors. The first: the capital importance of the presidency in the definition of the Egyptian foreign policy, i.e. the relevance of Sadat’s successor for the continuation of the alliance between Cairo and the United States. The second factor: America officials were cautious regarding Mubarak, because of what they knew of him from his visits to the States as the Egyptian vice-president before Sadat’s death. During those meetings, Mubarak had shown himself to be quite different from his president. Less brilliant, in the first place, both in public and in private. Among American politicians and political technicians the main fear was that Mubarak “was seen as demanding, somewhat abrasive and unbending”, as Hermann Frederick Eilts has written. The worry was, in other words, that Mubarak would not have honoured the peace with Israel, still in its infancy, and might even have returned to the path set down by Gamel Abdel Nasser.
These worries were unfounded. Mubarak respected the commitments made by Sadat, showing an unexpected degree of loyalty. But he adhered to Sadat’s legacy without his predecessor’s enthusiasm, and without Anwar el Sadat’s open and passionate conviction. It’s sufficient to enlist only one example to show the differences of political behaviour between the two Egyptian presidents. Whereas the former defied the entire Arab world by making a state visit to Jerusalem, the latter graciously declined the initial invitation to go to the Holy City done by the Israelis after his enthroning. Mubarak went there only for the funeral of Ytzhak Rabin, in November 1995. In profoundly different circumstances, with Mubarak having only recently managed to re-enter the diplomatic manoeuvres surrounding the Oslo Agreements (from which he had been excluded). Furthermore, he decided to participate to the Rabin memorial in a regional context, where the impetuous winds of change of Oslo, the handshake between Yasser Arafat and Ytzhak Rabin, and the 1991 Gulf War, had long since petered out. Finally, Mubarak has always done his duty towards the alliance with America, but without overdoing things.
Egypt’s key commitment with the Americans was, needless to say, the 1979 Camp David agreement with Israel, and Mubarak’s loyalty was adamant from the beginning, although the presidency’s first year transitional period was the “severest possible test upon peace treaty”. Mubarak strongly reiterated that peace with Israel was not a turning-back-point of Egyptian foreign policy, whether on the Washington-Cairo bilateral relations or on the regional niveau. For its part, Israel received immediately confirmation that Mubarak would honour his country’s commitment, through his presidential inaugural address. “Egypt, the state and the people, is continuing along the road of a lasting and comprehensive peace based upon the framework that has been agreed upon at Camp David”, said Mubarak on October, 14th, reassuring Israel that “Egypt’s position before the Israeli withdrawal in April 1982 is the same as Egypt’s position after the complete withdrawal”. The Palestinian issue, however, was expressively described as strongly linked to the path to peace and to the Egyptian responsibility towards the Palestinian right of self-determination. Egypt reaffirmed shortly its commitment, finalizing several bilateral accords during the months immediately after Sadat’s assassination.
The Reagan administration alike decided that the American priority after the 1981, October, 6th attempt, that abruptly beheaded the Egyptian regime, was to let Egyptians and Israelis implement smoothly but continuously the peace agreement, especially regarding the final withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai, removed on April, 25th, 1982. As a matter of fact, Washington Near East diplomacy knew that it would be impossible a new Arab-Israeli war after Camp David, inasmuch as Egypt was and still is the most militarily powerful Arab state. Mubarak, on the other hand, tried in the same months to achieve a political success, able to let him earn consensus among the Egyptian public opinion, and the Sinai issue was the first test-bed of his presidency.
For Mubarak has always tried to walk a tightrope between a society increasingly resentful of American influence on the one hand, and his special relationship with Washington on the other. He perceived his goal by seeking a less subservient role for Egypt than Sadat had envisioned. This meant steering a middle course, which is what Mubarak did from the beginning, trying to change the perception that the Egyptian public opinion and intellectual elites had on the presidency’s foreign policy. His goal, therefore, was to give to the public a new picture of the president, loyal to the undersigned agreements with the US and Israel, but at the same time committed to regain the national pride. Mubarak tried to combine the Sadat’s legacy with the Nasser’s one, blunting the first with a partial restoration of the Nasserite socio-political myths both on the socio-economical level (smoothing the infitah) and the “foreign policy” file. Pivotal for the implementation of this new complex Egyptian attitude to the regional policy was to regain the pillar of Nasserite policy myths, i.e. Pan-Arabism, combined with the endorsement of the Egyptian identity and pride, for Mubarak considered the domestic policy and a widespread political consensus, much more important that Sadat did. The new president, less brilliant than his predecessor, needed to obtain from the Egyptian public more immediate and common support. Consequently, he started a new and different foreign policy, which blended what Louis J. Cantori described as the two key elements of his new path, “balancing the alienating effects of the peace treaty with Israel, with continued efforts at rapprochement with the Arab state system”.
The first symptoms of this change in the course of bilateral relations and regional politics became evident immediately after Mubarak’s appointment as president. To be precise, from shortly after the handing-over of the Sinai Peninsular by Israel, which was vital for the initial honeymoon between the president and the population. Once this issue had been resolved, apart from the dispute over Taba, by 1982 the new Egyptian president was already demonstrating that the relationship with the United States would no longer entirely follow the patron-client formula. What sparked the process was the Israeli government’s launching of its “Operation Peace in Galilee” in 1982, with the attack on Lebanon and the PLO bases in the Land of the Cedars.
