Though Western diplomats in Cairo look back on 1959 with considerable satisfaction, there have been several rather disturbing developments since the turn of the year. In February I shared the feeling expressed by Mr. Hammarskjöld that there had been a deterioration in the Middle East situation, at least in the sense that there seemed to be a reversion in various quarters to rather dangerous earlier attitudes which last autumn observers had hoped might in due course be transcended. Since then there has been a rather serious outburst of anti-American and “anti-Imperialist” feeling shown in Cairo’s speeches, press and radio, and in public and private reactions. This resulted from the Cleopatra affair4and the Hayes-Douglas amendment to the U.S. Aid bills.5
2. There is both among Western diplomats and I think also among U.A.R. leaders and public a feeling of uncertainty about the future. There is undoubtedly an increased nervousness and concern lately about their own prospects among Coptic, Italian, Greek, Armenian, and pro-Western upper class Muslim minorities in Egypt — sensitive groups who always feel less uneasy about their own future when U.A.R.-Western relations are improving, and vice versa.
3. Western diplomats and correspondents, and pro-Western Egyptians and Egyptian residents, are asking each other how serious the set-back is, and whether it marks a real reversal of the previous favourable trend or merely a temporary suspension in the previous progress. I am personally inclined to think that excessive gloom is as unjustified as complacence. For one thing, in view of the uncertainty about the longer term future that I believe exists among the U.A.R. leaders themselves any hasty negative conclusions by the West about the prospects for reasonable further cooperation with the U.A.R. could I think be dangerous by tending to create or confirm unnecessarily the very situation which it fears.
4. The disturbing aspects of the situation are nevertheless real enough. They include a significant hardening of Arab attitudes toward Israel, a resumption of feuding between Cairo and Amman, and revived temptations for the U.A.R. leaders to force the pace of pan-Arabist pressures from the street on other Arab governments — temptations which will not necessarily be resisted and which in some cases have been eagerly seized. Whether or not such pressures, if effective, would necessarily prove undesirable in end result, they would certainly involve instability and crises.
5. The present disturbing indications include also a resumption of vitriolic attacks on the West in public speeches by President Nasser and by the Cairo press and radio, and corresponding kind words directed towards the U.S.S.R. There has during the past few months been evident hesitation by the U.A.R. leaders to consolidate further the improved political relations with U.K., Australia and France. There has been obviously improved morale among the Communist missions in Cairo. There has been an understandable tendency by many Americans here to develop, slowly but almost inevitably, a restrained but deep exasperation and resentment at U.A.R. deeds, words and ingratitude.
6. There is a corresponding disappointment and growing resentment amongst some of the U.A.R. leaders and influential members of the public at what they consider (exaggeratedly) the signs of revival of a settled hostility by Western great powers, and of an almost inherent ineptness, despite the hopes which the U.A.R. had begun to nurture in view of the improvements of 1959.
7. All these trends merit serious examination, but they should be seen in perspective. 1959 began, insofar as the thinking of U.A.R. leaders was concerned, with anxiety about the unexpected hostility of Iraq toward cooperation with Cairo, and about the revelation of strong Communist influence there, with the implied threat of Soviet imperialism, through local Communist parties, toward Nasser’s pan-Arab influence in Jordan, and toward the union of Syria with the U.A.R. After the failure in the winter of 1958-59 of attempts to deal with the situation by coups d’état through plots in Baghdad and then through risings in Mosul and (it was hoped) other parts of Iraq, Nasser attempted in the spring of 1959 to get diplomatic support against the Communist threat in Iraq from other Arab governments. This attempt too failed miserably, notably in the Beirut meeting of the Arab League in April 1959. President Nasser gradually turned toward a new policy, involving an important attempt to mend fences with other Arab governments, and also with Western governments — a process which he had begun tentatively a month or two earlier. This fence-mending policy led to a resumption of diplomatic relations with Jordan in the summer, to an improvement in commercial and hence diplomatic relations with the Lebanon, to an agreement on Nile waters and commerce with the Sudan in the autumn, and to attempts which were I think sincere but less successful to improve relations with Tunisia, Ethiopia and even with General Kassim himself. It also facilitated a gradual and cautious improvement and eventual actual resumption of diplomatic relations with Australia and the U.K. and a tentative though unsuccessful effort to move toward resumed relations with France. Nasser’s 1959 campaign against communism in Iraq facilitated a very marked improvement in his relations with the United States in a wide variety of fields, and the resumption of U.S.A. aid to the U.A.R., which during 1959 amounted to no less than $140 million in addition to a World Bank loan for development of the Suez Canal.
8. President Nasser also engaged throughout 1959 in an important public campaign against Communism, and an attempt to “inoculate” (as he put it) the public in many parts of the Arab world against the communist fifth column. The value and importance of this throughout Arab and other Afro-Asian countries should not be underestimated.
9. As part of this same revision of policy and priorities, President Nasser put greatly increased emphasis on economic development within the U.A.R. and on a reduction in the U.A.R.’s commercial dependence on the Communist bloc and increased trade with the West, and in the field of domestic politics in an attempt to establish a more solid constitutional framework for his régime, chiefly through the development of the National Union. There was a significant diversion of the flow of U.A.R. students sent abroad for post-graduate study, from the Communist bloc to the West.
10. Despite the recent deterioration in Cairo’s relations with some other Arab countries and with the West, it is obvious that at least up to the present most of these very substantial improvements in the situation during the course of 1959 remain, and there is not much present sign that at least most of the gains achieved need be lost, though some of them could be.
