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Why Kim Jong-il wished Egypt's Mubarak a Happy New Year

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The relationship grew even while Egypt was developing close ties with the United States after the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979. Egypt was seen as a close friend of the United States even as Mubarak visited Pyongyang three times in the 1980s and a fourth time in 1990 in search of military and commercial deals.

The Egypt-North Korean relationship was confirmed again in late January when Kim Jong-il hosted Naguib Samiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom, the biggest mobile phone company in the Middle East and the centerpiece in Egypt’s biggest business group. Orascom formed North Korea’s mobile phone network, Koryolink, in late 2008 as a joint venture in which Orascom owns 75 percent of the equity and a North Korean state company has the rest. Orascom has since invested an estimated $400 million in Koryolink, which now has more than 300,000 subscribers.

Indicative of the importance of Orascom as an investor in North Korea’s decrepit economy, Kim honored Mr. Samiris with the kind of state dinner generally reserved for the few chiefs of state who have visited Pyongyang, including Mubarak. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency disseminated a photograph of Samiris clasping the hands of Kim on his left and Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, viewed as North Korea’s second-ranking leader, on his right.

Exclusive Monitor photos of unfolding events in Egypt

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