|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
27 Aug. - 2 Sep. 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
A stress on international legality
The meeting, which took place only hours after the US attacks, reviewed the implications of the action. Mubarak had received a telephone call from US President Bill Clinton immediately after the raids. Egyptian officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that Cairo had no prior knowledge that Washington would undertake such extreme action against the suspected perpetrators of the twin US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on 7 August.
In discussions with university professors and students in an Alexandria summer camp on Monday, Mubarak affirmed the call for an international anti-terrorism conference under the auspices of the United Nations and rejected Sudanese claims that US warplanes which attacked Sudan had taken off from Egyptian soil.
Mubarak described the claim by Sudanese President Omar Bashir as "inaccurate, irresponsible and ignorant".
Bashir said in a press conference on Monday that he hoped that the US missiles which destroyed a Khartoum pharmaceutical plant were not fired by "planes which had taken off from Egypt". Bashir cautioned, however, that they were "not singling out any country. We don't have any information confirming which airport these planes took off from."
Mubarak insisted that "Egyptian soil is never used to attack other countries. This is a principle [the Sudanese] know well."
Cairo and Khartoum have been at odds for years, mainly because of Sudan's policy of providing refuge to Islamist militants, a number of whom were involved in the 1995 attempt on Mubarak's life in Addis Ababa. Mubarak said that his warnings "against the presence of Egyptian and African terrorist elements training in plantations in Sudan" have fallen on deaf ears. "We advised [Khartoum] repeatedly not to harbour terrorist elements," he continued, adding that over the years some terrorists attempted to infiltrate into Egypt through its southern border, but were arrested.
Egyptian officials said that the US strikes are sanctioned by international law that gives any nation the right to stage an "act of reprisal" when its national interests are threatened. A diplomat told Al-Ahram Weekly that the US "cowboy mentality" necessitated such severe action against the suspected perpetrators of the embassy bombings, which killed 257 people, including 12 Americans. "They had to strike back," the source noted, "otherwise they would have looked as if they were down on their knees."
An informed source expressed scepticism that Washington was absolutely sure of the embassy attackers' identities. He said the US must have acted on "indefinite information" regarding the involvement of Osama Bin Laden who, the US claimed, was behind the east Africa embassy attacks. Cairo expects further strikes by the US on suspected terrorist locations in Afghanistan, but is not willing to cooperate with or condone such action, the source said. "The US should not be encouraged to carry out such uncoordinated, unilateral acts," the source added. "This free-hand exercise could pose a danger in the future."
Mubarak said that joint effort by the world community is needed to combat terrorism; otherwise it will "burn everyone in all corners of the world". He added that the anti-terrorism conference should be preceded by working groups to prepare an agreement to be endorsed under the supervision of the UN. The international anti-terrorism conference should conclude with an agreement that is binding to all countries, according to Mubarak.
US Senator Joseph Biden, after talks with Mubarak on Monday, described the idea of convening a world summit to combat terrorism as a positive suggestion. Mubarak said that countries which "harbour terrorists or facilitate terrorism will pay a dear price" for their actions.
The proposed anti-terrorism conference was the focus of a statement issued after Friday's hurriedly-arranged 90-minute meeting chaired by Mubarak and attended by Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, interior and information, as well as Mubarak's chief political adviser Osama El-Baz. The statement did not refer to the US strikes, Afghanistan or Sudan, but called for a summit-level international anti-terrorism conference, under the auspices of the UN, "to codify the manner by which the international community deals with terrorism".
The conference would also outline the "rules and requirements for combating terrorism strongly and resolutely". The statement said that the international conference should find ways to "deter governments, groups or individuals who are proven to be party to terrorist acts".
Cairo believes that the Security Council must take "appropriate resolutions, in accordance with the UN charter, to combat terrorism and apprehend those involved in executing [terrorist attacks]." The statement continued that states which "harbour terrorists, facilitate or assist terrorist attacks" should be held responsible for their actions.