Security in the Middle EastEgyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abul Gheit

Posted in NATO , UN | 12-Feb-05 | Author: Ahmed Abul Gheit

Ahmed Abul Gheit
I wish to begin by expressing gratitude to President Horst Köhler, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Bavarian Minister-President Edmund Stoiber and our esteemed German Hosts for their generous hospitality and excellent organization of this important event. Conference Chairman Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik's unwavering commitment and drive towards the success of this Conference has been particularly crucial and he deserves our special thanks.

The 41st Munich Conference on Security Policy takes place amid fast-moving regional and international developments, some of which represent an ongoing challenge to international peace and security, while others give reason for cautious optimism. This year's Conference is timely as it provides an opportunity for an in-depth discussion and consideration of current conditions in various regions, especially in the Middle East. I will try, very briefly, to address some of those issues, hoping to be able to expand on them during the course of the discussion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To address security in the Middle East, we have first to recognize the interrelationship between peace, development, stability and security. The four are intertwined and must be considered as an integral whole. Any separation between them leads us to stray away from practicality and pragmatism.

The Middle East is plagued by a number of critical and explosive issues that threaten, not only its own peace and security, but the security of the Mediterranean region, and indeed the international community as a whole.

These problems range from politico-military conflicts to socio-economic pressures, driven by poverty and deprivation and as a result of the new requirements brought upon by the push towards globalization. They also relate to matters that have recently surfaced and that touch on what is being labeled by some as a "clash of civilizations".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a start, I wish to focus briefly on the politico-military aspects of the current threat to peace and security in the region. Of those problems and issues, certainly the most persistent and far-reaching in its impact is the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The peoples of the Middle East yearn for peace. We are not short of international and regional instruments that spell out the requirements of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A peaceful settlement is an essential condition to achieve security, political stability and development in the Middle-East region and to allow maximum utilization of our capabilities in modernizing and developing our societies.

Egypt has invested a lot in the drive to bring the parties directly concerned back to the negotiating table. This regional role is neither a luxury nor a gift. It is entrenched in historical, geo-strategic and pragmatic factors.

I am happy to report to you that, after suffering from a 4 year-cycle of violence, the Israeli-Palestinian track is starting to witness a "glimmer of hope". There is now good reason for cautious optimism. The regional summit that was held recently in Sharm El Sheikh will, we hope, re-ignite a renewed and invigorated process.

We must however continue to be vigilant and never let down our guard. The process remains fragile and will require serious tending and nourishment by all sides.

We have before us now a daunting task of 3 priorities:
  • Firstly, protecting the renewed Palestinian - Israeli relationship, by exerting every effort to maintain the cease-fire and to ensure that both sides continue implementing their reciprocal commitments.
  • Secondly, we must deepen this relationship and ensure that the process moves forward. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank is a welcomed positive beginning. However, it is of utmost importance that it unfolds into a process that is linked and integrally related to the full implementation of the Road Map in its entirety. We must proceed towards a successful conclusion of the permanent status talks, with the fulfillment of the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as endorsed by President Bush.
  • Thirdly, we must widen the circle of our efforts and work vigorously on reinitiating the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. Let there be no question that peace in the Middle East will neither be comprehensive nor lasting without a just resolution on all tracks.
Iraq is also a critical issue in the region. The first democratic elections in over 50 years took place on the 30th of January, which represents an important stage in the political reconstruction of Iraq.

We look forward to the participation of all Iraqis in this process, including in the drafting of the constitution. We hope that an independent, sovereign, united, democratic Iraq will soon take shape, playing its role as an Arab country and an important Middle East player.