11. Another concrete result of the 1959 evolution which has not been reversed, and the continuing significance of which should not be underestimated, is the break between Cairo and the Baath party of pan-Arab extremists centered in Damascus. By outlook and habit the Baathists have been devotees of the impatient and revolutionary fait accompli in relations with Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and North Africa. The Baathists had been largely instrumental in initiating and accomplishing the union of Syria with Egypt and President Nasser certainly feels a certain sympathy and affection toward them. But he had burnt his fingers twice rather badly through heeding their advice and letting them have their way — in 1958 by excessive intervention in the Lebanese civil war, which had led to a landing by United States forces there; and during the winter of 1958-59 through their hasty attempts to push Iraq into union with Cairo, attempts which led first to the alienation of Kassim himself and secondly to the abortive Mosul revolt and the further embittering of Cairo-Baghdad relations. In the July elections in Syria Nasser accordingly and significantly refrained from supporting the Baathists and virtually pulled the rug from under them. During the ten months since then he has rid himself of a Baathist Vice President (Hourany) and Baathist ministers both in Syria and in the Central U.A.R. government in Cairo, and of many Baathist officials in Damascus. It is significant that this process of eliminating the Baath has been continued in the recent resignation of two Central U.A.R. Ministers. This continued elimination of extremists suggests, even if it is not conclusive evidence, an intention to continue a policy of prudence and at least relative moderation in inter-Arab politics.
12. In this connection it may be opportunate to interject a few words on the position in Syria of Saraj, the Minister of the Interior, who while not a Baathist is certainly an aggressive and rather extreme and ambitious pan-Arabist. When I was in Damascus at the beginning of April I called not only on the leading “old” Ministers but on most of the new Syrian executive Ministers appointed to replace the resigned Baathists. Most of them are under 40 and almost without exception they are close friends and long-time associates of Saraj. Four of them are former Army Officers and two others civil servants one of whom, hitherto Saraj’s Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Interior, has become Saraj’s deputy as head of the National Union Organization for the Northern Region as well as Minister of Works. Within the Syrian administrative machine Saraj has thus increased greatly his personal influence, and it is significant that in the Damascus souk and elsewhere his photograph is beginning to be displayed along with that of President Nasser. In a real sense Saraj is acquiring stature as President Nasser’s number one henchman in Syria. On the other hand it is equally significant that five of his close friends and associates, who until recently occupied key posts in the Syrian Army, have now been made Ministers. Their replacements have not yet been announced, but it seems probable that President Nasser, with typical shrewdness, made a double play by increasing Saraj’s importance in the executive machine of government while at the same time taking steps to clip his wings by lessening his ability to count on Syrian Army support for any independent action which he might be tempted to contemplate.
13. While on the subject of Syria I might speculate briefly on some of the reasons for the extraordinary violence of President Nasser’s attacks, in the speeches which in February he was giving once or twice each day in various parts of Syria, on Jordan, Israel, Iraq and the West. An explanation which many observers in Damascus believe for the violence of these speeches is related to pressure put on President Nasser when he was in Syria this spring from members of the influential commercial groups and leaders of the former political parties, to give more autonomy to Syria and to give them a real say in overall U.A.R. foreign policy. Their theory is that Nasser found it expedient to play up to the extremist sentiments of the Syrian crowds by way of warning these bourgeois politicians and business men that if they tried any pressure against him he had the capacity to call out the streets and lead a real social revolution in Syria which could jeopardize their position more seriously than merely by denying them office and a share of government. I think this explanation makes some sense. Another factor, I suspect, is simply President Nasser’s demagogic instinct to respond to crowds. When faced with the rather heady and emotional attitude of Syrian crowds, which, compared with those of Egyptians, are certainly restless, revolutionary and violently anti-Israeli and anti-West, Nasser rises to the occasion by playing to their moods. It is I think significant that every time President Nasser is in Syria the intemperance of his public language tends to startle (and from remarks they let slip to me in various conversations, I think even to alarm) many of his Egyptian Ministers and officials. The intemperance which the President evinces in speeches in Syria is I think in part calculated and tactical, but is also related in part to his sincere belief in the pan-Arab dream to which most Egyptians are much less prone than are most Syrians.
14. In January and February and since there has been a significant increase in the U.A.R.’s verbal attacks on King Hussein. In part these have been responsive to King Hussein’s stepped-up and outspoken needling of Nasser himself, but there has been more to it than this. One basic factor has been the U.A.R. advocacy of a “Palestine entity,” with the implication of a future Palestine provisional government and a consequent dismemberment of Jordan by separation of the West Bank Palestinians from the former Transjordan. As I have previously reported, in part this had I think been a response to Kassim’s irresponsible but easy propaganda quips that Nasser and Hussein have shared with Ben Gurion in the partition of Palestinian territory. Another aspect, perhaps minor but emphasized to me by Hassouna, has been a belief that the development of a “Palestinian personality” and an authorized group and spokesmen would assist the presentation of the Arab case on Palestine in the U.N.
15. But during February the violence of U.A.R. propaganda attacks on Hussein, including Nasser’s speeches, led me to wonder whether U.A.R. leaders might indeed be contemplating an attempt to instigate the overthrow of the Hashemite régime in Jordan. As I should have reported long since, during February and early March I therefore paid a series of calls on Foreign Minister Fawzi, Mourad Ghalib, Mahmoud Riad, Minister of State Kamal Rifaat, and also on Hassenein Heikal when he returned from Syria a few days before President Nasser. With each of these men I discussed among other topics this question of Jordan. I reminded them that last summer and autumn they had told me (as President Nasser himself had done) that in their real assessment they recognized that a disintegration or overthrow of the régime in Jordan would be undesirable, in that it would almost certainly lead to an Israeli seizure of the West Bank and thus would precipitate a major crisis and possible war which they did not desire. I told them that this assessment still seemed sensible and cogent to me, and I asked whether they had altered their views. My enquiry was designed partly to find out U.A.R. intentions, but partly also to warn them off any hasty action which at the time did not seem to me entirely out of the question.
16. The President and Ali Sabri were away at the time, but all these men assured me that the U.A.R. had not in fact changed its assessment, and that it had no desire to push its quarrel with Jordan too far, though they did feel it necessary to keep the record straight by preserving their position in favour ultimately of a re-established Palestinian state. Apart from this they merely wanted King Hussein to stop attacking the U.A.R. in speeches and diplomatically all around the Arab world. I found these assurances soothing, and was inclined to believe them, but did not at the time feel entirely sure. Fawzi, Ghalib, Rifaat, Heikal and Riad all gave me the impression that they themselves were somewhat embarrassed by some of the extreme language which President Nasser had been using and which inevitably the press had to follow. They all tried to explain it away by pointing out that President Nasser tended to read a newspaper article in the morning and to make an ad lib speech in the afternoon. They all said in varying words that I should not take either their President’s speeches or their press too seriously. I think this is true. But I did not get the impression that any of them were absolutely sure themselves of the future long-term policy.
