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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
What about Egypt's WMD?

Arms Control NOW

By Nik Gebben

If Egypt's political future remains uncertain, its nonproliferation future is even more so. The only known quantity on this issue is former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, who could potentially help steer Cairo in a stronger direction on nonproliferation. But it's still not clear what role, if any, he will play. Therefore, some of the "concerns" described in recent news reports seem premature.

It isn't exactly news that Egypt has had a checkered past and unsatisfactory commitments when it comes to WMD:

Egypt did sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it ratified, as well as the Biological Weapons Convention. It is also a strong advocate of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East—albeit on its own terms, which are not always constructive.

With this in mind, one can argue that Egypt's record of WMDs is also hit and miss.

Consider the following:

  • Egypt has refused to join the IAEA Additional Protocol,
  • Egypt has refused to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, and is still believed to possess a chemical weapons arsenal,
  • Egypt has yet to ratify the CTBT, African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, or the Biological Weapons Convention,
  • A 2005 IAEA report "identified a number of failures by Egypt to report to the Agency in accordance with its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement," including experiments with sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies.

Egypt has often said that it is not willing to take on additional nonproliferation responsibilities so long as Israel, a nuclear weapons possessor, remains outside the NPT. In a 2008 ACT interview with Nabil Fahmy, then - Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, Fahmy said that Egypt would not reverse its stance on the CWC and has no intention to do so. But, "if we saw some movement on the Israeli side regarding the NPT or the zonal agreements, we would review our position quite quickly," making the linkage quite clear.

These challenges existed under the U.S.-friendly Mubarak government and are likely to continue regardless of the outcome of the political changes in Egypt.