Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
29 March - 4 April 2001
Issue No.527
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

A head of the summits

Before leaving for Washington and his first meeting with US President George W Bush, President Hosni Mubarak outlined his agenda in a lengthy interview with Al-Ahram Chief Editor Ibrahim Nafie. Khaled Dawoud reviews the highlights

Hosni Mubarak and Ibrahim Nafie President Hosni Mubarak during the comprehensive interview with Al-Ahram's Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Nafie
In a comprehensive interview with AL-Ahram before leaving for the Arab summit in Jordan, President Hosni Mubarak indicated that the Egyptian government had not taken kindly to reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had asked the United States Congress to cancel its annual military aid to Egypt.

Mubarak, who will make a brief stop in Paris before heading to Washington for his first meeting with US President George W Bush on 2 April, said in the interview with AL-Ahram's Editor-in-Chief, Ibrahim Nafie, published on Friday: "If it turns out to be true that Sharon spoke about cancelling US military aid to Egypt, we will have to take a stand against this position, which I consider as hostile. But I don't want to take a stand now."

Mubarak said he hoped the statements reportedly made by Sharon "were not true."

Israeli army radio quoted Sharon as saying during a meeting with a number of Congressmen last week that the US should cancel its annual military aid to Egypt -- which stands at $1.2 billion -- because it no longer faced a threat to its security. He also accused Egypt of playing a "negative role" in the Middle East peace process, and of failing to push Palestinians to accept a compromise.

Only a few hours after the international media circulated Mubarak's statements in the Al-Ahram interview, Sharon's office issued a statement denying that he had called for the cancellation of military aid. Sources close to Sharon said such a proposal was made by one of the Congressmen who had met Sharon, but not by the Israeli premier himself. The statement from Sharon's office affirmed his respect for Egypt and its role in advancing the peace process.

Mubarak, in the interview, said Israeli officials had complained recently about Egypt's alleged "negative role" in the peace process. "They want me to impose on Palestinians what they reject. But I can't do that, and this is not my authority."

Mubarak added that certain Israeli officials were particularly angered by his refusal to force Arafat to accept the proposals made by former President Bill Clinton on the future of Islamic holy sites in occupied Jerusalem during the failed Camp David talks he hosted last year. "They [Israel] wanted Al-Haram Al-Sharif [where Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located] to remain under Israeli sovereignty, as suggested in Clinton's proposals. President [Yasser] Arafat would never have been able to accept that. Even if he had, the Palestinian people would have rejected such a deal, and any leader who accepts what his people reject would be putting himself in a difficult position."

Mubarak told Nafie that he would also raise in his meeting with Bush several Arab issues of concern to both sides, including the resumption of talks between Syria and Israel, the situation in Iraq and the total lifting of sanctions against Libya and Sudan. "We all support the Iraqi people and their right to live in dignity and to resume a normal life. Yet this has to take place within the framework of UN resolutions, and commitment to these resolutions is not an issue up for discussion. However, I will speak about ending the suffering of the Iraqi people. I will also seek the easing or lifting of the sanctions. Egypt calls for this, and I believe that the Arab summit [in Amman] will also make the same demand. But other concerned parties [in a reference to Iraq] should also help achieve this goal."

Like most Arab countries, Egypt has been in favour of lifting the sanctions against Iraq. However, hard-line statements by top Iraqi officials reiterating claims that Kuwait remained part of Iraq have hampered good-will efforts by Egypt and other Arab countries to solve the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait.

In his interview with AL-Ahram, Mubarak described Syria as a "partner". "We cannot ever disregard it under any circumstances," he said. "We do not negotiate on Syria's behalf, but we support it in its effort to regain its rights through negotiations."

Expressing for the first time Egypt's stand over Israel's occupation of the Lebanese border area known as Shabaa Farms, Mubarak said he believed the issue "would remain linked to reaching a settlement on the Syrian track." Last year, Israel was forced to withdraw from south Lebanon after 22 years of occupation. However, it retained its troops in Shabaa Farms, saying this area was occupied in 1967 after it defeated the Syrian army, and not after its 1982 invasion of south Lebanon.

The Lebanese resistance movement, Hizbullah, has carried out some attacks against Israeli targets in Shabaa Farms since the humiliating Israeli pullout nearly a year ago. Top Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, have been critical of Hizbullah's attacks, saying they want to avoid possible massive Israeli attacks against civilian targets.

Mubarak praised the strong relations between Egypt and the US over the past 25 years, saying the aid given during this period, "helped us a lot, and we should not deny that."

"The aid helped us a lot in carrying out the economic reform, developing our armed forces and building the infrastructure," he said.

In the second part of the interview with Al-Ahram, published on Saturday, Mubarak tackled mainly domestic and economic issues. He affirmed the government's commitment to going ahead with its economic reform plans, saying that signs of economic improvement could already be felt following a period of slowdown. Mubarak added that the government would continue its effort to increase exports, improve infrastructure and expand investment in the tourism sector. One of these aspects was increasing the number of international airports. Mubarak said the government planned to increase the number of such airports to 40 in the next decade so tourists could fly directly to all major destinations.

The president said Egypt was also looking forward to an increase its gas exports, especially in light of new discoveries which confirmed the existence of large gas reserves.

Mubarak added that he had issued directives to all government bodies to remove any obstacles that might detract more investors to Egypt. Meanwhile, he excluded any possibility of announcing the devaluation of the Egyptian pound.

"Taking a decision to devalue the Egyptian pound is totally excluded. I would like to tell those who demand the devaluation of the pound by an official decision to look at the crises which such decisions have caused in several countries in South East Asia."

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