Egypt didn’t know anything about the Israeli intention to invade Lebanon in such a massive way. Cairo was caught by surprise: until the very last day before the attack, Egyptians and Israelis continued the scheduled program of exchanges and visits of official delegations. From the Autumn 1981 till the Spring 1982, Mubarak has decided to take a patient stance towards Tel Aviv, although the Israeli government policies were provocative and showed a strong sense of impunity, especially regarding the increase in the construction of settlements in the West Bank. The invasion of Lebanon, therefore, was extremely embarrassing for Cairo, both on the level of the relations with the US and Israel, and towards the Arab public and governments. In the meantime, the Israeli attack against both Lebanon and the PLO was the first step for the particular Mubarak’s path to let Egypt regain a powerful place inside the Arab arena.
From the “Operation Peace in Galilee” on, Mubarak’s foreign policy began to move in parallel with the unfolding of events and the reaction of Egyptian public opinion, which for the first time was able to follow on television the developments in the Lebanese conflict. Mubarak immediately condemned the Israeli aggression, despite Egypt still being an outcast in regional politics due to its expulsion from the Arab League after the unilateral peace treaty with Israel. Really it was Israel’s attack that offered Cairo its first chance to mend relations with the Arab world, to such an extent that Mubarak requested holding a summit between all the nations in the region. Later, when events became intolerable for Egyptian public opinion, Mubarak took stronger action, withdrawing his ambassador from Tel Aviv. The subsequent massacres in Sabra and Shatila, and Arafat and the PLO’s exile from Beirut, contributed to the continuation of this public hard-line stance.
Though, Mubarak was very cautious to balance the public blame of the Israeli military and political behaviour, with the reiteration of his country’s commitment to the agreements with Tel Aviv and Washington. In fact, both Mubarak and the leading Egyptian officials made immediately clear, that peace with Israel would not be re-evaluated, a stance that the Mubarak’s presidency continued constantly to pursue in the following two decades. Kassam Hassan Ali, the Egyptian foreign minister, described adamantly his country’s policy, after Cairo called back home his ambassador in Tel Aviv for consultations, saying that “peace still exists and relations still exist” between Egypt and Israel.
After Lebanon crisis started, however, the normalization process almost stopped: no new agreement between the two sides was signed, although all existing accords were honoured. From 1982, at least for the following two years, the relations between Egypt and Israel reached a freezing level, known as the “cold peace”, while Mubarak narrowed his foreign policy. The president exploited the celebration of the 1952 Nasserite revolution’s anniversary (the first one as head of state) to point the way of his international policy, explaining it in a “ten point program” during his speech on 1982, July, 28th. Mubarak stated clear that he wanted to regain some of the pillars of Nasserism, such as the “positive neutralism and non-alignment”, the “rejection of foreign bases”, the “support of national liberation”, the “adherence to the Egyptian national will”, the “rejection of all forms of subservience”. He launched also a covert warning signal to the United States, stating the “rejection of foreign alliances” and “foreign bases”, and the “halt to the armaments race and nuclear weapons”, followed by a shift in the Sadat’s anti-Soviet stance, that Mubarak implemented in the following years and finalized in 1984, when Egypt resumed normal relations with the USSR.
Mubarak’s warning signal to Washington was extremely important for the United States, given that the Reagan administration’s strategy in the Middle East – at least at the beginning – was a simple continuation of the Cold War policy followed in Europe. The Reagan administration’s picture of the MENA region dramatically was a non-complex vision of a field where USA and USSR could continue their match, using the same strategic standards employed on the Western side of the Iron Curtain. Sadat’s successor, rather, designed a foreign policy build on a multipolar world vision, instead of a very simple, consolidated one, for his goal was more regional than bilateral. Mubarak wanted undoubtedly to re-conquer for Egypt the leading role inside the Arab world, and an important one inside the African arena. An America-centric Egyptian foreign policy shouldn’t been sufficient for reaching his goals, both domestically and regionally. Mubarak needed to design a more complex system, build on different levels of connection and relations, in a very delicate balance, that he reached to maintain during most part of his presidential mandate.
Beyond any doubt, anyway, during the 80s Mubarak’s priority was the reentering inside the Arab arena, and the Palestinian issue was the most useful tool to avoid the alienation from the Arab world. Mubarak, therefore, reached to transform the embarrassment caused by the Israelis with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, in an incredible opportunity to surpass some of the obstacles put on his route to a reshaped partnership inside the region. This opportunity has been transformed by the Egyptian president in a difficult and risky success through the relation with Yasser Arafat, the real target of Ariel Sharon-led invasion of Lebanon. It was also Mubarak to preserve the leadership of Abu Ammar among the Palestinians, greeting him in Egypt after Arafat was forced to abandon Beirut with the PLO officials, on August, 30th, 1982. The Mubarak’s relationship with Abu Ammar in those circumstances was the sign of the first partial rehabilitation of Egypt by the Arab nations, immortalised in the arrival in the Suez Canal of the Odysseus Elytis from Beirut, in Arafat’s disembarking at Ismailia, and in his encounter with Mubarak in a city – Cairo – where long before he had been a student and a refugee. The encounter signalled simultaneously both the end of the six year freeze in relations between the Egyptian leadership and the PLO, and the end of the Arab embargo on Egypt after Camp David, although it would take more than seven years to reenter formally inside the Arab institutions.
