Robert Sid Ahmed,
INT: And how did this anger Sadat?
MSA: This angered Sadat because he felt that they were giving priority to détente with the Americans rather than helping Egypt wage a war, that was not so much a war to restore the occupied territories but to signal that we could negotiate without feeling in a situation where negotiations are impossible.
INT: How do you think relations with the Soviet Union changed under Sadat?
MSA: They went from bad to worse. Sadat was rather close to the Soviets as long as Nasser was there personally. But first of all, there was a conflict, a showdown in Egypt, between him and a group of Nasserites that was looked upon as the Soviet nomenklatura. They were not at all communists, but they were very pro-Soviet and they were deeply anti-Communist... or to a far extent anti-Communist, and very much responsible of the sufferings of the communists in prison and so on. But anyhow, this was the group that was close to the Soviet Union. So he defeated these and took power, or consolidated his power, by having them arrested and imprisoned. So this affected his relations with the Soviet Union. They saw in them a sort of nomenklatura that was close to them, and that his attitude towards them was towards the Soviet Union. So relations were more determined ever since by the need to keep up something, though it was breaking down. This found its expression first by the insistence of the Soviets of having a formal treaty with Egypt, which they did have with Sadat and had never with Nasser. Nasser... they never felt, either side, that they needed to formalize or institutionalize the relationship in the form of a treaty. But when it came to Sadat, it was necessary. And after the '73 war one day Sadat came and just abrogated that treaty a short time, a year or two, before his trip to Jerusalem.
INT: Why did Sadat criticize the Soviet Union over their conduct during the summit in 1972, the superpower summit in May 1972?
MSA: Well, bec(ause) precisely he saw that was giving privilege... He wanted to go to war - he needed to go to war; he felt that he couldn't do otherwise. He considered that negotiations were impossible without some heating of the whole process - I mean, some shock therapy. He considered that necessary, and he might even have obtained from Kissinger ... there is good reason to believe that Kissinger made him understand that "I will not interfere in the Middle East as long as the game is a cold game. It needs to be heated me to interfere, and I can't justify intervening otherwise." So he needed that war as a sort of triggering factor for negotiations, and the Russians had to offer him that. They were not too ready to go that far.
INT: Can you tell me about Sadat's expulsion the Soviet advisers and his opening relations with America, and how that turned out?
MSA: Well, I mean, it's not true that after the expelling of the Soviet experts, that Egypt ceased to obtain weapons from the Soviets. When the war happened, and even before the war, they offered him weapons, they did offer him weapons. Of course, the relations were not what they had been before, but they didn't go as far as to take it.. something final and it was over. Far from that: they kept on. But the relationship had fundamentally changed. I mean, since the war, Sadat believed that the main global party he should woo was the Americans, no longer the Soviets.
INT: Wonderful. Can I talk to you just specifically about the October War in '73? During the early days of the war, why were the Soviet Union urging a cease-fire, calling for a cease-fire, and why did Sadat resist?
MSA: Well, it seems that, first of all, there was much confusion as to what the Egyptian and Syrian strategy was. It was not clear how far they were to go. It was not understood whether it is a war to restoring occupied territory or just signaling that we are ready for negotiations. And the Soviets were not sure about that, and they probably considered that what had been achieved in the first 48 hours was beyond their wildest dreams, that nothing could have gone as far as that. And given that this was already something acquired, it should not be squandered by trying to get too much.
INT: But more to the point, wasn't the Egyptians retaking the Sinai?
MSA: No, no, there was never a question of that.
INT: OK. Sorry. Don't worry. Do you think the Soviet Union and the Americans' resupply during the war escalated the conflict?
MSA: No, the resupply was to be sure that the war finished up on Israeli conditions. You mean the Americans ... Yes, the American support to the Israelis was that... there was, it seems, a critical stage, four or five days after the war began, and that's where the Americans supported strongly the Israelis, probably also afraid that they make a wrong move, resort to their nuclear weapons or whatever, I mean, in a state of despair. So the Americans did interfere very strongly on the Israeli side. Then the situation changed. In Egypt we were not aware of the extent it had changed, but it did change, and then there was crossing in the opposite direction: the Israelis getting into Egypt, beyond the Canal.
INT: Do you think the superpowers escalated the conflict, though?
MSA: Well, there were noises on either side that they were escalating. To what extent these noises were genuine, or just appropriate for both sides in the Middle East to understand that the time had come to stop - I'm not very clear on that. But I don't think that the game was that of escalating and full stop.
INT: Why did Sadat have to urge the Soviet Union eventually to seek a cease-fire with America?
MSA: Repeat your question.
INT: Why did Sadat have to urge the Soviet Union - and how did he do this - to seek a cease-fire?
