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ISSN : 2384-0668(Print)
ISSN : 2384-0692(Online)
S/N Korean Humanities Vol.5 No.1 pp.103-136

Courting the “Traitor to the Arab Cause”: Egyptian-North Korean Relations in the Sadat Era, 1970-1981

Balázs Szalontai
Korea University
December 23, 2018 February 22, 2019 March 1, 2019


This article analyzes the diplomatic aspects of Egyptian-North Korean relations, with a brief overview of the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser and with a focus on Anwar el-Sadat’s presidency. On the basis of Hungarian, U.S., and Romanian archival documents, it investigates why the post-1973 reorientation of Egyptian foreign policy toward a pro-American position did not lead to a breakdown of the Egyptian-North Korean partnership. The article describes such episodes as North Korea’s military contribution to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian-North Korean cooperation in the Non-Aligned Movement, Kim Il Sung’s equivocal reactions to the Egyptian-Israeli peace process, and the militant Arab states’ dissatisfaction with Pyongyang’s unwillingness to condemn the “treacherous” Camp David Accords. It concludes that the main pillars of the Sadat-Kim Il Sung partnership were their simultaneous cooperation with China, their shared enmity for the USSR, and their fear of diplomatic isolation. Still, the North Korean leaders, anxious as they were to prevent an Egyptian-South Korean rapprochement, were more often compelled to adapt to Egypt’s diplomatic preferences than vice versa. The ambivalence, vacillation, prevarication, and opportunism that characterized Pyongyang’s interactions with Cairo belied the common image of North Korea as an iron-willed, militant state cooperating with other revolutionary regimes on the basis of equality, mutual trust, and anti-imperialist solidarity.