Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Communique: Hottest Topic in Egypt Is "The Clash of Civilizations"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Cairo Communique: Hottest Topic in Egypt Is "The Clash of Civilizations"

Article excerpt

Cairo Communique: Hottest Topic in Egypt is "The Clash of Civilizations"

By James J. Napoli

About the hottest topic among the Egyptian intelligentsia these days is "the clash of civilizations." Seminar speakers, op-ed page pundits and cocktail party chatterers seem much taken with Samuel P. Huntington's article of the same name in the summer 1993 issue of the prestigious American journal Foreign Affairs.

That may be because it tends to confirm Egyptians' worst--but most dearly held--suspicion that the West is out to get them. The fact that the article is being taken so seriously may also be a portent that things are getting worse in Egypt.

The Huntington thesis is that the old international system, based primarily on the struggle among the American, Soviet and Third World power blocs, is evolving toward something much more complex. The West, imbued with its own notions of democracy and individualism, will be pitted against evolving civilizations with notions of their own: Japanese, Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African. In this new world scenario, says the theorist, the West can only maintain its hegemony by keeping its newfound competitors off balance militarily and diplomatically.

"The West Against the Rest" proposition fits in nicely with a generally held belief here that the United States in particular now views Islam as the ideology most likely to succeed Communism as the West's bete noir. For about the last three years, both the semi-official and the opposition Egyptian press have been hammering away at the United States for its alleged efforts to undermine Egypt's role in the region. And, of course, Egypt has a long history of mistrust--sometimes well founded--of Western intentions in the Middle East.

Despite mutual public vows of indissoluble bonds by American and Egyptian officials, particularly in the months preceding President Hosni Mubarak's planned April trip to Washington, evidence of strain between the two countries has become apparent.

Late last fall, Egyptian officials smarted from a number of articles in the American press, particularly in The Washington Post, suggesting that Egypt had been violating U.N. Security Council economic sanctions against Libya. Libya has refused to hand over for trial in the U.S. or Britain two suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. The charge that Egypt was flouting U.N. sanctions was denied by the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Ahmed Maher El-Sayed, in a letter to the Post.

The simultaneous appearance of articles in several major U.S. newspapers prompted political analyst Ossama El-Ghazali Harb to respond in Egypt's leading newspaper, Al-Ahram, that there was an evident "campaign against Egypt's political system and president." He added that the articles also betray a "subtle influence of U.S. government policy makers or of some of the powerful lobbies." You can read "lobbies" as Israel.

Harb's analysis was followed by a chorus of criticism of the U.S., including a comment in the national weekly Rose El-Youssef that concludes that the resurgence of the Lockerbie issue "is a result of America's rejection of any solution for the crisis, and its insistence on imposing a feeling of unrest in the region despite the fact that several reasonable solutions have been placed on the table."

The United States has been pressuring Egypt to sign up for extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was in Cairo in March trying to reconcile differences between Egypt and Israel over the NPT before the April 17 U.N. conference on the subject begins in New York. The topic was expected to come up again during Vice President Al Gore's scheduled visit to Cairo later in March.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and his Egyptian counterpart, Amr Moussa, have clashed over the NPT issue, since Egypt so far has refused to commit itself to signing an extension of the treaty until Israel, which possesses the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, becomes a signatory. …

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