17. When I was in Gaza in March visiting UNEF I had a talk with the Governor of Gaza, a U.A.R. army general. He was quite remarkably vitriolic about King Hussein, whom he clearly did not expect to last long. A day or so later I learned that he made a public speech (to his Palestinian refugee constituents) which was not however reported in the press, to the effect that the U.A.R. already had a northern and a southern region, and that before long would have a central region made up of Jordan. I interpreted this at the time as implying that General Ahmed Salem was rather far out on a limb, remote from the central party line, and not fully aware of the inner thoughts of the men who shape U.A.R. policy. I still believe this is more or less true. I should also however report that when I was in Damascus at the beginning of April, during the course of a call on Premier Kahala (Chairman of the Council of Syrian Executive Ministers) Kahala also implied that he did not think King Hussein could last long. When I suggested the danger that if the régime in Jordan should disintegrate the Israelis might move in to take the West Bank, and that Israel might prove to be the main beneficiary, Kahala replied that while this danger would be very real if there were a civil war in Jordan, nevertheless what he called a “quick surgical operation” might solve the Jordanian problem before the Israelis had time to react. Kahala implied that he thought such a surgical operation, naturally “undertaken by the Jordanians themselves,” might be fairly imminent.
18. As you know, a few days before my visit to Damascus the Prime Minister of Jordan had announced that certain Jordanian exiles, sent in from Syria, had attempted to assassinate him.
19. Most people here did not believe the Jordanian insistence that this assassination attempt had been instigated by Cairo, and were inclined to think that it might be a story put about by the Jordanians themselves for internal political purposes, based merely on the happenstance that they had arrested a Jordanian exile who had come in from Damascus for purposes of espionage. This may be true. However shortly after my return to Cairo in April Zackari Mohieddin, U.A.R. Central Minister of the Interior, suggested at a reception that I call on him for a chat. I did so a few days later, and during the course of a long general conversation I asked him about the Jordanian charges of an assassination attempt. He said that he though that the Jordanian exiles, Rimawi and Nabulsi, had in fact “probably” sent a man in to assassinate Majali. Moheiddin added that the U.A.R. authorities naturally had had nothing to do with this, but that they could not agree to the Jordanian request to hand the exiled Jordanian generals over to King Hussein. I don’t know just what this adds up to. It illustrates the difficulty of being sure of facts in the Middle East. I suspect that the truth is that while the U.A.R. Central leaders are, for the time being at least, resisting any temptation to overthrow the régime in Jordan, they are from time to time subject to pressure from some of their Syrian colleagues, as well as from Jordanian exiles, to resume activity in this direction.
20. While in Damascus I had a long visit with ex-President and “First Arab Citizen” Kuwatli. The burden of his theme was that Arab unity in the complete sense was sooner or later inevitable, though it might only be a matter of months but it might be a matter of years. Of its ultimate inevitability there could be no question.
21. I mention this not to suggest that Kuwatli’s own influence is in favour of any drastic action in Jordan, but to suggest that the influence of Syria as a whole on Egypt is probably in the direction of continued pushing, prudently no doubt but inexorably, in the direction of greater pan-Arab integration by one means or another. While the influence of the union with Syria, on Cairo’s policy, was in 1959 in the main to increase President Nasser’s sensitivity to the Communist threat and hence to prompt a mending of fences with Cairo’s neighbours and with the West, nevertheless the long term influence of Syria on Egypt may be towards a continued or revived expansionism, perhaps mainly by appealing to peoples over the heads of their Governments. This is directly contrary to the dream of many Egyptians, including particularly the former members of the ancien régime who are still of some influence in Cairo government and society who believe that the key to stability is in recognizing that Egypt is essentially a Mediterranean country, having primary common interests with other and with more Western Mediterranean countries, and having less interest in events in the Arab Middle East than the press would at present give one to think. The minorities in Egypt, including not only the European racial groups, the Copts, and the Christian Armenians, but also many of the intellectuals among the Muslims, have a Western education and have flourished in an Egypt with an essentially Mediterranean and Western orientation, and most of them yearn after its reestablishment and consolidation. The union of Egypt with Syria means that this deeply held dream may be more difficult of realization, unless some method can be found of bringing about a Middle East settlement on a much vaster scale.
22. Relations of the U.A.R. with Israel have also clearly taken a turn for the worse, and have hardened rather ominously during the last five months. The Israeli military incident at Tawafiq6, which the UNTSO observers rather outspokenly condemned, undoubtedly created profound shock in the U.A.R. You will recall the mobilization crisis in Sinai during February, on which we reported by telegram at the time. Since then the Cleopatra incident and the boycott of U.A.R. shipping by the American international seamen’s union has carried the deterioration significantly further. Whatever the facts behind the motivation of the I.S.U. boycott, U.A.R. leaders and public interpret it as a Zionist plot, and as implying an almost inevitable American sympathy for Israel whatever she does. They see in it a hardening of the Israeli and American attitude toward themselves. The arrests last winter of an Israeli espionage ring, and the publicity recently given to it have further hardened U.A.R. public opinion, and no doubt this hardening will be continued by the public trials of the alleged spies scheduled to begin shortly.
23. Behind all this is the relative improvement, as they see it, in U.A.R. military strength and the fear that Israel may in another year or two feel it desirable to try a preventive military action to forestall this inevitable improvement in the Arab position. In the background is the feeling that the Israeli plan to divert Jordan waters may sooner or later make inevitable a showdown, which while it may still be two or three years distant, or even more, cannot indefinitely be postponed. There is a feeling in some quarters that the Israeli idea of irrigating and settling the Negev would imply a permanent cutting off of Egypt from the rest of the Arab world and would thus be profoundly unacceptable.