Another matter that is of equal importance is the issue of arms control. Peace in the Middle East will not be durable or complete if we do not create a situation where equal security for all is guaranteed at the lowest level of armament, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The highest priority in this regard must be given to the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, without exception to any state or to any weapon system. I must underscore that applying any "double standards" in this regard will not guarantee any party's security, but will, on the contrary, fuel an arms race that will endanger regional and international peace and security. In this respect, Egypt has repeatedly called since 1990 for the establishment of a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The issue of global terrorism and the ways and means to combat it has come to the forefront in the past few years...and justifiably so. While many important steps have been taken in this respect, I underscore that we have yet to devise a "global and comprehensive" strategy to tackle this issue in all its aspects and its complex factors. President Mubarak's initiative on holding an international conference for this purpose, remains in our view the most effective manner in which to achieve this objective.

Our approach to terrorism must rest on a number of pillars that tackle several elements in concert and in parallel.

The approach that addresses the security aspect of the problem or focuses solely on a head-on military confrontation against the perpetrators of crimes of terrorism, while necessary, is not effective as it is not holistic. We must work together, in parallel, on addressing the "root causes" that have driven young men and women towards extremism and that have led them to translate their extremist ideas in a militant manner that uses force. In so doing, we cannot ignore that, in the case of Middle Eastern extremists, regional problems especially the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Iraqi situation, have been the fuel that energized anger and frustration and in turn, extremism and militancy.

Resolving regional conflicts, especially those that relate to "legitimate rights, justice and national aspirations" is therefore a central pillar upon which our global approach to terrorism must stand.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Palestinian and Iraqi problems; the socio-economic pressures of globalization as well as the issue of combating terrorism have all had a deep impact on relations between the Arab and Muslim worlds on one side, and the West on the other.

While I do not concur with the concept of clashing civilizations -as I believe that it is "people" not "cultures" that clash-I have to recognize that there is a strong and dangerous trend of people-to-people tensions along cultural and religious lines.

Mutual misperceptions and misunderstandings between the Arab-Muslim world and the West is an increasingly dangerous new form of security challenge that we must address urgently.

Both our and Europe's efforts on those fronts must coincide to consolidate our mutual security.

I wish to state in this regard, that the realities in the Middle East demonstrate the necessity, if not the urgency, to refine or rather to review the concepts which guide European strategic thinking on the region. I often sense that the Middle East imposes itself on Europe-and the West at large-as a problem and not as a stake, or a potential...or even a partner.

We have a number of effective mechanisms which we must utilize to strengthen Middle Eastern-European/Western inter action... foremost among them are the Barcelona Process and NATO.

The Barcelona Process has produced some encouraging results. It constitutes a unique framework for dialogue between the two shores of the Mediterranean at a time when dialogue and cooperation have never been more necessary. We must provide new impetus to this Euro-Mediterranean partnership although such impetus can only come about through a sincere endeavor to fulfill its principles and objectives.

The Neighborhood Policy, which the EU is elaborating, must be complementary to, and not an alternative to, the Barcelona Process and it must reflect co-ownership of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership instead of concentrating on conditionalty.

As far as the relationship with NATO is concerned, we are keen on maintaining a constructive dialogue with the Alliance with a view to fostering mutual understanding and trust. Such a dialogue should be based on respect, shared interests and voluntary participation according to each partner's specific needs and priorities.

It is important to address one of the critical limitations on advancing the relationship with NATO. The Alliance's image faces a credibility deficit in the region. We do not believe that it is within NATO's competence to act as guarantor of international peace and Security. Such a responsibility rests only with the United Nations' Security Council.

The 2004 Istanbul Summit upgraded the Mediterranean Dialogue by inviting the Mediterranean Partners to establish a more ambitious partnership with the Alliance. However, it failed to take into consideration; the input of those Partners. Co-ownership should be the guiding principle of NATO-Mediterranean Dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The issue of reform and development in the region is also important. The plethora of European and American initiatives regarding supporting reform efforts in the Middle East is a healthy sign. We welcome any hand that is extended in friendship and on the basis of mutual respect in this regard.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that future development in the Middle East will depend on achieving comprehensive and just peace. The international community should work in earnest towards that objective, respecting international law as represented by the international collective will of the United Nations, and assisting the countries of the region to cope with all aspects of comprehensive security without selectivity.