Egyptian ambassador discusses Middle East

On Tuesday, Oct. 17 in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Nabil Fahmy, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, gave a lecture entitled “Egypt’s Role in the Middle East Peace Process.”

Fahmy’s speech was quite timely, coming at a significant point in Middle Eastern relations. Throughout the past two weeks, many have been troubled by and concerned about the turn of events in the Middle East. This Friday, clashes erupted between Israelis and Palestinians even after a truce was called. At least nine were killed, and dozens injured, in the deadliest fighting in nearly two weeks.

Fahmy began his half-hour lecture by explaining that “Egypt’s role [in the peace process] changes, but its objective does not.” His nation’s main objective, he said, is to help Palestinians and Israelis reach a lasting peace.

He discussed some history, going back to the wars of 1967 and 1973. At first, Fahmy said, Egypt was somewhat of a “pioneer,” coming up with new ideas. As time went on, Egypt became more of a “catalyst for peace,” acting as an active partner in the process. He defined the crisis as two-fold – citing one dispute between Israel and Syria, and another between Israel and the Palestinians. However, the emphasis on his presentation was on the pressing conflict between Israeli and Palestinian partisans.

“I had no hope we would be where we are today [in the peace process],” Fahmy said. “However, I am equally frustrated. I want to bring this issue to closure.”

Fahmy stated that his country had proposed a peace conference in late September, before the most recent violence erupted. According to Fahmy, Ehud Barak, the prime minister of Israel, was unwilling to attend such a conference at that time. While asserting that “peace is not an option,” but a requirement, in the Middle East, Fahmy tended to be more critical of Israel than of the Palestinians.

Nevertheless, Fahmy stated that Barak’s regime “steps further than past [Israeli] governments” in the peace process. Fahmy praised also praised Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLO) chairman, as a “freedom fighter.”

Fahmy asserted that the role of the United States in the peace process is more important than ever. According to the speaker, the United States should not take sides in the matter, “except for the side of peace, equality and justice for all.”

In a spirited question and answer session, Fahmy responded to one student’s inquiry by praising the work of Bill Clinton. “President Clinton has done a marvelous job [with the peace process],” he said. “Any new president will have an uphill task acclimating to the problem and living up to Clinton’s accomplishment.” He did not indicate any preference between the presidential candidates.

In response to another question, Fahmy indicated that his personal proposal for peace was to divide Jerusalem such that the Palestinians would have East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. West Jerusalem would be the Israeli capital under the plan, and there would be free access to all religious sites.

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