A nuclear reactor in Egypt?

"Egypt will not enjoy its sovereignty unless it has the strength to implement a just peace, and therefore developing a nuclear program is part of national security," says Dr. Rashad Al-Qubaisi, the former head of the International Center for Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations and the person responsible for preparing a report on establishing a nuclear reactor in Egypt. "I am of the opinion that possessing an atom bomb is essential if you want to enjoy power and sovereignty. I will not forget what the Indian ambassador said to me when we discovered that India was holding nuclear experiments in 1997 - 'Our national security is more important to us than water or food.'" Qubaisi, who criticizes the Egyptian government for not approving nuclear supervision in its territory, says no country in the region, including Israel, has conducted nuclear experiments because they are so simple to trace. "Israel conducts its experiments via computer simulations - impossible to detect," he says.

The vital need for Egypt to have reactors is in the sphere of water desalination, he says, and and that is more important for Egypt's survival than reactors for electricity. In an interview with the newspaper Al Youm al Sabaa, he warned that the water in Lake Nasser, created by the Aswan Dam, will last only for 300 years before evaporating completely.

Despite his warnings the cumbersome Egyptian bureaucracy has still not decided where Egyptian nuclear power should be set up. The site proposed last summer at al Daba, on the Mediterranean, west of Alexandria, was rejected because businessmen close to the government had their eye on the area for a lucrative recreation center. The site has been looked into since 1982, including half a billion dollars in research, and it was found most appropriate for a nuclear reactor. France and Canada have expressed readiness to finance it, but now the Egyptians are considering setting up the reactor in southern Egypt, near Lake Nasser, apparently unconcerned about a reactor polluting water sources.

The nuclear issue returned to the political agenda this week when the Egyptian parliament discussed establishing a national authority for developing nuclear energy, and the energy minister, Dr. Hassan Younes, announced that an agreement has been signed with a consulting firm to examine setting up the country's first reactor. If the country is only now beginning to do a feasibility study for a reactor at a new site (instead of at al Daba) and if the parliament only this week began deliberating on establishing a comprehensive authority for all the bodies that deal with nuclear energy, some say it will be another 20 years at least before the reactor is set up.

In the Gulf

In the United Arab Emirates, nuclear matters are being dealt with much more swiftly. Last week, the United States and the UAE signed an agreement for nuclear cooperation. It provides for technological and professional support for nuclear facilities to be used for desalination and for supplying electricity and nuclear fuel. According to the agreement, known as "123" after the first paragraph in the American nuclear cooperation law, the UAE will not produce nuclear fuel by itself nor enrich uranium on its territory. This is the first time such a paragraph had been added to agreement signed by the U.S. - a lesson learned in Iran.

To prepare suitable infrastructure, the UAE has begun training designated professionals. Those chosen for the project will be sent to earn master's degrees at the state's expense at the best universities in the world. The first group of 38 students, selected from 500 candidates, has begun studying in the U.S., France and Britain, and another group was chosen last month. Unlike Egypt, where manpower in the nuclear field prefers to remain abroad, the UAE can promise huge salaries and thus ensure its graduates will return home.

The UAE plans to invest $40 billion in nuclear reactors, and this has meant surprisingly tough competition between France and the U.S. Until a month ago, it was clear French companies with the cooperation of the American corporation Bechtel would win the tender, but apparently President Barak Obama's efforts in hosting the ruler of Abu Dhabi have had an effect. General Electric and Westinghouse Electric (a subsidiary of Toshiba) will be building the reactors.

No to a woman president

Which senior posts are open to women? That question is looked at in a new study by the Egyptian religious sage Mohammed Abed al-Majid Alfiqi and Dr. Wahid Abed Majid, head of the Al-Ahram Translation and Publishing Center. They examined the positions of important sages of various Islamic streams and concluded woman is not allowed to be a head of state, that is, to serve as president or prime minister. Heads of state must call up armed forces, go to war, sign agreements between countries and sever ties - and women are not capable of doing these things, they postulated.

Some sages say women can at most serve as ministers, as there are supportive mechanisms below them or at their sides. However, there is agreement on at least one topic; there is no reason why a woman can not be elected to parliament.