24. Late last autumn President Nasser greatly improved his public posture vis-à-vis Israel from the international point of view, by announcing in an interview with Harry Ellis of the Christian Science Monitor and Wilton Wyn of the AP that he would be prepared to honour U.N. resolutions on passage of Israeli shipping in the Suez Canal if Israel for its part would honour U.N. resolutions on the Palestine question, of which the Canal issue formed merely one part. As I reported at the time by telegram, this declaration by President Nasser was teed-up in advance by some unofficial American advisers. On the insistence of Hassanein Heikal the offer, which was originally intended to be one of directly balancing Suez Canal passage for Israeli shipping against implementation of the U.N. resolution on refugees, was hardened at least by implication to involve also Israeli implementation of the U.N. partition resolution. This seemed to remove any chance that it might be accepted.
25. I understand that this broadening, while Heikal had intended it to help protect Nasser’s position vis-à-vis propaganda attacks from other Arab governments, has had in effect exactly the opposite results, since reference to the partition resolution in the Monitor story led to criticism of Nasser by other Arab governments on the grounds that it implied a conditional willingness to recognize the existence of the State of Israel. Since then President Nasser has therefore tended to blur his offer somewhat. When I saw him ten days ago with the National Defence College group, he referred to this offer, when asked about Arab-Israeli relations, but did so in terms which would imply that Israeli implementation of the prior U.N. resolutions on Palestine would have to come first. He went on to imply that one of the elements in an eventual solution might have to be that Palestine as a whole become a mixed and balanced society, run politically by Jews and Arab Muslims together, rather on the analogy of the Lebanon which was a balanced society of Muslims and Christians. I had only a brief opportunity for any private talk with the President during that two-hour meeting, and did not consider it expedient with the twenty N.D.C. students present to take up time and embarrass the President by trying to pin him down on the exact terms of his earlier offer and the extent to which he was still willing to abide by them. But his vagueness on this point seemed to me rather significant.
26. On the other hand the political plausibility of President Nasser’s basic posture, that it would be unreasonable of the West to insist on implementation of only that one of the U.N. resolutions on Palestine which involves an Egyptian concession to Israel, while tacitly ignoring the U.N. resolutions calling for Israeli action on Arab refugees, has undoubtedly important elements of strength as a public international posture.
27. Before leaving the subject of U.A.R.-Israeli relations, on which I have reported more fully in other messages (e.g. my telegram 383 of May 14),† I should point out that the Cleopatra incident, and the rather vigorous and thus far at least successful U.A.R. reaction to it, have had the effect both of hardening the U.A.R. attitude to Israel, and of demonstrating to U.A.R. leaders their ability to call out unions in other Arab countries and to force other Arab governments to co-operate with them on an anti-Israeli anti-Western issue, despite the fact, of which the U.A.R. government is fully aware, that other Arab governments co-operated only reluctantly in the Arab boycott of American shipping.
28. This particular incident at least would also seem to suggest:
(a) that Israel is more likely to lose rather than to gain by bringing to a head a crisis in U.A.R.-Israeli relations;
(b) that whenever an Arab-Israeli crisis does eventuate the U.S.S.R. is apt to strengthen its position in the U.A.R. and the Arab world as a whole, vis-à-vis the West.
(The same points apply to the Israeli attack on Egypt in October 1956.)
29. While I personally have considerable sympathy with the apparent intention behind the Hayes-Douglas amendment to American economic aid legislation, which implies that U.S.A. economic assistance should be made conditional on certain acceptable standards of international behaviour, I have considerable doubts about the wisdom, from a practical viewpoint, of appearing to tie Western economic aid to the U.A.R. specifically to the question of U.A.R. attitudes towards Israel, unless there is a corresponding and balancing condition about Israeli attitudes towards the Arab refugees applied to U.S.A. economic relations with Israel itself. Without such balance, there is I think little reason to expect that the implied U.S.A. economic pressure on the Arabs would be successful, or even innocuous: it is much more likely to backfire, and to have important and highly adverse results for the West and even for Israel. I return to this question of Western economic aid below.
30. There are other aspects of U.A.R. policy, involving fields well outside the Middle East area itself, which are relevant to any assessment of the prospects for achieving satisfactory U.A.R.-Western relations. Two important ones relate to Africa and to South America.
31. Last autumn I suggested to President Nasser, and on various occasions since then I have suggested to various colleagues of his (Mahmoud Riad, Mourad Ghalib, Dr. Fawzi, Zackari Mohieddin, Hassenien Heikal, Anwar Sadat, and others) that the time might be ripe for a new look at their policy toward Africa. I suggested that it was now inevitable that at least most of Africa would be independent within the next few years, and that the real point was not therefore a struggle against colonialism, but the question whether the leaders of the various new sovereign African governments would be genuinely independent, moderate, and (probably) neutralist, or whether they would be extremists and whether they would come under significant and perhaps dominating influence from the Communist bloc. I suggested that it was not in the real long-term interest of the U.A.R. to encourage a situation where they would have significant Communist penetration on their western and southern flank, in Africa, at the same time as they had reason to apprehend dangerous Communist influence on their northeast flank in Iraq. I suggested that in this sense at least the U.A.R. leaders had a common interest with retiring imperial powers such as Britain, France and Belgium, and that they would do well to recognize this and not make more difficult an orderly hand-over to moderate national leaders.
32. I found President Nasser and his colleagues somewhat surprised by my thesis that they had a common interest with the West in African problems, but thoughtful about it and not inclined to dismiss it. In fact after discussion they tended to agree that this underlying common interest did exist, though they expressed scepticism about finding any corresponding awareness among the European colonial powers. I put forward the same suggestion to Mr. Selwyn Lloyd when I saw him in London in January, and to Sir Roger Stevens, Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. There too, I found a readiness to concede that a common interest on this matter with the U.A.R. might exist: though Mr. Lloyd seemed to feel considerable scepticism (with which I sympathize) about its prospects of leading to any practical cooperation. I understand however that since then some consideration was given in the U.K. Foreign Office to the possibility that Mr. Macmillan might send a personal message on the future of Africa to President Nasser after the U.K. Prime Minister’s return from his African tour. In the event no such message was sent.
33. I still do not find the idea of U.K.-U.A.R. discussion on Africa as fantastic as it might at first sight seem. But it is unhappily a fact that at the operative and executive level much of U.A.R. policy still seems to be devoted, as far as Africa is concerned, to rather violent anti-colonial propaganda on the Voice of the Arab radio, and I believe also to bribes and subsidies for fairly extreme African nationalists. More constructively, there are also very extensive scholarships to Cairo University and Al Azhar for “black Africa” students. But in Cairo, at least at the “working” levels, African policy still seems to be viewed largely in terms of the struggle against colonialism rather than being concerned with the attitudes of a future independent Africa toward domestic problems and toward the danger of Communist penetration. It is also of course to a considerable extent motivated by a desire to oppose Israeli relations with the new African leaders.
