The following are excerpts from an article which appeared in the Egyptian English weekly, Al-Ahram of Al-Ahram Weekly 5th – 11th February, 1998

Front page headline:

by Dina Ezzat, Galal Nassar and Nevine Khalil

[Heading:] Cairo worked feverishly to prevent yet another Gulf War, but Washington seemed determined to let “all hell break loose” in the region.

In what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to forestall an imminent military strike against Iraq, President Hosni Mubarak, in his capacity as head of the Arab Summit Conference, dispatched Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid to Baghdad yesterday to urge the Iraqi government to comply with Security Council resolutions and to cooperate with UN weapon’ inspection teams.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s tour of the region this week seemed to confirm that Washington was no longer talking in terms of if, but how and when a military strike against Iraq would be conducted.

Albright’s final stopover in Cairo on Tuesday for talks with President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Amr Moussa did not reassure Cairo as to American intentions. “This time things look and sound different from the last stand-off [in November of last year]. This time the Americans seem more determined to take the road to military action. Their tone is entirely different,” an informed source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Cairo, extremely concerned by the prospect of a military strike against Iraq at a time when the peace process has all but been declared dead, has been engaged in relentless diplomatic activities to prevent it. President Mubarak consulted with over a dozen Arab leaders during the week before dispatching Abdel-Meguid to Baghdad.

“We are asking the Iraqis to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions,” Mubarak told reporters yesterday. “It’s very important. Otherwise the situation will be very serious.”

… Replying to a question as to whether the idea of organising an Arab summit were on the table, Mubarak said: “Not yet, we have not so far discussed this with the Arab leaders.”

Presidential advisor Osama El-Baz, in a statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, disclosed that Mubarak had sent a verbal message to Saddam Hussein last Sunday and received a reply on the following day. He said Mubarak sent a second message to Saddam yesterday. El-Baz said that the “thrust of Abdel-Meguid’s talks in Baghdad is to prevent the use of force because the consequences can only be destructive for Iraq, the Iraqi people and the entire region.”

Explaining the Egyptian position, El-Baz said, however, that Egypt “had not advised Iraq to open the presidential palaces for inspection because this would set a serious international precedent. What we advised them to do is to allow the inspectors to resume their activities, to think twice before rejecting any request and not to take issue with the nationalities of the inspectors, because that is an auxiliary matter.”

Secretary of State Albright, during a tour of the region this week, attempted to drum up support for a US military strike, should diplomacy frail. Following visits to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, Albright said the US “has all the cooperation we need” from the Gulf states, but she faced opposition in Cairo.

Following talks with President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday evening, Albright emerged in the company of a somber-faced Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. He told reporters that “all options are still on the table” but affirmed “full support” for the ongoing diplomatic efforts. Moussa also said, that Iraq’s compliance “would really help spare us the grave consequences we all want to avoid.”

Egypt’s concern runs deep. Public opinion in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world would not tolerate an extensive military strike against Iraq by the US, and probably other Western allies “at a time when [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is showing not the slightest respect for his peace commitments,” an official source said. He added: “It is a very alarming situation… no one can predict the repercussions of this strike; the Iraqis could well retaliate by striking against Israel: Israel would strike back and the Palestinians already suffering greatly under Israeli occupation, would rise up, and all hell would break loose.”