Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: in the Shadow of Iran

Claiming its stake in a global nuclear renaissance, Egypt’s announcement in September 2006 that it would revive long-dormant plans for nuclear power was meant both as a partial answer to its growing demand for energy and as an expression of national pride. There is also an unmistakeable security hedge in Cairo’s calculations that could rekindle international concerns about its intentions. Ultimately Egypt did not seek nuclear weapons in response to Israel’s programme, and it certainly is not a foregone conclusion that it will do so in response to Iran’s. It is not even certain that Egypt will follow through this time with its plans for nuclear power. If any country in the region were to follow Iran in developing a latent nuclear-weapons capability, however, Egypt may be the most likely candidate. In terms of technology, Egypt’s civil nuclear programme is far more advanced than that of any other Arab state. Although it has no power reactors, enrichment or reprocessing facilities, Egypt has mastered important technologies and elements of the nuclear-fuel cycle – including spent-fuel management and plutonium separation on a small scale – that would be relevant to a nuclear-weapons programme. Politically, Egypt has never fully come to terms with Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, and the emergence of regional rival Iran as a potential nuclear power stokes smouldering resentments that could contribute to a reconsideration of Egypt’s security choices. As the most populous Arab state, Egypt has long considered itself to be the political, cultural and intellectual leader of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. But its apparent domestic stability is under threat from growing radical series of terrorist attacks, irregularities and violence during the 2005 election campaign, mass crackdowns and other forms of governmental repression and the growth of the banned Islamist political group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The country is entering a period of political transition, which may lead to democratic reforms but could also lead to radicalisation and upheaval. These factors contribute to the lingering proliferation concerns that Egypt has occasionally aroused in the past with regard to its nuclear intentions. Islamist challenges, economic vulnerabilities and acute demographic pressures. Political fissures are visible in an increase in security problems, such as a

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Strategic Dossiers

Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the shadow of Iran

A history of nuclear programmes in the region, including Israel and Turkey, an evaluation of national nuclear capabilities and policies, and an analysis of future aspirations.

Strategic Dossier Press

Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East

A press release for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

A press statement for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.