The Corner

Four Quick Points . . .

. . . the first of which is the least important, but perhaps interesting. Three years ago, I moderated a panel in Jordan featuring Naguib Sawiris, head of Orascom, the telecommunications giant. It was Sawiris who made it so. He was described to me as maybe the richest man in Egypt. Everyone knew him as a go-getter who dreamed of the modernization of the Middle East: not merely dreamed of it, but did something about it (all the while making money for himself and his many thousands of employees). He went beyond the Middle East: He was placing cellphones into the hands of Pakistanis, even poor ones. (Who isn’t poor?) He was also the first telecommunications man into North Korea.

I asked him when Middle Easterners would have laptops. He said, “Far too expensive. Beyond the reach of Middle Easterners. Cellphones for now.”

Anyway, according to a news report yesterday, he has fled Egypt.

2) Mohamed ElBaradei’s tenure at the IAEA was disastrous. I could get into chapter and verse, as I have in the past. He spent much of his time protecting Iran from sanctions and, of course, military attack. He was reluctant — he was open about this — to report Iranian violations to the Security Council, because he knew such reporting would trigger sanctions. I believe that a serious case can be made that the 2005 Nobel peace prize to the IAEA and ElBaradei was the worst, most misguided ever given (in the 110-year history of the award).

In any case, Egypt could do worse than to have ElBaradei at its head, now.

3) The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been in place since 1979. Since that time, only one other nation has made peace with Israel: Jordan (in 1994). Those are the only two Arab nations to have entered into treaties with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. There have been only two leaders in Egypt since the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli treaty: Sadat (assassinated in 1981) and Mubarak. (For that matter, there have been only two leaders in Jordan — Hussein and his son Abdullah.)

Question: Will the government that replaces Mubarak abide by the treaty? Or renounce it? In renouncing the treaty, the next government might say, “It was always a mistake to make peace with the Zionists. It was even a shame and a crime, a mark on our national honor. We will now remove that mark. We are rejoining the Arab fold, assuming our natural leadership role in the fight against the alien entity in our midst.”

Remember, there was an unholy furor over Sadat’s signing of the treaty. The Arab League expelled Egypt, and moved League headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. (Egypt was readmitted ten years later, and the League returned to Cairo.) The peace between Egypt and Israel has sometimes been very cold. For example, the Egyptians have withheld an ambassador from Israel. But it has stuck. That treaty has stuck. And that has been hugely important in the Middle East.

Treaties are not forever, as we know. De Gaulle said they were like girls: They come and go. (Sorry to introduce a flippancy into a grave discussion.)

4) Here is a question I have asked many times — have asked the smartest Middle Easterners and Middle East analysts I know: Is Mubarak a dictator, keeping a great nation, Egypt, from democratic progress? Or is he a patriot, keeping Egypt out of the clutches of the Islamists? The answer is: He is some mixture of those. And maybe his greatest offense has been to stifle democratic elements, people who say no to both “presidential dictatorship,” of a secular nature, and Islamism.

But then, you knew that . . .


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