34. In practice U.A.R. influence on Africa, while not perhaps of very great effect as far as Black Africa is concerned, still seems to be largely on the side of elements which are relatively anti-Western. It is also more concerned with anti-Israeli than with constructive considerations.
35. While on the subject of Africa I might mention the U.A.R.’s disappointment, perhaps naïve, at the U.K. refusal to allow the U.A.R. to open consulates or consulates-general in a large number of sensitive African colonial capitals, (as well as in Aden, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Singapore), in return merely for granting permission to Mr. Crowe to re-open U.K. consulates in Alexandria and Damascus. U.A.R. leaders have tended to feel that the U.K. policy (which in fact is explained by the anti-Western and anti-U.K. tendencies of U.A.R. policy) is really based on a settled U.K. hostility and a desire to favour Zionism by allowing Israel to “get in first” in establishing intergovernmental relations with the new nationalist leaders of Africa and the Far East. I have tried to disabuse U.A.R. leaders of this suspicion, when they have expressed it to me as they frequently have, and have suggested that they try modifying their own propaganda policy. I have also suggested that they would be wiser to base their desire for U.A.R. consulates in Africa on the U.A.R.’s positive interests in the future national governments of independent African societies, rather than on competition with Israel. But I am afraid they still tend to regard the matter largely as a race with the Israelis.7This issue, I think, helps to explain also the U.A.R. failure thus far to accept U.K. overtures for an exchange of Ambassadors.
36. Another significant element of U.A.R. foreign policy during the past twelve months has been an attempt to cultivate closer relations with Latin America. As one element of this, Deputy Foreign Minister Zulficar Sabri has been paying an extended visit to Latin America, visiting most countries, and making arrangements for an extension of U.A.R. diplomatic representation in several Latin-American capitals. So far as can be judged from Cairo, Zulficar Sabri’s success has been greatest in the most anti-North American capitals, particularly of course Cuba, and has been rather limited in some of the less anti-U.S.A. capitals concerned. The U.A.R.’s main immediate interest in the development of an Arab-Latin American axis is of course on voting within the U.N., and an attempt to buy Latin American support on such questions as Algeria and Palestine. There is also a not insignificant trade interest. But anti-“Western” (in the sense of anti-North Atlantic) overtones have, from what one can gather from here, been by no means insignificant. This is perhaps not surprising, but seems a pity.
37. I raised this question with Zackari Mohieddin five or six weeks ago during a long conversation which I had with him, at his suggestion, on the general international situation. I did not mention Panama but he raised the question and said, with an apparently defensive air, that although the U.A.R. may appear to be urging Panama to take up an anti-American posture and to try to nationalize the Panama Canal, the fact was that the U.A.R. could not care less what the administration is of that Canal, and that the U.A.R.’s real interest was merely to consolidate its own international support in the U.N. for Arab issues.
38. Today I had a long talk with Mourad Ghalib. With him too I spoke of Latin America, in connection with the future of U.A.R.-American relations. He made this same point about Panama and said that he had sent instructions to the U.A.R. Minister there to be careful to avoid being tied in to anti-American campaigns; he said that the Canal analogy inevitably made this difficult, but he claimed that the U.A.R. wanted to avoid getting involved.8
39. Ghalib said that the idea of developing closer relations between the Afro-Asians and the Latin Americans seemed to him a normal one. I agreed but suggested that the interesting question was whether Cairo was seeking to give such an association an anti-U.S.A. bent. Apparently treating Cuba as its leading entry into closer relations with Latin America seemed to some to suggest this. Ghalib claimed that U.A.R. acceptance of Cuba’s invitation to an Afro-Asian-Latin American Conference in Havana had been made conditional on keeping the Conference to questions of economic cooperation and avoiding all tendencies to get involved in cold war politics.
40. However this may be it is I think important to recognize that Zulficar Sabri is personally by emotional bent rather anti-Western. His personal bias is I should think bound to have some effect.
41. In Africa and Latin America it seems to me that the real interest of the U.A.R. is not fundamentally opposed to that of the U.S.A., the U.K. and the North Atlantic civilization as a whole. It would I think be premature and self-defeating to despair of the possibility of changing U.A.R. policy in these fields; the prospects are perhaps not much worse than were those, eighteen months ago, of improving relations with the U.K. and Australia. Nevertheless the anti-Western aspects thus far of U.A.R. influence in Africa and Latin America, and perhaps too though less surely in the Far East, must be recognized for what they are worth. In particular it is only sensible to recognize that anti-colonial and anti-Anglo-Saxon postures come naturally and easily to U.A.R. leaders in view of their own personal experience and attitudes developed over the last thirty years. The speed and extent of the recent reversion to vitriolic anti-American propaganda, over the Cleopatra affair, are disturbing.
42. I am reporting separately on the recent Afro-Asian economic conference held in Cairo. The U.S.S.R. and Chinese Communists by no means got what they wanted at the Conference: but the U.A.R. attitude on the various politically critical issues was significant, precisely because it could easily have swung either way.
43. After heavy losses last year the U.S.S.R. seems lately, and for the time being at least, to have significantly improved its position in the U.A.R., and appears to be increasing its activities. Soviet economic aid to the U.A.R. was not cut off last year even at the height of President Nasser’s anti-Communist campaign, though there was a go-slow policy in deliveries especially to Syria. Since then the U.S.S.R. has agreed to undertake and finance the second stage of the Aswan High Dam project. There is some reason to believe that further arms may be supplied, though this is not yet certain. The U.S.S.R. seems interested and ready to provide substantial economic assistance to the Syrian Region, including important irrigation and power works on the Euphrates (this may involve them in problems with Turkey and Iraq). It is possible that the U.S.S.R., by other methods than those which failed so dismally during the past year and a half (opposition to the union with Cairo), may again be attempting to secure a position of dominant influence in the Syrian Region, which they doubtless consider of particular importance in the Arab world as lying athwart transport routes between the Mediterranean and Iraq and Jordan. In the propaganda and cultural fields, the U.S.S.R. seems to have significantly stepped up its activities recently after a falling-off last year; and there is again a spate of advertisements in the Cairo press for sales of Soviet books, increased attendance at Soviet film showings, etc. Undoubtedly the U.S.S.R. is exploiting the opportunity to regain something of the position it lost during 1959. No doubt the Soviet leaders will have learned some lessons from the violent reaction to Communist pressures last year, and may benefit from these lessons by using more restrained and cautious methods.