The relationship with Arafat, who had always preferred Egypt as a sponsor rather than the fluctuating Jordan of King Hussein, stood up to the strains imposed by incidents such as the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, in which Egypt – instead of putting at risk its relations with the Palestinians – preferred to put at risk its alliance with the United States. It was not easy for Washington to digest the tensions caused by Egypt’s mediation and by Cairo’s attempt to fly Abul Abbas and the hijackers to Tunis on an Egyptian aircraft. Just as for Cairo, and for Rome, it was not easy to digest the Sigonella incident. Basically, anyway, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the trampolines (if not the main one) that Mubarak’s Egypt used to return to the Arab fold. It is no coincidence that Egypt’s first step to the normalization of the relations inside the Muslim world followed the Mubarak-Arafat meeting in Cairo after Abu Ammar abandoned Beirut, and the beginning of the “cold peace” period in the Egyptian-Israeli relations, with Egypt’s readmission to the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1984. It is no coincidence either that the definitive readmission to the Arab League came about in 1989, after the first Intifada and the open OF undercover diplomatic contacts between Egypt and the PLO, was carried out in spite of American worries about the repercussions on Israeli-Egyptian relations.
Expert opinion is unanimous that the relationship between Egypt and the United States has always existed within the context of an Egypt-United States-Israel triangle, in which Cairo is the weakest side of the geometrical figure. Until Egypt’s self-appointed role as broker between Israeli and Palestinian adversaries recently assumed a profile more acceptable to the Americans, Washington had always feared that the relationship between Cairo and the PLO might go against Israeli interests. Despite the fact that Palestinian autonomy was one of the objectives of the peace with Israel negotiated by Jimmy Carter.
SEEKING CONSENSUS, COURTING THE ARABS
Egypt under Mubarak has always tried to camouflage the peace, both through its privileged relation with the Palestinians and through gestures, aimed at reducing internal opposition from Nasserites and Islamic fundamentalists, the main anti-Israeli hardliners. Over the years these gestures have been numerous, recurring every time the brief periods of optimism broke down into periods of violence and outrage. In those phases Mubarak has always been ready to launch anti-Israeli signals for local consumption, such as convoking the Arab League in the most difficult moments (as he did after the election of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996) or recalling the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv (the last time was after the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000). On the internal level, some demonstrations were tolerated or event authorized by the regime, to show that the Egyptian national interests was not subservient to the Israeli or the American one: from time to time, small manifestations poured the Cairo street on symbolic occasions, but they were allowed only under precise limitations, both on the organizational level and the political one. Those signals, however, were perhaps insufficient for an Egyptian public ever less willing to pardon Israeli policies and ever more incline to match United and Israel together, without any differentiation, but they were necessary to Mubarak in order to appease anger on the streets and, at the same time, avoiding over-irritating the American ally.
Mubarak has been an unenthusiastic supporter of the Camp David peace treaty, avoiding Sadat-style theatrical gestures, because in the first 20 years of his presidency, he never forgot the unavoidable relevance of internal consensus, being always careful not to lose touch with the mood of the Egyptian man in the street and the shifts in the internal political situation, in contrast to Anwar el Sadat, who paid with his life for his inability to understand what was happening in radical Islamic circles. To use the words of Ali Hillal Dessouki, on a national level Mubarak’s foreign policy “did not replace Sadat’s, but worked paralleled to it, with the aim of balancing the side-effects of his predecessor’s policies”.
During the 1990’s in particular, the relationship with the United States was strained by major shifts within Egyptian society, which underwent an Islamic revival that – despite the regime’s efforts to restrain it – imposed socio-political restraints on the Egyptian government that had previously been inexistent or at any rate negligible. The season of radical Islamic terrorism (directed above all against tourists and Israeli objectives), and the ambivalent relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood (only formally illegal), has put a brake on the United State’s powerful influence over Egypt, to the point of creating a chasm between the regime’s pro-American stance and the widespread and intense anti-Americanism within society. From this has stemmed a kind of self-censorship in Mubarak’s presidency regarding choices to do with religious observations or foreign policy. At the same time, on an economic level, the system of cliquish favouritism adopted by Mubarak has disillusioned American expectations of rapid and virtuous privatisations in Egyptian industry, still encumbered by clogging Nasserite mechanisms.
To enact his middle-way strategy, Mubarak needed therefore to regain the active lead of the Arab region, to counterbalance the internal opposition and the growing Islamic trends inside the political arena and the society. It was time, for the successor of Anwar el Sadat, to surpass the obstacles and fight for the readmission of Egypt inside the Arab League. Mubarak’s involvement in the Palestinian issue, his role as one of the patron of the Palestinian national struggle, were the first tools used by the president to build his new place inside the Arab states political, diplomatic, institutional system. They were, however, only a part of a two-fold strategy, being the other one a renovated leading regional role for Egypt.
