Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nu-Clear and Present Danger

Well as a way to take a break from teaching, I volunteer once a week at an NGO where I .... teach. This experience differs from my day job though as the class is focused on conversational English and is geared towards university students. The idea behind the NGO is to offer lesser privileged university students with the skills needed to find better jobs. These skills include English, French, or German, as well as computer and communication skills.
The other night, despite the NGO guidelines, our conversation in class turned towards the political. Having recently been through somewhat of a crash course on all things nuclear this past spring, I was eager to take Egypt's nuclear temperature. My fellow teacher and I posed the question, should Egypt have a nuclear weapon? The response was a resounding yes. The main arguments were two-fold. First, they argued that Egypt needs to defend itself against its enemy: Israel, and second, that every country has the right to build a nuclear weapon (no matter what the United States might say) and that right should be exercised.
What I found surprising was the student's multiple references to the "couple" countries who have nuclear weapons. In reality many more countries maintain nuclear arsenals. Conversely, the students included Iran as a country that has nuclear weapons. Perhaps the most awkward pause though came when we asked them: why do you consider Israel your enemy? Aren't both countries at peace? This question was met with resounding silence.
The discussion could have easily continued through the night but unfortunately we had to cut it short. Not only did we have grammar exercises to do, but the discussion was turning down a dangerous side street as indicated by the question, "why does the United States think it can tell other countries what to do?" I told them that was another topic for another day.
Overall I was excited to get some insight into how young Egyptians view their country and the world's nuclear ambitions, and I look forward to continuing nonproliferation studies. It may be one of the only fields that allows for a unique combination of hard power, strategic know-how, and the rare but somehow familiar trait of idealism.

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