Though Mubarak’s opposition to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 happened to align with U.S. policy, he was unwilling to back other American campaigns against Arab leaders.
When President Ronald Reagan’s deputy national security adviser, John Poindexter, asked Mubarak to launch a joint U.S.-Egyptian attack against Libya in 1985, the Egyptian president scolded his visitor, saying, “Look, Admiral, when we decide to attack Libya, it will be our decision and on our timetable.”Mubarak again refused to acquiesce in U.S. plans to isolate Libya in the 1990’s for its involvement in the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Instead of ostracizing Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Mubarak welcomed him to Cairo.
After the United Nations imposed an international flight ban against Libya in 1992, its land crossings with Egypt proved crucial to Libya’s economy (and possibly Gadhafi’s political survival). Libya withstood the sanctions in part by importing food and oil infrastructure supplies via Egypt, and by exporting petroleum and steel with Mubarak’s help.In fact, Mubarak’s Libya policy was driven largely by economic and security concerns, and rarely took U.S. interests into consideration. More than one million Egyptians worked in Libya, which was also a large export market. And Gadhafi was eager to help Mubarak subdue Islamist threats to the Egyptian regime. Unlike neighboring Sudan, which harbored Egyptian radicals, like Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who were bent on destabilizing the country, Libya turned them over to Mubarak.
While Gadhafi delivered terrorists to Mubarak, the Egyptian president declined American requests to do the same. After Palestinians in 1985 hijacked the Italian ship Achille Lauro, killed an American, and berthed in Egypt, the U.S. asked Mubarak to extradite them. But Mubarak refused, saying that Secretary of State George Shultz was “crazy” if he believed that Egypt would betray the Palestinian cause.Egypt’s new leaders have inherited Mubarak’s dilemma – how to realize the country’s aspiration to lead the Arab world without angering its Saudi benefactors.For this reason, the Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement will yield more photo opportunities than tangible results.