The freeze between Egypt and the Arab League ended in Amman, with the November, 1987 summit, when the organization decided to allow the member states to choose freely whether to tie anew or not the knot with Egypt. Few weeks later, the first Intifada changed dramatically the political scenario in the entire area, paving the way to the entry of the Palestine Liberation Organization as an autonomous actor, into the Arab League and generally inside the Arab regional political scene. The Palestinian issue, therefore, continued to be a testing-ground, as well as one of the priorities, in the relations between the United States and Egypt, although the impact of the Gaza and West bank uprisings modified even the strength of the Egyptian role as one of the two Palestinians’ patrons, together with Jordan.
Although Egypt (and also Jordan, of course) continued to be a benchmark of the Republican administration’s Middle East strategy in Washington, the US foreign policy orientated by Secretary of State George Shultz, started to shift to a different approach regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to search for a stronger involvement of those parts directly engaged in the conflict. The situation changed profoundly when it became clearly perceivable that the United States and the PLO initiated a dialogue without any mediator, whether Egypt or Jordan. “In the past” – remembered Mohammed Rabie, the Palestinian-American, who witnessed the shift in the American policy regarding the Palestinian role in the peace process – Jordan and Egypt “have controlled the major channels of communication between the US and PLO, and news of the initiative was not particularly pleasing. Although neither Jordan nor Egypt had tried to oppose the process, they resented to be excluded”. Egypt, however, was about to consolidate its role inside the Arab state system, strengthening through its enhanced links with the other Arab regimes also its function in the US policy for the Middle East, outlined by the late Reagan administration and especially during the George Bush sr. presidency.
EGYPT AND THE KUWAIT CRISIS: THE MOST IMPORTANT ALLY
When we shift our attention from the area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that of inter-Arab relations we find that Egypt’s role and function in American strategy change dramatically. This is the context in which Mubarak plays to the full – and without ambiguity – the part of the USA’s most important ally in the region. The most obvious and revealing example is the whole operation undertaken by Mubarak before, during, and after the 1991 Gulf War, which was also – paradoxically – the Egyptian president’s opportunity to express his ambivalent strategy towards the United States. A policy which, especially during the twenty years between 1981 and 2001, would give him a significant role to play at the various diplomatic negotiations in which he has participated.
In 1990-1, Mubarak succeeded to enhance its personal power and his country’s status on three levels: on a political, a military and finally an economic one. Due to Egypt’s military participation to the 1991 Gulf War, Cairo has availed itself to retrieve its former role inside the Arab arena, as the military, i.e. the political leader in the region. The new path initiated in 1987, with the decision of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to reenergize with one billion dollar investment, the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI), based in Egypt, which supervises nine military factories which are producing civilian goods as well as military products. Afterwards, the GCC resolved in August to ask to Egypt to train its newly integrated army. Three years after, Egypt was ready to regain the military status it had before 1979, but unlike the previous Arab wars, the Egyptian military leadership was not directed against one of the pillars of US Middle East policy: Egypt didn’t lead in 1990-91 a war against Israel, because Washington succeeded through the Camp David agreement to write a full stop in the history of Arab-Israeli wars.
It is at the level of inter-Arab relations, moreover, that Mubarak has managed to extract as many benefits as possible for his own power at home. Especially from an economic point of view, through the policies followed during the Gulf crisis and the subsequent war, Mubarak succeeded in obtaining – for the Egyptian contingent of 35,000 soldiers in the coalition against Saddam Hussein – conspicuous recompenses that were fundamental for reinforcing the national economy. In October 1990, i.e. before the starting of the terrestrial war operations in the Saudi desert towards Kuwait, some Arab emirates and monarchies decided to cancel their part of Egyptian debt: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar wrote off 8.3 billion dollars debts, after the United States cancelled the Egyptian military debts, 6.7 billion dollars worth. Egyptian debts’ crossing-out was followed, after few months, by the most important act, the reduction by 50% of Cairo’s international debt, decided by the Paris Club and the USA: 50 billion dollars were discounted to 25 billion. Last but not least, the Egyptian participation against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait enhanced a new relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Nations, boosting the policy of Egyptian emigration in the Arabian peninsular, and new investments in Egypt by the Saudis and the Emirates.
It was from a political point of view, however, that Hosni Mubarak succeeded in creating a decisive role for himself, to the point where, just one year after its readmission to the Arab League, Egypt found itself guiding the whole region and even improving its relations with a Syria willing to enter the anti-Iraq coalition. A leader who had seemed colourless when compared to Sadat’s daring flair in the end proved capable – without at that time losing the support of public opinion at home – of supporting Iraq as an anti-Iranian force during the first Gulf War (as originally requested by the Americans, although the bilateral relations were spotted by the Iran-Contra affair) and then, after just three years, supplying the United States with an enlarged coalition as an anti-Iraq force. Moreover, the Egyptian president reached to reconstruct and maintain, at the same time, a highly respected status among the Arab nations, and obliterated from his passport the image of a country submissive to America’s will, without endangering the alliance with the United States.
