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Sunday, 16 June 2019

Mubarak speaks

Former president Hosni Mubarak gives his first interview in nine years

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 22 May 2019
Hosni Mubarak and Fajr Al-Said
Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during his interview with Kuwaiti TV host Fajr Al-Said on Sunday 19 May, 2019
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Former president Hosni Mubarak appeared in a surprise interview on Sunday with Kuwaiti TV host Fajr Al-Said. In the interview, Mubarak spoke about the “Deal of the Century”, the threat posed by Iran, and gave a candid assessment of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Mubarak also revealed facts about Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Egypt’s reclaiming of Sinai in 1982, the Six-Day War, the October War in 1973 and the negotiations between Israel and Syria in 1993.

Al-Said tweeted a photo showing her and Mubarak sitting together but did not reveal where the interview had taken place. “The important thing is that I was able to reach him without the help of anyone,” said Al-Said. “I told him I would like to interview him and he approved at once.”

The tweeted photograph was signed “to Fajr Al-Said and to the friendly people of Kuwait. Hosni Mubarak. May 2019”.

Mubarak said he was pessimistic about the prospects of the “Deal of the Century” the details of which are expected to be made public on 25 June by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, during an economic conference in Bahrain.

“The main guidelines of the deal have yet to be made clear in any formal way. The Arabs must be ready to take an action once it is officially announced,” said Mubarak.

“Whatever we know about what is being called the ‘Deal of the Century’ comes from newspapers and unconfirmed leaks. And the early impressions, particularly after the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Israel claiming sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the continued expansion of Israeli settlements do not lead to optimism.”

Mubarak described the Palestinian cause as one of endless “lost opportunities” since Anwar Al-Sadat launched his peace initiative. Netanyahu doesn’t believe in a two-state solution, said Egypt’s former president, and seeks only to entrench the separation between Gaza and the West Bank.

“Netanyahu refuses the land for peace formula and will do everything in his power to undermine any meaningful peace deal.”

“In 1993,” said Mubarak, “I urged Yitzhak Rabin to negotiate with Syria and he told me he would accept Syria recovering its land but the problem was the Syrians refused diplomatic relations. Then, after the assassination of Rabin in 1995 the Syrians wanted an agreement but then Netanyahu came to office and the opportunity was lost.”

“I know how Netanyahu thinks. When Bill Clinton invited me for a meeting with Netanyahu and King Hussein in Washington I said no, I would not go as long as Netanyahu continues to disparage negotiations and refuses to withdraw from the remaining occupied Arab territories. I told Clinton that Netanyahu wants the Arabs to cede Jerusalem to Israel, something no Arab ruler could approve.”

On Iran, Mubarak said it represents a major threat not only to Israel and the Gulf countries but to the Arabs in general.

“Iran has been trying its best to infiltrate the region, posing a threat to Arab national security. Unfortunately, since 2011 many powers have been seeking a foothold in the region. They exploited circumstances [the Arab Spring uprisings] to secure their interests. Egypt supported Iraq in its war against Iran, sided with our brothers in the Gulf in the face of Iranian threats, and I and the late Saudi King Abdullah wanted to form a united front to contain Iran.”

Mubarak said he tried to open a dialogue with former Iranian president Mohamed Khatami.

“I met with him in Geneva but the hardliners in Iran moved to undermine any chances for improved relations. We should remember that in the wake of the events of January 2011 Iran’s supreme guide took the unprecedented step of delivering a provocative speech in Arabic, calling for an Islamic revolution in Egypt. Iran’s designs for the region are quite clear. Then we have Israeli schemes under the Netanyahu government. We have to accord equal weight to both threats."

Mubarak, 91, said “the Kuwaitis are dear to me, and I have a friendly relationship with many of them. I have contacts with Sheikh Sabah, and today Kuwait is playing a balanced role in the Arab world and the Gulf.”

“On 2 August 1991, I was shocked by Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. At the time Sheikh Zayed [late president of the United Arab Emirates] was in Egypt and I urged him to take an Egyptian plane back to Abu Dhabi because I feared Saddam might strike his jet.

"With the approval of the People’s Assembly I sent Egyptian forces to Saudi Arabia to help liberate Kuwait, and at Sheikh Zayed’s request I sent a brigade of commandos to help safeguard the oil wells.”

Speaking on his service in the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 Mubarak said Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War had been a defining moment in his life.

“I returned from the war in Yemen on 15 May 1968. On 2 June [three days before the war] I told the head of Abdel-Hakim Amer’s [the minister of war] office that Israel was calling up its reserve and that the Air Force had to take precautions. On the morning of 5 June I took off in my fighter jet but once we were in the air we were told that Israel had hit the airport and we would not be able to land. I was about to run out of fuel so I headed for Luxor Airport. After just one hour the Israeli air force hit my plane at Luxor. I returned to Cairo by train in very low spirits, filled with the bitter taste of defeat.”

“Then I had the honour to be the leader of Egypt’s Air Force in 1973. In the early hours of the war our fighters targeted Israel’s radar stations and communication centres and Israel lost any contact with its forces in Sinai.”

“After Sadat was killed in 1981, I was honoured take over responsibility for this country and my first task was to recover all of our lands in Sinai. Indeed, 19 March 1989 was the happiest day in my life. It was the day we recovered Taba, the last part of Sinai under Israeli control.”

Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office after a popular uprising in January 2011. He was chief of Egypt’s Air Force during the 1973 War, and in April 1975 he was appointed vice president by Sadat, He succeeded to the presidency when Sadat was assassinated during a military parade in October 1981.

In 2016 Mubarak was acquitted of charges of issuing orders to kill protesters, and of a host of corruption charges. He was, however, sentenced to three years in prison after he was found guilty of embezzling LE125 million in funds allocated to restore presidential palaces.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Mubarak speaks

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