MSA: No, this was at the very end. The situation was extremely critical at the very end. Sadat has often described this crossing... as some form of television war. It was not a television war, it was a very real war. And they had succeeded... they took advantage of the fact that the Egyptians hadn't gone sufficiently in depth when they could have at the beginning, but nobody believed they could. But they took advantage of this, for the weakest point between the two armies, somewhere near Ismailya, and made the crossing in the opposite direction, and then they had actually circumscribed, I mean, one of the two armies which was in a very critical situation. So seizing the cease-fire at that time was vital, was imperative to be able to keep the advantage of what had happened at the beginning of the war somehow. So there was no choice but to resort and ask for a cease-fire. And the Americans were very slow at it.
INT: Why did Sadat request American and Soviet troops? Can you tell me about Sadat's request for Soviet and American troops on the ground to enforce the cease-fire?
MSA: Well, there was a series of propositions at the end, which had to be taken in haste. Obviously it was not taken as Sadat would have wished; and the Israelis were very quick as to consolidating their positions on this side of the Canal. So the situation had to be s... that's why the Soviets finally resorted to an ultimatum, on the 25th of October, because the situation was getting out of hand.
INT: ... What was the importance of the Kilometer 101 talks?
MSA: Well, this was the first time that we had a breakthrough into a new form of relationship. It was generals talking to each other on either side, and this was absolutely necessary at the time, because the armies interpenetrated and there was no other way to solve the issue but through direct talks between military people. So this first disengagement was a prerequisite for anything to happen after the war; it was a sort of situation where it could not be possible to say, "Let things as they are." A status quo was impossible. Something had to happen; and it began on the military level. Disengagement was imperative, whether we went further or not.
INT: Who won the October War?
MSA: Oh, that's a complicated question. Either side doesn't see it as a total defeat, that's for sure.
INT: What brought Egypt to the negotiating table?
MSA: I think that the decision had been taken in '56. In '56, the decision was: OK, after ... Sorry, sorry, in '70, not '56. I think a decision... (Inaudible aside) I think a decision was taken in '67, the idea of land for peace, which means: we accept Israel, we have to accept Israel, we have no choice but to accept Israel. I mean, Israel is seen by the Arabs as having no legitimacy. It's an important body, the Israelis have their own suffering abroad because of others. We need not have to pay the bill. That they had been here, we don't remember - it's too far away: 2,000 years is too far away, so we don't understand their view, we don't understand; we only see what is our right in terms of international law. On the other hand, their suffering has been such that their frame of reference is death and not life, and they don't care about others when it comes to death concerning them, so there is no common measure. So there's no solution, there is only an arbitrary solution: the assumption that you can equate accepting the existence of Israel with keeping Israel within given walls. That's restoring that, that has been occupied. Ever since it's been that, but the formula has remained different. When you say "peace for land", what peace for what land?
INT: Did you feel that the Soviet Union was excluded from the Middle East after the '73 war?
MSA: It was its first step towards exclusion, because it was its exclusion out of Egypt. Egypt giving priority to America over the Soviet Union, was the first step towards hitting at the strategy that Khrushchev had inaugurated: that of opening up on to the Third World, that of opening into the Arab Middle East, using the conflict with Israel just as an accelerating factor into being present in this area, and wider throughout Africa, Asia, the Afro-Asian world and so on. So this was the beginning of the end of that; it was a first step with détente. I mean, détente should have made them understand that an agreement with the West has to be made on that. And this was the regional game, to tell them... OK, I mean, one way to win, to come into the good books of the Americans, was to contribute to the American strategy of containment of the Soviet Union in this part of the world. So it began with Sadat, and it went on afterwards otherwise. Of course, after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the issue beca... I mean,the two last protagonists, the two regional protagonists who were the last to be aware that this had to be done, were the Syrians and the Libyans. So, then they turned to Egypt at that time, because Egypt was the best party that could eventually speak to the Americans and to get them out of their previous alignment.
INT: Why did Egypt consider America the more attractive superpower to tato?
MSA: It's not a question of attractive. The Kissinger formula is perfect: "The Russians can serve you when you need arms, we can serve you when you need diplomacy".
INT: Wonderful. What did you make of Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in '77?
MSA: Well, it was a dramatic move, but it had a certain logic within his strategy, I mean. I mean, given that you will have to deal with them just as much, have it done dramatically.
INT: And... did you welcome the Camp David agreement?
MSA: Well, I had written a book two years before that, under the title After the Guns Fall Silent, which had been quite successful at the time, and I was looked [on] as a bit of a maverick by a lot of my friends, saying that peace was possible when they still believed that it wasn't. But at the time of Camp David, I had been so ostracized by people around me, my friends, that they considered that this book was blasphemy. So... I stood against the Sadat line.
(Comments re: noise & a bit of non-i/v talk)
INT: So my last question: do you think the Cold War helped or hindered the search for peace in the Middle East?
MSA: Well, let us say that the Cold War dramatized the regional Cold War, and as such made the game more conducive to the need of some form of solution. (Atmos follows. End.)