It was Mubarak himself to build the Egyptian role inside the 1991 Gulf War file, confirming that the country’s foreign policy was based, first and foremost, on the will and the strategy of the president. Hosni Mubarak, therefore, followed the unwritten rules applied by his two predecessor, although it has to be said, that during the decennial 1991-2001 Egyptian foreign policy was build on a sort of two-track diplomacy, run by Mubarak and his foreign minister, Amr Moussa, protagonist often of a more Arab-oriented and more hard-edged-behaviour towards the American strategy in the region.
The Egyptian president started to defuse the crisis, before the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, basing his ability on two elements: Egypt’s role inside the region, given that the country was readmitted to the Arab League in 1989 and that its headquarter was reinstated in Cairo, and secondly the personal relations he has built during the decennial contacts with the Arab leaders. The Egyptian head of state had close links with Saddam, due to the military help to fight Teheran, but also with the Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Jahir Ahmed Sabah. Therefore, he was one of the few Arab leaders capable to start – as he did – a rapid “shuttle diplomacy” to avoid the war, trying to organize a meeting between Saddam and Sheikh Sabah. The Egyptian mediation failed, Iraq invaded Kuwait, but Mubarak maintained his leading role, pushing for an Arab front against Baghdad.
The Arab League emergency summit on August, 10th, 1990, condemned Iraq. 12 states out of 20 adhered to the Egyptian-Saudi axis, Syria included. Indeed, the most unexpected result achieved by Mubarak was the Syrian participation to the anti-Iraq coalition, obtained by a personal relation with Hafez el Assad cultivated in the previous years, and culminated with the restoration of the Egyptian-Syrian relation in late December, 1989, and two decisive meetings between Mubarak and Assad during Spring 1990. The shift decided by Damascus was also an unpredicted, precious gift by the Egyptian regime to its powerful American ally, that would have never obtain alone such a goal.
Finally, the 1991 Gulf War let Mubarak to consolidate, at least at the beginning, his homefront. Through his inter-Arab policies Mubarak has also managed to obtain, at least in his first years, and to a reasonable extent, public support at home. Partly because of Egypt recovering its original role as the centre of the Arab League, lost under Sadat. Partly because of being able to combine pro-American policies with his regime’s tolerance of the ever-growing social and religious conservatism in the country. This aspect becomes even clearer if we look at how the sending of 35,000 Egyptian soldiers to Saudi Arabia was rendered acceptable to a public opinion which, on the one hand, was reminded of its resentment towards Saddam Hussein over the question of Egyptian migrant workers in Iraq, and on the other was persuaded to accept the justifications offered for Egypt’s participation in a coalition guided by a non-Muslim nation like the USA and stationed close to Islam’s most sacred sites. The most effective support for Mubarak’s line during the Second Gulf War came from the most popular preacher in the country, Al Sha’rawi, who clarified that prophet Mohammed had also appealed to infidels to defend the holy sites, because “God makes the truth triumph over impiety, even when he uses impiety to do so”.
THE SEASHORE SUMMITS SEASON
The honeymoon between the president and Egyptian public opinion on the 1991 Gulf War was, however, very short. The Muslim Brotherhood’s opposition, after some initial ambiguity to Egypt’s participation in the anti-Iraq coalition, caused considerable problems for Mubarak’s regime, forcing it after the war to dilute American requests for a regional security agreement and to flatly turn down any hypothesis of stationing American troops in bases on Egyptian soil. The increasing distaste of the population of Egypt for American policies in the Middle East and North Africa has grown still more intense from the mid 1990’s, spurred by Ytzhak Rabin’s assassination and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process’ gradual freezing, the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq in 1998 and by the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in the autumn of 2000. Since the final years of the nineties it has become ever more difficult for Mubarak to distinguish, in the public’s perception, the table of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the table of inter-Arab relations, in order to demonstrate a non-subordinate relationship with Washington. From the moment that these two levels of Egyptian foreign policy have become inseparable, Mubarak has had increasing problems in justifying his alliance with the United States.
The 1991 Gulf War revealed itself also as a climax for the Egyptian role in the US strategy in the Middle East. It was the highest peak reached by Mubarak as a broker inside the Arab world, and signalled the embryos of the important changes in progress in the region during all the 90s, especially in the Arab-Israeli crisis. Although the 1991 Gulf War signed a strong setback both for Arafat’s PLO and for Jordan in the eyes of the American diplomacy, pivotal developments took place soon in the aftermath of the armistice, culminated with the 1991 Madrid peace Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the emerging of Jordan and especially the Palestinians as the main characters together with the Israeli. Mubarak’s Egypt lost the role it played for more than a decade, right after the country fully regained the lead in the Arab state system.
The Madrid conference e and the Oslo peace process were the symbols of Egyptian failure as the mediator chosen by the Americans to filter their strategy in the Middle East. Never again Egypt won back its status, although Cairo remained a stronghold in the US Middle East policy, and the recipient of the most important security assistance bestowed by Washigton, right after the assistance program for Israel. Mubarak found a pugnacious concurrent in King Hussein of Jordan, who decided to go over the Egyptian “cold peace” strategy towards Israel and inaugurate a “warmer peace” with the rapid normalization of the bilateral relations between Amman and Tel Aviv in 1994, followed by closer political relations and economic joint projects.