44. Moreover the Cairo Arabic press, particularly the Government-owned mass circulation newspaper Al Goumhouria, has been taking a particularly pro-Soviet and anti-Western line for several months. This is partly I think due to the personal bias of Salah Salem, and partly I suspect to a few Communist sympathizers on his staff. It may be that some of its excesses will lead in time to a reaction and shake-up. But thus far at least it has clearly enjoyed acquiescence from the Central U.A.R. authorities in its excessively anti-Western line, which has been much more extreme than that of such papers as Al Ahram or Akhbar Al Yom.
45. Nevertheless I do not think that President Nasser and his main advisers have forgotten the lessons which they learned in the last eighteen months about the long-term dangers of Soviet objectives in the Middle East, or that President Nasser has abandoned his view that for safety he should maintain some sort of balance in this region between Soviet and Western influence.
46. Australia recently suggested that their diplomatic missions be raised to the level of embassies, and suggested that the prospective new Australian representative in the U.A.R. should be an Ambassador rather than a Minister. This request has been outstanding for six weeks or more, thus far without any reply. I hope the U.A.R. will agree to the higher level of representation, which could I suppose affect the selection of personalities to be appointed, and will certainly in Cairo affect the scope of the Australian representative’s opportunities for influence.9
Anglo-Saxon Press Correspondents
There is another factor, on quite a different plane, but not less relevant, which should be considered in any assessment of the prospects over the next year or two of U.A.R.-Western relations. This concerns the reporting of the U.A.R. and the Middle East in general in the press of the U.S.A., U.K. and Canada. Until recently, there has been a good sized and able corps of Anglo-American press and radio correspondents in residence in Cairo. During the last few months there have been a number of changes. Mainly because of difficulties with U.A.R. censorship, and to some extent with the rather inefficient and slow U.A.R. policy on the granting of exit and re-entry visas to correspondents, but also in part to have readier access to Iraq, there has been a marked tendency for important Western correspondents to withdraw from Cairo. Thus Michael Adams of the Manchester Guardian recently transferred his residence to Beirut. Rawle Knox, the London Observer correspondent, also an outstanding man, has recently left and will not be replaced. David Holden, the outstanding Middle East correspondent of the London Times, left a few months ago and his work is to be carried on only by his local stringer. Similarly, the (U.S.A.) National Broadcasting Company’s correspondent is shortly to be transferred to India, and he tells me that his office do not intend to replace him, but will instead strengthen their Beirut bureau. There are still several able Western correspondents resident in Cairo and innumerable visiting ones. But the loss is significant.
48. I think that all this, while very understandable, is a pity. As recent events have again demonstrated, the U.A.R. régime is I think, at least in Egypt, the most stable (with Israel) of all the régimes of the Middle East. Cairo is far and away the most important metropolitan centre. This tendency of foreign correspondents to withdraw is obviously not in the U.A.R. government’s interests, as I have occasionally pointed out to various U.A.R. leaders in an effort to persuade them to liberalise their press censorship and visa policy. Recently they have been getting the wind up about this trend, and the Information Administration gave Rawle Knox a large silver tray when he left, in the hope of luring him back. They have also recently somewhat liberalised exit and re-entry visa policy for correspondents. But it seems to me that they are repeating, in the press field, a mistake which some time ago they made for a while, but quickly corrected, in the field of international civil aviation: difficulties at Cairo airport in connection with visa and customs etc. administration prompted a threat by various airlines to transfer their main Middle East centre from Cairo to Beirut. If this press trend is not reversed it will probably increase the tendency, which the U.A.R. leaders already notice and fear, for the Western press to play down the Arab nationalist and U.A.R. viewpoint on international questions. It could have consequent long-term implications for Western-Arab relationships. It is of course entirely the UAR’s own fault. But the problem remains. Incidentally it illustrates the U.A.R. régime’s propensity to play its cards badly in its dealings with the West.
Western Economic Aid
49. Recently many U.A.R. Ministers and officials have become concerned about the future prospects for U.S.A. economic aid: and not without reason, in view of the vitriolic attacks which have been made on America in speeches by President Nasser and Minister of Education Kamel Edin Hussein, and in the Cairo press and radio. These attacks shocked and disturbed many influential Egyptians. During the boycott several U.A.R. economic Ministers whom I happened to see at receptions, mentioned to me their fear that U.A.R. “spokesmen” (i.e. their President) and the press might be going too far, or more tactfully they expressed to me the hope that “the West” would not take these public statements too seriously. Two or three of the Egyptian region executive Ministers for economic subjects, several officials, and the industrialist Aboud Pasha (the owner, among other things, of the ship Cleopatra, who incidentally wanted to withdraw it from New York when it was boycotted, but was prevented from doing so on orders from the Presidency in view of the prestige issue involved) suggested to me that the boycotting was really a storm in the teacup, and regretted that it was not treated as such.
50. I suggested to Mourad Ghalib and Zackari Mohieddin, when they dined with me during the boycott at the party I had for the National Defence College visitors, that the intemperance of some of Cairo’s statements about the West was undoubtedly having an affect on the voting in the U.S.A. Congress on the Hayes-Douglas amendment to the U.S.A. economic aid legislation. Ghalib said he recognised that “U.A.R. mistakes were cleverly exploited by its enemies.”
