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5 UN Letters That Reveal Egypt’s History Through Diplomacy

June 4, 2022
Image Credit: Al Arabiya

Diplomacy has existed for millennia, a political tool of peace that ensured earlier civilizations maintained peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals. In fact, the earliest recorded treaty in political history was between Ancient Egypt and the Hittites.

With the advent of globalization and international relations in the early twentieth century, diplomacy took a formal shape under the newly-established United Nations (UN) in 1945. Egypt was inducted as a member the same year.

The UN now offers a digital library of diplomatic correspondences that date as far back as the 1940s. By probing through this expansive archive, Egypt’s historical political events are relived through past diplomacy.


Image Credit: National Archives

The Suez Crisis – also known as the Tripartite Aggression – was a full-fledged invasion of Egypt in October 1956 by Israel, the United Kingdom, and France following Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. Initially a British-led company, the Suez Canal was deemed the sovereign right of Egypt by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The attempted recapture of the Suez Canal was met with disapproval by the international community, with the UN and US being staunchly against the tripartite aggression. A correspondence between the UN Secretary-General of the time, Dag Hammarskjöld, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Fawzi aimed to reach a resolution in support of Egypt’s sovereignty.

Referred to by Hammarskjöld as the Suez ‘problem’, the Secretary-General communicated with Fawzi about the UN’s support in recognizing Egypt as the authority on matters regarding the Canal. The correspondence would also inspire the inception of the UN Emergency Forces (UNEF), which were deployed to restrict aggression between all parties involved.


Image Credit: Britannica

The Six-Day War, or 1967 Arab-Israeli War, was a one-week conflict initiated on 5 June, 1967 between a coalition of Arab states – primarily Egypt, Syria, and Jordan – and Israel. Akin to the Suez Crisis of 1956, the conflict began with a preemptive strike by Israel on Egypt.

The offensive launched by Israel would lead to the capture of Sinai, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.

A report by then-Secretary-General U Thant on Egypt’s request to withdraw the UNEF from Sinai on 8 May confirmed Israel’s preemptive attack. The air assault led to the death of one Brazilian peacekeeper and 14 Indian peacekeepers.


Image Credit: Sputnik

The October War, also known as Yom Kippur War, was initiated by Egypt and Syria as an armed operation to reclaim the land occupied by Israel since 1967. The conflict, the subject of an urgent UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on 11 October, was fought from 6 to 25 October 1973.

Following the war, Israel would accuse Egypt of violating the Geneva Conventions through the murder and torture of Israelis. Egypt’s UN Permanent Representative at the time, Dr. Esmat Abdel Meguid, firmly rejected those claims in a letter to the UNSC President on 28 December 1973. Instead, Abdel Meguid redirected the accusations toward Israel.

‘It is evident that whatever allegations are made by the Government of Israel, they cannot succeed in detracting the attention of the whole world from the Israeli arrogant and ruthless policy, which has become legendary in the United Nations; and which is based on the total rejection and flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, in pursuance of Israel’s aims of occupation and annexation,’ the letter reads.


Image Credit: Foreign Policy

Decades of armed conflicts between Egypt and Israel were put to a stop under the peace process sponsored by President Anwar Sadat. Peace was on the agenda for Egypt, Israel, and the UN following decades of regional tension and economic damage to both sides.

Consequently, The Camp David Accords, signed by Sadat, US President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978, established a long-lasting framework for peace between the two warring states.

On 6 October 1981, a mere few years after the accords were signed, Sadat was assassinated. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim expressed his condolences in a letter to then-acting president Hosni Mubarak.

An additional letter attached to the archive highlighted how a segment of fellow Arabs, predominantly members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), celebrated the death of Sadat – who was considered a traitor to the Arab and Palestinian cause following peace talks with Israel.

‘While you mourn the death of Anwar Sadat, I wonder if it might not be appropriate to take a moment to speak out to those friends of yours/the Palestine Liberation Organization members, who danced in the streets of Beirut over the death of Mr. Sadat,’ read the letter.


Image Credit: Sada El Balad

While an ongoing and escalating situation, previous diplomatic correspondences have already been made by Egypt to the UN regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Egypt has expressed on several occasions that it fears the hasty filling of the dam will dry its own Nile water reservoirs.

A letter from Egypt’s current Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to the current UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 19 June 2020, indicated that the situation was ‘a matter of the greatest consequence for Egyp,’ highlighting the need for diplomatic intervention.

The letter refutes Ethiopia’s claims that failed negotiations for a solution are due to Egypt’s inadequate recommendations during previous rounds of talks.

‘I will not, in this letter, engage in a detailed refutation of the misrepresentations and distortions of fact [by Ethiopia]…Rather, I wish to highlight the reality that Egypt has engaged, in a spirit of good faith, for almost a decade, in innumerable rounds of negotiations on the GERD,’ Shoukry adds.

The letter concludes by urging the UNSC to convene and consider the matter so as to not lead to future international friction or security threats.

Egypt’s persisting problem with Ethiopia, with no viable solution for both parties appearing at the moment, may eventually require the diplomatic assistance of the UN once again in Egypt’s history.