Mubarak used once again the Arab arena to show his potential power and regain the lost ground towards the Americans. The testing-ground was the campaign to press Israel to accede to the Non-Proliferation-Treaty and to place all of its nuclear activities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A at the NPT review conference in May 1995, Egypt presented a draft resolution, co-sponsored by 13 Arab league members, to express “deep concern at the continued existence in the Middle East of unsafeguarded Israeli nuclear facilities” and to press Israel to join the treaty. Although the step was unsuccessful, Mubarak signalled to the United States that Egypt could distance from the path chosen in the previous 15 years, and that could assemble a consistent number of Arab states on a delicate matter such as the nuclear issue in the Middle East. In September, Egypt was invited in Jericho to witness with Jordan the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo interim agreement, but the winds of peace in the region were suffocated by the Rabin assassination in November, and all the efforts to revive the process – also with the first of the peace summits hosted by Mubarak in the Sinai resort of Sharm es-Sheykh – failed shortly.
The second episode in the most strained period of the US-Egyptian relations was the severe stance opted by Mubarak, after the Israeli political earthquake determined by the Likud victory in the 1996 elections. The Egyptian president was among the promoters, with Syria and Saudi Arabia, of the Arab League emergency summit called in Cairo on June, 22nd, four days after the neo-elected premier Benjamin Netanyahu presented his government to the Knesset. Although the summit final document contained severe warning to Israel, it was and it is evident that Egypt would have never again waged a war against Israel. Hosni Mubarak, however, sent a clear message to the US Democratic administration, followed by his refusal of Clinton invitation to participate to a summit meeting in Washington some months later, called after the clashes in Jerusalem, that followed Netanyahu’s decision to open the Hasmonean tunnel beside the Haram al Sharif in the Old City, which sparked the worst large-scale protest since the first Intifada. It was the beginning of difficult years in the area, severed by the US-led operation in Iraq in 1998 and by Al Aqsa Intifada in 2000. The Middle East became totally a fragmented region in a confused multipolar world, and Mubarak’s Egypt couldn’t regain the status it conquered during the 80s.
The overall picture that emerges from these few observations tells us that, when all is said and done, the balance of pros and cons in the relationship between the United States and Egypt has benefited both parties. If, however, we concentrate on the consequences that Cairo’s relation with Washington between 1991 and 2001 has had on the situation inside Egypt, we realise that the price paid by Hosni Mubarak’s regime has been high. The nation that set out to be the champion of Arab moderation, in the sense of a focal point for a solid relationship with the Western world, has turned out to be a nation whose 25 years of alliance with the United States has increased its own internal weakness. Both from an institutional viewpoint, with the emergence of an autocracy, and from a socio-political point of view, with the failure to carry out the democratic reforms requested by, among others, Washington. The Mubarak regime’s internal weakness has also had repercussions on its standing in the Arab world, distinguished at times by the president’s undeniable capacity for mediating between the profound divisions within the Arab League, and at others by his inability, especially in recent years, to exert any influence on American policy in the Middle East.
On international level, Egypt’s status as a regional power experienced two phases. The first one, in the first ten years under Mubarak’s presidency, went through the successful effort to regain the Arab state system leadership, the main tool to strengthen Egypt’s position inside US Middle East policy. The country’s regional role, however, weakened steadily during the 90s, not primarily for the fault of the president, but due to the result of a radically changed political environment. Although there was not a single Arab state that could substantially challenge its status towards Washington, Egypt experienced a decline in its leadership, besides its inability to reform internally the republic for preparing the country to a peaceful and gradual transition to democracy, as well as for paving the pay to a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak.
Abdalla, Ahmed, “Antiamericanism in Egypt”, in Orient, v. 45, no. 2, 2004, pp. 219-238
Aftandilian, Gregory L. Egypt’s Bid for Arab Leadership: Implications for US Policy. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1993
Laurie E. Brand, “The Intifadah and the Arab World: Old Players, New Rules”, in International Journal, v. XLV, no.3, Summer 1990, pp.501-528
Boutros Ghali, Boutros Egypt‘s Road to Jerusalem. A Diplomat’s Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, New York: Random House, 1997
Cantori, Louis J., “Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change”, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986
Cantori, Louis J., “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, in Robert O. Freedman, Middle East from the Iran-Contra to the Intifada, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991, pp.341-366
Clarke, Duncan L ., “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”, in Middle East Journal, v. 51, no. 2, Spring 1997, pp. 200-214
Cook, Steven, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, Middle East Quarterly, v.7, no.2, 2000, pp. 3-14
Faksh, Mahmoud A., “Egypt and the Gulf Crisis: the Role of Leadership under Mubarak”, in Journal of Third World Studies, vol.9, no.1, 1992, pp. 40-58
Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, “The Primacy of Economics: The Foreign Policy of Egypt”, in Korany- Dessouki (eds.) The Foreign Policy of Arab States
Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal,, Egyptian Foreign Policy since Camp David, in Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David
Eilts, Hermann Frederick, The US and Egypt, in Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David
Feiler, Gil, Economic Relations Between Egypt and the Gulf Oil States, 1967-2000: Petro Wealth and Patterns of Influence, Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2003.