51. Recently, though I think rather belatedly, the U.A.R. leaders seem to be seriously concerned about the long-term implications of this amendment. It is I think significant that neither President Nasser nor Under-Secretary of Economic Planning Abdul Rahman, when speaking to the National Defence College, mentioned in connection with the economic aid they were getting, anything about American aid, until I asked a question about it and mentioned the total for last year. Today, however, when I called on Mourad Ghalib at his request, for a general chat about the situation, he raised this among other questions, and said that during 1959 American aid was by a considerable amount the largest allocation of economic aid which the UAR had received from any source. He greatly hoped this would continue, and expressed concern at the instability for the U.A.R. and under-developed countries as a whole involved in the uncertainty about American aid. He said that he had received private assurances recently from the American Administration that the amendment need not affect their practice, but he expressed the fear that after President Eisenhower had left his successor might well take a different view. He suggested that this uncertainty, and the implied strings attached to American economic aid, were a very unsettling element in Western-U.A.R. relations. He claimed that last year during the fairly violent and sustained anti-Communist campaigns which the U.A.R. had undertaken, the Russians had never overtly implied that any strings were attached to their economic assistance: but he admitted, when I made the point, that by going slow in deliveries the Russians did imply a corresponding uncertainty and “strings.”
52. In reply to Ghalib’s expression of concern about the future attitude of the American public and Congress toward aid for the U.A.R., I suggested that this attitude was already to some extent shaped and would inevitably continue to be shaped by the American and other Western assessment of the prospects of eventually reaching a satisfactory long-term relationship with the U.A.R., based on reasonably dependable mutual respect, restraint, understanding and goodwill. I spoke to him about the American attitude toward India, which while it had been rather unfriendly under Mr. Dulles several years ago, had now become very satisfactory, and I thought relatively stable, irrespective of India’s neutralism. These relations of respect and confidence were, I thought, achieved precisely because the Americans felt that Indian policy was dependably neutral and not fundamentally hostile toward the West, and that it did not involve attitudes or habits likely to unsettle or weaken the fabric of the international community as a whole. I said that I hoped that the U.A.R. might also develop a comparable degree of confidence and stability in its relations with other governments and publics, based on genuine neutralism but with a respect for international points of view and a demonstrated restraint in its attitudes towards other countries. I said I thought the UAR was throwing away tricks by the violence of some of their reactions and comments on individual incidents which arose. Incidents were bound to arise from time to time, especially in relations with a vast and complex free society such as the U.S.A. I suggested that the recent $1,200,000,000 American PL480 agreement with India showed that United States economic aid could be given on terms which involved a possibility of planning with confidence over a long period, where the Americans had reason to feel that such aid would contribute to economic growth and political stability. But I thought that American and other Western leaders were bound to be concerned with some of the vitriolic attacks on the West recently expressed in Cairo propaganda, and were bound to wonder whether the U.A.R.’s policy did involve any underlying long-term hostility toward the West. It was not only public statements that were involved in an assessment, but actions in every sphere and region. This led to a discussion about U.A.R. policy in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and in the Afro-Asian movement. I have referred to some aspects of this conversation in various earlier sections of this despatch.
53. I hope this conversation may have done some good, but it would have been more useful with President Nasser himself. I did not however feel that I should ask to see him again, so soon after he had given me two hours with the N.D.C. group a fortnight ago, especially as he has been having a number of visitors, including Senator Fulbright and Prime Minister Nehru.
54. The question remains what the U.S.A. will do about the Hayes-Douglas amendment, and about the undertaking given by the State Department to try to persuade the U.A.R. to modify their attitude on passage of Israeli ships and goods through the Suez Canal.
55. One danger is the tendency of the U.A.R. leaders to react to any kind of pressure by moving violently in the opposite direction. Today at lunch the Acting Head of the Palestine Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry told me that the U.A.R. was under “considerable pressure” from other Arab countries to close the Gulf of Aqaba particularly if the West tried to force the U.A.R. to modify its Suez Canal policy towards Israel. I told him that I thought the U.A.R. would be very unwise indeed to contemplate any such action, since this would undoubtedly precipitate a major crisis between the U.A.R. and Israel, in which the U.A.R. would get little if any international sympathy.
56. I might report here that the Americans may be contemplating simultaneous approaches to the U.A.R. about the Suez Canal, and to Israel about their policy on Arab refugees in the light of outstanding U.N. resolutions. This gambit seems to me sensible. As you know the Hayes-Douglas rider on U.S. economic aid bills may create important domestic problems for the American Administration. It also raised important considerations about American and other Western economic aid policy in general, and of course difficult specific problems for American relations with the U.A.R. and the Arab world as a whole.
57. Personally I have for many years had considerable sympathy with the exasperation which from time to time comes to a head among Americans concerned, and their doubts about the desirability of continuing large-scale economic aid to countries which adopt violently anti-American policies in press, radio, speeches and diplomatic activities. Looking for gratitude as a criterion of economic aid policy is naïve and I think unsound. But it is I think not unreasonable, and indeed probably wise, for the West to maintain some relationship between the priorities to be adopted in allocating available aid funds among the many deserving claimants in the under-developed parts of the world, between those who maintain at least a tolerably cooperative and polite posture toward Western Christendom, and those who do not. This is not a new problem. I remember that when I was in Khuibishev in 1943 Admiral Stanley, the then U.S.A. Ambassador, publicly criticised the U.S.S.R. for its hesitation to acknowledge to its own public the extent of American lend-lease. His action was widely criticised in the West at the time, but I had considerable sympathy with his “indiscretion” and subsequent events have of course shown that he had a point. The question arose again in rather acute form about economic aid to Cambodia, when I was there in 1955-56. At that time the Cambodians received about the highest per capita U.S. aid of any country in the world, and embarked on violent and unfounded attacks on the U.S.A. The problem has arisen in many other parts of the world at other times. On the other hand the dangerous and unfavourable repercussions of Mr. Dulles’ sudden withdrawal of the American offer to support the Aswan Dam, or at least the repercussions of his deliberately provocative manner of withdrawing this support, are cautionary.
58. This problem of how much aid to give to those who kick you in the teeth is bound to arise again in the near future regarding the U.A.R. I would like to make a few comments on it:
(i) First, I think it would definitely be unwise to tie American aid to the Arab States specifically and overtly to the question of Arab concessions toward Israel, unless thee is some balancing condition put on aid to Israel in terms of Israeli observance of corresponding U.N. admonitions on related aspects of the Palestine problem.10I am speaking here not in terms of justice and reason but on terms of probable practical effect. The Arabs, and particularly President Nasser, will react adversely to any pressure that seems one-sided and unfair as regards the Palestine question.
