In a rhetorical pincer movement that bracketed the first two days of shooting in Iraq, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Information Minister Safwat al-Sharif blamed Saddam and his regime for the war.
*On March 19, Mubarak gave a speech on Egyptian television. “My hope is the Iraqi government will realize the seriousness of the situation in which it put itself in-and us in,” said Mubarak. On the flipside, he cautioned the “different international forces” to “realize the dangerous repercussions of any military action on the safety and stability of the Middle East region.” And then six days later, he called British Prime Minister Tony Blair to urge him and Bush “to consider, in priority, taking action to stop [the] military operation in Iraq.” But most importantly, Mubarak pledged that while Egypt would not allow the use of its bases for the conflict it would allow U.S. warships to move through the Suez Canal on their way to fight Iraq.
*In case anybody misunderstood that Mubarak was blaming Saddam, al-Sharif amplified the point in a March 21 interview with Egyptian television. “Al-Sharif blamed the Iraqi leadership for the present Iraqi predicament,” reported BBC. He traced Iraqi malevolence back to its effort in the late 1970s to isolate Egypt for making peace with Israel: “He said that the Iraqi incursion into Kuwait was the beginning of the falling down of the Arab unity. Reminiscing, he said that the first crack in the Arab unity dated back to the time of the Baghdad summit in the late seventies, when the Arab states tried to boycott Egypt and isolate it. This was the first wound, a wound that has never healed up to now, he said. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was just the second wound, he said.” “The minister regrets that all Iraq’s wealth and capabilities,” reported BBC, “have never helped the Iraqis to live well and play an effective role in serving the Arab nation.”
*Al-Shariff, who also serves as secretary-general of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, then said, in effect, bah humbug, to Arab “unity” itself. “When asked about calls on reviving the common Arab defense agreement, he said there never was such a thing as an Arab defense agreement. Those calls are just part of attempts to play around with the feelings of youths, he said. For a common Arab defense agreement to exist, there must first be a united and coordinated Arab front and compatible Arab systems that can act together in harmony and on the basis of respect to freedom, democracy and human rights, he said. The matter is not as easy as raising mottos and mechanically repeating them.”
*Sharif concluded with a backhanded slap at Iraq, implicitly comparing it to the “well-tempered Islamic country” of Egypt that has no reason to fear the United States. “Al-Sharif blasted those who say that Egypt follows Iraq as the U.S. next target,” reported BBC. “Egypt is a civilized country, is a country of well-established institutions, it respects international agreements, it enjoys freedom of opinion and respects its neighbors, he said. Egypt has always been a key country in the Arab world and in the Middle East and it has always been regarded with much esteem for its weight as a moderate, enlightened and well-tempered Islamic country.”