Fustier, Natalie, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”, in Les Cahiers de l’Orient, no. 45, pp.137-147
Hopwood, Derek, Egypt. Politics and Society 1945-90, London and New York: Routledge, 1993
Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David,
Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Islam and Democracy. Critical Essays, Cairo, New York: The American University of Cairo Press, 2000
Ibrahim, Ibrahim, ed., Gulf Crisis. Background and Consequences, Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1992
Mohammad el Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”, in Journal of Asian and African Affairs, vol. 4, no. 2, 1993, pp. 52-67
Kienle, Eberhard, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt, London-New York: I.B. Tauris 2000
Korany, Bahgat- Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal (eds.) The Foreign Policy of Arab States, Boulder: Westview, 1994
Laqueur, Walter and Rubin, Barry (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader. A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, New York: Penguin, 2001
Lesch, Ann Mosely and Tessler, Mark A. (ed.), Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: from Camp David to Intifada, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989
Joseph Lorenz, Egypt and the Arabs: Foreign Policy and the Search for an National Identity, Boulder: Westview, 1990
Marr, Phebe (ed.), Egypt at the Crossroad. Domestic Stability and Regional Role, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1999
Meital, Yoram, Egypt‘s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997
Owen, Robert – Tripp, Charles (ed.), Egypt under Mubarak, London: Routledge, 1990
Quandt, William B. (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press 1988
Quandt, William B., The United States and Egypt, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 1990
Quandt, William B., Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 2005
Rabie, Mohammed, US-PLO Dialogue: Secret Diplomacy and Conflict resolution, Tampa: Florida University Press, 1995
Roussillon, Alain, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”, in Maghreb-Machrek, no. 130, 1990, pp. 79-98
Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, London: Penguin 2000
Springborg, Robert. Mubarak’s Egypt: Fragmentation of the Political Order. Boulder: Westview Press, 1989
Sullivan, Denis J., “American Aid to Egypt 1975-1996: Peace without Development”, in Middle East Policy, vol. 4, no. 4, 1996, pp.36-49
Tibi, Bassam Conflict and War in the Middle East. From Interstate War to New Security, Houndmills and London: Macmillan press, 1998
Waterbury, John, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983
 John Waterbury, The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes, Princeton, 1983; William Quandt, The United States and Egypt, Washington, 1990; Yoram Meital, Egypt’s Struggle for Peace: Continuity and Change, 1967-1977, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997
 Clarke, “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”, p.202
 Cook, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, pp. 3-14
 Dessouki, The Primacy of Economics: The Foreign Policy of Egypt, in Korany- Dessouki, The Foreign Policy of Arab States
 Eilts, The US and Egypt, in Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David, p.120.
 Cantori, Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, p.325.
 Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, p.237. Mubarak stated that “The Palestinian people are the owners of the right and owners of the first and last responsibility for solving their problem. However, we are continuing in our role, dictated by our historical responsibility. We will make all efforts and pave the way for a transitional period during which the Palestinian people will determine their fate”.
 Tibi, Conflict and War in the Middle East. From Interstate War to New Security, p. 150: “Egypt was isolated from its Arab environment. One clear consequence of this is that major regional wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours can no longer take place, because they are not feasible without Egyptian military potential”.
 The importance of the Sinai issue was underlined by Mubarak in the presidential inaugural address, confirming the “categorical assurances” that “the final Israeli withdrawal will take place on schedule, without delay and without slowing down. This coming 25th of April will, God willing, not pass without Egypt’s flag waving high over Rafah, Sharm el Sheykh and every foot of the sacred land of the Sinai. The martyr of justice will have thus given his country and nation the greatest fulfilment by liberating the territory, restoring dignbity and opening the road to a great future. With this historic event, the glorious Egyptian people and their valiant armed forces will have completed their most tremendous achievement in their contemporary history, lighting and eternal flame on the sands of Sinai that time cannot estinguish”. In Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, pp.237-8
 Cantori, Egyptian Policy under Mubarak: The Politics of Continuity and Change, in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, p.324.
 The Taba dispute lasted until May 1989. For an Israeli politics perspective over the Taba issue, see Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, pp.428-9. “Some Israeli officials were prepared to admit privately that this tiny piece of Sinai [Taba] was retained not because it was thought that Israel had a valide title to it, but to avoid setting a precedent for total withdrawal that could be invoke in future negotiations over the West Bank. President Mubarak, however, was adamant that the dispute had to be resolved before he would meet with [then premier Shimon] Peres. The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty laid down that any dispute that could not be resolved by negotiation should be resolved either by conciliation or submitted to arbitration. Mubarak pressed for a decision to submit to arbitration […]. Peres was prepared to accept the package. […]The arbiter eventually found in favor of Egypt, and in May 1989 the beach was returned to Egyptian sovereignty”. In fact, Mubarak met with Shimon Peres in 1986 in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, after Egypt and Israel reached an agreement on the the arbitration to solve the dispute on Taba.
 S. E. Ibrahim, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p 35
 Besides the president, other official declarations sounded as a policy redress. See, for example, what the vicepremier Mustafa Khalil said in 1982: “We have never said we are allied with the United States. Rather we said that Egypt’s strategic objectives and interests coincide with US strategic objectives”. And, to confute that Soviet Union was not a menace in the Middle East, continued saying that “There is only one threat to the area – Israel – and the invasion of Lebanon proved that Israel is the principal threat to the stability of the Arab countries”.