(ii) On the other hand it is not I think at all necessary that the United States should inevitably continue to give aid to the U.A.R. at the rate at which it gave it last year. In 1959 the U.S.A. had very strong reasons to help the U.A.R., since at that time President Nasser was beginning courageously to stand up against Soviet pressure, in order to encourage the U.A.R. not to succumb to the implied threat by Moscow to withdraw, or to go slow in implementing, Soviet aid to the Egyptian and Syrian regions if Cairo did not lie down quietly under Soviet pressure on Iraq and by implication on Syria and Jordan. It was I think the desire to counteract any apprehended or potential U.S.S.R. blackmail which lay behind a good many of then U.S.A. Ambassador Raymond Hare’s recommendations for aid — or so Mr. Hare told me at the time. These considerations, which I think were uppermost in his mind, seemed and still seem to me very sensible. But at present such danger of Soviet blackmail on the U.A.R. is not, so far as can now be seen, an imminent problem: though it could become so again.
(iii) It may be harmful to let the U.A.R. leaders form the impression that the West can be attacked with impunity, and that Western aid will necessarily continue at the same level irrespective of the standards of international behaviour, in propaganda and otherwise, of the U.A.R. itself. Some degree of quiet modulation of the extent of Western aid, in response to U.A.R. behaviour, might be positively salutary in helping the U.A.R. to grow up. But I think public statements about this should be avoided, and that the secret of successful modulation of the amount of aid probably lies in verbal restraint on the Western side.
(iv) Whatever the U.S.A. Administration may decide to do in relation to its economic aid policy toward the U.A.R., it is I think in general unwise to create unnecessarily any prestige issues with President Nasser. When such prestige issues are raised he can almost invariably be counted upon to react violently and adversely. Such pressures are thus almost certain to be counter-productive.
(v) The U.A.R. remains of major strategic importance for the future of the Arab world as a whole, and to a lesser but by no means inconsiderable extent, for the future of Asia and Africa because of its influence in the Afro-Asian movement. It is therefore unwise to throw out unnecessary gauntlets. This country is not expendable.
59. I feel sure that the U.S.A. Embassy here and the State Department are well aware of these considerations. I hope that they will also be fully appreciated by U.S.A. political leaders and Congressmen concerned. The fact that this is an election year in the United States naturally does not make this particularly easy.
60. In conclusion it is I think worth mentioning here, as I have reported on various occasions already, that Canada’s own diplomatic and public position with the U.A.R. political leaders and their public, is, for the time being at least, exceptionally good, and out of all proportion to our relative real strength in the Western world. There is a tendency, on the part of U.A.R. leaders and public, to regard Canada as relatively “objective and impartial,” while nevertheless not without influence in helping to shape the attitudes and policies of the West as a whole. U.A.R. leaders have gone out of their way, recently as well as on many earlier occasions, to give evidence of their respect and goodwill toward our country. Their recent reception of the National Defence College, and the two-hour interview with President Nasser, and a spate of favourable press and news-reel publicity, contrasting with the U.A.R. refusal to allow the U.S.A. National War College to visit Cairo, is only one of several instances. I get an embarrassing number of comments from innumerable Egyptians, official and private, expressing appreciation and respect for Canada.
61. On the other hand it is important to remember that influence is only useful to the extent that it is used for worthwhile purposes.
62. While there is no need to regard the overall situation at all tragically, it is certainly impossible to be at all complacent about the future of Western relations with this area. The main problems of the region, which have already given rise to several major crises — in two of which within the last four years Western troops have been landed in emergency situations — remain unsettled. The Israeli-Arab problem is if anything gradually becoming more ominous. The Arab nationalist revolution is still unfinished, and still in movement, though it is by no means certain to what extent it will as it moves forward necessarily involve a significant degree of Arab unity at least in organic political structure. The future of the sensitive oil areas, Kuwait and Libya, remains undetermined.
63. I am delighted at the prospect of leaving the Middle East at the end of this week for several months in Canada: this is not a restful area. I suspect that Mr. Irwin will have an interesting summer, and I am happy that the Embassy will be in his hands. I also feel confident that sufficient problems will remain in the Middle East to keep diplomats from ennui for a long time to come. I know that when I return to Cairo in the autumn it will still seem one of the most fascinating of diplomatic posts.
4 En avril 1960, le Syndicat maritime national à New York a boycotté le navire de charge égyptien Cleopatra, pour protester contre le refus de la République arabe unie de permettre aux navires qui transportent du fret appartenant aux Israéliens de passer par le Canal de Suez.
In April 1960, the Egyptian cargo ship Cleopatra was boycotted in New York by the National Maritime Union, as a protest against the UAR’s refusal to allow ships carrying Israeli-owned cargo to pass through the Suez Canal.
5En réalité, cela fait référence à l’amendement Douglas-Keating. Voir “Boycott Battle Looms in Senate,” New York Times, May 1, 1960, p. 2, et Russell Baker, “Senate Votes Aid Outlay; Retains Anti-Arab Clause,” New York Times, May 3, 1960, p. 1.
This actually refers to the Douglas-Keating amendment. See “Boycott Battle Looms in Senate,” New York Times, May 1, 1960, p. 2, and Russell Baker, “Senate Votes Aid Outlay; Retains Anti-Arab Clause,” New York Times, May 3, 1960, p. 1.
6Le 1er février 1960, les Forces israéliennes ont lancé une attaque surprise contre le village de Tawafiq, qu’elles pensaient être un poste militaire illégal.
Israeli forces carried out a raid on the Syrian village of Tawafiq on February 1, 1960 because they believed it to be an illegal military post.
7Note marginale :/Marginal note:
But it is. [A.E. Ritchie?]
8Note marginale :/Marginal note:
UAR had heard from Seoud here about USSEA’s remarks, evidently. [A.E. Ritchie?]
9Note marginale :/Marginal note:
One of the few capitals where the title still makes a difference? [A.E. Ritchie?]
10Note marginale :/Marginal note:
Good point. [A.E. Ritchie?]