Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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An Egyptian agenda

By Ibrahim Nafie

Ibrahim Nafie The Millennium Summit has brought together heads of state and government in order to set an agenda for the international community as the 21st century begins. The unprecedented international gathering represents the most important attempt to restructure the global order since the end of World War II and, as such, offers a unique opportunity to modify the UN charter in manner that will reconcile the functions of this international body with the demands of the post-Cold War period. Egypt's presence at the summit, therefore, is of paramount importance, particularly as Egypt is well placed to voice the concerns of the Arab and developing nations.

Foremost on the Egyptian agenda for the summit is the need to safeguard the principles of the UN Charter and to enhance the powers of the UN to implement them. It is Egypt's belief that the deficiencies that have come to plague the UN are largely the result of the policies of major international powers. On the basis of this belief, Egypt's vision for UN reform focuses on two fundamental issues.

The first is the need to expand membership of the Security Council and increase the number of its permanent members. It is only logical that membership of the Security Council should reflect the growth of the UN from its original 21 members to 188 today. Nor is it reasonable that permanent membership on the Security Council should continue to exclude Africa and South America, continents that contain nearly half the members of the UN.

The second important concern is the need to revise the provisions concerning the right to veto accorded to permanent Security Council members. It is no longer acceptable that a single nation should be in a position to obstruct the will of the international community as occurred when the US opposed a new term in office for UN Secretary-General Boutros Ghali.

Recourse to veto in such bureaucratic matters is negligible, though, when compared to the effect it can have on the fate of entire peoples. The Russian threat to use the veto with regard to Kosovo is a poignant instance in which the will of a single nation prevented the UN from exercising its humanitarian and peace-keeping functions. In addition, this threat gave NATO the pretext to intervene militarily in that area without a UN mandate, a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine the UN and the principles of international legitimacy for which it stands.

The Kosovo crisis also brought to the fore the controversy over the right of humanitarian intervention. Egypt's position on this issue reflects the legitimate fears of developing nations that western states will use humanitarian intervention as a guise to intervene in their domestic affairs. Specifically, there is justifiable concern that such intervention, noble in name but potentially spurious in intent, will target certain countries while exempting others, in accordance with the dictates of the interests of the great powers.

Humanitarian intervention must be a right conferred upon the entire international community and not merely a select group of countries that possess the economic, political and military might to exercise it. Only by developing more comprehensive and equitable principles and mechanisms for humanitarian intervention can the world be spared the consequences of selectivism and double-standards motivated by the vested interests of the few.

In this regard it is important to expose the motives behind the spate of calls that, since the end of the Cold War, have advocated a revision of the concept of national sovereignty so as to eliminate "barriers" preventing the "international community" from intervening in a nation's affairs for humanitarian purposes. There is clearly an urgent need to address such issues as national civil strife, which has come to constitute one of the threats to international peace and stability, and the massive human rights violations perpetrated by some governments. However, responsibility for this task should not be the exclusive preserve of a handful of nations. What is needed is extensive creative thinking towards developing an established legal edifice and a supervisory enforcement agency that is culturally and geographically representative and is mandated to act in defence of any human community at risk.

In the interests of international peace and security, which lie at the heart of the UN mandate, Egypt remains a staunch advocate of the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. Egypt has a lengthy record of initiatives in this domain, not least of which is President Mubarak's call to make the Middle East a zone free of such weapons.

As one of the most politically sensitive areas in the world, the Middle East should top the list of regions to be made free of these dreadful weapons. Yet, rather than responding to the Egyptian initiative the major powers have been more than indulgent towards Israel's nuclear armament programme. Egypt believes that Israel's nuclear arsenal constitutes a grave threat to the region and could precipitate a regional arms race. Egypt will voice the need to revise the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so as to bring it under international supervision, in the hopes of eliminating all double standards, at the Millennium Summit.

Poverty and debt in the developing world will also be high on Egypt's agenda at the summit. Egypt intends to appeal to world leaders in New York to examine ways to alleviate the plight of developing countries and enable them to devote crippling debt servicing allocations to desperately needed improvements in education, health care and infrastructure. Egypt believes that the UN's call for "an international pause to reflect" is a summons to the leaders of the advanced industrialised nations to assume a spirit of responsibility towards the question of third world debt.

In voicing the concerns and aspirations of the developing world at the Millennium Summit Egypt's agenda, I believe, holds a promising vision for a safer and fairer world in the 21st century.

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