 William B. Quandt, Peace Process, p.338. See also the Reagan Plan, issued by the US president on September, 1st, 1982, Laqueur and Rubin (ed.), The Israeli-Arab Reader, p.258, on the “two basic issues”: “first, there was the strategic threat to the region posed by the Soviet Union and its surrogates, best demonstrated by the brutal war in Afghanistan: and, second, the peace process between Israel and its Arabs neighbors. With regard to the Soviet threat, we have strengthened our efforts to develop with our friends and allies a joint policy to deter the Soviets and their surrogates from further expansion in the region and, if necessary, to defend against it”. These very simple guidelines were subjected to noteworthy changes after Israeli invasion of Lebanon (“I directed Secretary of State George Shultz to again review our policy”, explain Reagan in his plan).
 Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.157. Remarkable the portrait that Dessouki drawned of Mubarak’s foreign policy: “In marked and deliberate contrast to Sadat, Mubarak followed a non sensationalist and non-confrontational style in pursue his foreign policy objectives. These objectives centered around mending the breach with Arab and Islamic countries, closer cooperation with the non-aligned movement, the Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union, as well as keeping close ties with the countries of Western Europe and Japan. Mubarak succeded in achieving most of his objectives. By December, 1989, Egypt had restored diplomatic relations with all Arab countries, except Libya. Egypt was also welcomed back into the Arab league and had become active in the non-aligned movement as qell as in the Organization of African Unity (OAU)”. The multipolar vision of the Mubarak presidency reached its highest point in the second half of the 90s, after the end of the Cold War confrontation and the reshaping of alliances and strategies in the Middle East. See Ali. E. Hillal Dessouki, “Managing Ambivalence: Egypt’s Changing Regional Environment”, in Phebe Marr (ed.), Egypt at the Crossroad, p. 197
 Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, pp.341-366
 Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.168
 Laurie E. Brand, “The Intifadah and the Arab World: Old Players, New Rules”, p. 522. See also Eilts, The US and Egypt, in William Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: Ten years after Camp David, p. 121: “Egypt saw its future political role in the Arab world linked to achieving an acceptable Palestinian settlement and to active participation in the process”.
 Dessouki, Egyptian Foreign Policy since Camp David, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p. 108
 Fustier, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”, p. 146, and Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World, p. 573. “Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia were the main promoters of the Arab League summit, which was attended by 13 out of 21 heads of state. The aim of the summit was to restore Arab cohesion and send the message to Israel and the United States that unless the new Israeli prime minister reverted to the ground rules of land for peace on which the Arab-Israeli negotiations had been based since Madrid, the peace process would collapse and the region slide into a cycle of tension and violence”.
 Ibrahim, Saad Eddine, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, p. 34, on the popular reactions on Operation Peace in Galilee, where the United States were perceived as silent partners of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon
 Dessouki, Primacy of Economics, p.157.
 Saad Eddine Ibrahim, Domestic Developments in Egypt, in W. Quandt (ed.), The Middle East: 10 Years after Camp David, pp. 19-62 for the period before the 90s
 Abdalla, “Antiamericanism in Egypt”, pp. 219-238
 Kienle, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt
 Hopwood, Egypt, p.184
 Rabie, US-PLO Dialogue, p. 62
 Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”. See also Aftandilian, Gregory L. Egypt’s Bid for Arab Leadership
 Eberhard Kienle, A Grand Delusion. Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt, pp. 104 sgg. See also S. Cook, “Egypt-Style America’s Partner”, Middle East Quarterly.
 Gil Feiler, Economic Relations Between Egypt and the Gulf Oil States
 M. Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”
 For Egypt’s role in the American security strategy in the Middle East, see Clarke, “US Security Assistance to Egypt and Israel: Politically Untouchable?”. Regarding the influence of the Iran-Contra affairs in the bilateral relations, see Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, p.355. The Egyptian support of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran Gulf War was a key part for reinforcing the Egyptian-Saudi axis: the Egyptian military aid to Saddam Hussein, composed by weapons and technical assistance, was financially covered by the Saudi regime, in Tibi, Conflict and War in the Middle East, p.142.
 Lorenz, Egypt and the Arabs. See also Cantori, “Egypt reenters the Arab State System”, p.341: “In attempting to strengthen himself domestically, Mubarak strenuously pursued a solution to the Palestinian problem in an effort to guide Egypt into the Arab fold. He achieved his aim, however, not via the Palestinian issue but rather via the conflict in the Gulf. His Palestinian and Gulf diplomacy helped him gain another objective – relief from the repayment of international debts – partly on the ground of Egypt’s importance to the solving of regional crises”.
 M. Khawas, “Mubarak and the Persian Gulf War: the untold Story”, on the “diplomatic triumph for the Mubarak – King Fahd axis, which had persuaded the majority of the Arab states to respond swiftly and positively to Bush’s call to get other nations to follow” the US-lead coalition
 Roussillon, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”, p. 89
 Roussillon, “L’opposition égyptienne et la crise du Golfe”, pp. 88
 Fustier, “L’Egypte dans son environnement proche-oriental”, p. 145
 The resolution was backed by Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen
(The essay is part of a collective research on The US Friend States In The Middle East. Help Or Obstacle?)