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Egypt flagEgypt

Overview Last updated: June, 2014

The February 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, subsequent regime changes, and ongoing political turmoil all complicate an assessment of Egypt's future stance vis-à-vis nonproliferation issues. However, prominent political figures have demonstrated support for the nonproliferation regime [1], and have announced no changes to the country's position on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Cairo is a state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and has signed but not ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). Suspected of maintaining a chemical warfare (CW) capability, Egypt is one of the few states to have used chemical weapons in wartime (North Yemen Civil War (1962-1970), period of Egyptian involvement 1963-1967). Egypt also possesses a moderately advanced missile program. Cairo continues to lead efforts to establish a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East and to criticize Israel's alleged nuclear weapons program, linking its refusal to participate in further arms control agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to Israel's nonparticipation in the NPT.

Nuclear

Egypt's efforts to develop nuclear technology began in 1955, when President Gamal Abdel Nasser founded the Egyptian Atomic Energy Commission (now called the Atomic Energy Authority or AEA).[2] Nasser's government was likely pursuing nuclear weapons in the 1960s, but Egypt's devastating losses during and after the 1967 Six Day War effectively crippled these already limited efforts. [3] After Anwar Al-Sadat's assumption of power in 1970, Egypt distanced itself from Nasser's nuclear weapons rhetoric. [4] Cairo ratified the NPT in 1981 (which it had signed in 1968), and its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) entered into force the following year. Egypt has been a vocal critic of the NPT for its lack of universality, and has supported a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East, citing Israel's non-accession to the NPT as an obstacle to this process.

The Inshas Nuclear Research Center, 40 km outside of Cairo, houses Egypt's nuclear research program. Inshas hosts the Soviet-supplied 2 MWt ETRR-1 research reactor, the Argentine-supplied 22 MWt ETRR-2 light water research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, a hot cell complex, and a waste management facility. [5] Cairo has long expressed the desire to import nuclear power reactors, but thus far its efforts have proven unsuccessful, and are likely to remain so as long as the country continues to experience political and economic turmoil. [6] 

Biological

There is very limited open-source information indicating that Egypt is pursuing a biological weapons (BW) program. The country acceded to the Geneva Protocol on December 6, 1928 and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) on April 10, 1972. Most assessments by security experts indicate that while Egypt has a strong technical base in applied microbiology, it lacks the necessary infrastructure for developing or producing BW. Furthermore, there is no corroborated open-source evidence of any organized BW-related research activity. There have, however, been some allegations by Israel that Egypt is conducting research to develop anthrax and plague bacteria, botulinum toxin, and Rift Valley fever virus for military purposes. The Egyptian government strongly denies these accusations.

Chemical

Egypt is one of a limited number of countries known to have employed chemical weapons against its enemies since the end of the First World War. There is strong evidence that during their intervention in the North Yemen Civil War, Egyptian forces employed bombs and artillery shells filled with phosgene and mustard against the Royalist troops and civilians in North Yemen. There is relatively little reliable open-source information available concerning Egypt's chemical warfare (CW) programs after the 1970s. There is some evidence pointing to Egyptian cooperation on CW issues with Syria in the 1970s and to a lesser degree with Iraq in the 1980s. However, very little evidence exists to support claims of ongoing Egyptian offensive CW efforts after the late 1970s. Since the early 1980s Egypt has received training in defensive CW from the United States. Egypt maintains a substantial defensive CW capability and produces personal protective equipment and decontamination equipment for domestic use and export. Egypt acceded to the Geneva Protocol on December 6, 1928, but has remained outside the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), publicly asserting that it will not accede to the convention until questions regarding Israel's nuclear weapons are addressed. Since 2005 there have been a small number of contacts between the Egyptian government, or state-sponsored NGOs, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Missile

The origins of Egypt's missile program date back to the 1950s, when the Nasser regime hired German scientists and engineers to develop liquid-fueled missiles and a satellite launcher. The scientists developed three missile systems: the al-Zafar (300km range), the al-Kahir (450km range), and the al-Raid (750km range). [7] However, none became operational due to program mismanagement, the USSR's refusal to provide modern guidance systems, and the departure of the German scientists. [8] In the 1980s, Egypt cooperated with Iraq and Argentina to develop an 800 to 1,000km range solid-fueled missile, which was designated Condor-II in Argentina, Badr-2000 in Iraq, and "Vector" or "Delta" in Egypt. [9] By 1990, pressure from Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) member states and financial setbacks resulted in the program's collapse. [10] Since then, Egypt has focused on its indigenous Scud-B and Scud-C manufacturing capabilities. With North Korean assistance, Egypt developed a Scud-B production capability, and may also have developed an enhanced Scud-C missile. [11] In 2001, Egypt reportedly attempted to acquire 800 to 1,000km range Nodong missiles from North Korea. [12] Whether or not Egypt actually received the missiles remains unclear. Egypt is not a member of the MTCR.

Sources:
[1] Former Vice President Mohammed El-Baradei for example, is the former Director General of the IAEA.
[2] IAEA, "Country Nuclear Power Profiles: Egypt," August 2005, www-pub.iaea.org.
[3] James Walsh, Bombs Unbuilt: Power, Ideas, and Institutions in International Politics (PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001); Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 19; Robert J. Einhorn, "Egypt: Frustrated but Still on a Non-Nuclear Course," in The Nuclear Tipping Point, ed. Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, and Mitchell B. Reiss (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), pp. 46-47.
[4] Etel Solingen, Nuclear Logics: Contrasting Paths in East Asia & the Middle East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).
[5] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 16-23, www.opensource.gov.
[6] James M. Acton and Wyn Q. Bowen, "Atoms for Peace in the Middle East: The Technical and Regulatory Requirements," NPEC Working Paper Series, 2008, p. 12.
[7] Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, "Egypt's Missile Efforts Succeed with Help from North Korea," The Risk Report 2, no. 5, September-October 1996, www.wisconsinproject.org.
[8] Andrew Rathmell, "Egypt's Military Industrial Complex," Jane's Intelligence Review 6, no. 10, 1 October 1994, p. 455.
[9] "Secret Egypt-Iraq Accord Collapses," Mideast Markets, 12 June 1989, www.lexisnexus.com.
[10] Wyn Bowen, Tim McCarthy, and Holly Porteous, "Feature, Ballistic Missile Shadow Lengthens," Jane's International Defense Review 2, no. 2, 1 January 1997.
[11] Bill Gertz, "Cairo's missile buys violate U.S. laws; North Korea sold Scuds, CIA says," The Washington Times, 21 June 1996, p. A1; Eli J. Lake and Richard Sale, "Egypt buys missiles from North Korea," United Press International (Washington), 18 June 2001; Bertil Lintner and Steve Stecklow, "Supply Depot: Murky Trail Shows How Arms Trade Helps North Korea," Wall Street Journal, 6 Feb 2003, p. A1.
[12] Eli J. Lake and Richard Sale, "Egypt buys missiles from North Korea," United Press International (Washington), 18 June 2000; James Hackett, "Egypt to pose a future threat?" The Washington Times, 23 July 2002, p. A19.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Egypt

  • Not a member of the BTWC or the CWC
  • Used chemical weapons during the 1960s conflict in North Yemen
  • Maintains two nuclear research reactors