Egypt had a nuclear weapon research program from 1954 to 1967, developed in response to Israel's nuclear capabilities and other regional politics.
According to Shyam Bhatia, author of "Nuclear Rivals in the Middle East," President Gamal Abdul Nasser's science advisor from 1965-1970, Salah Hedayat, urged that Egypt develop an independent nuclear fuel cycle along with a plutonium production reactor and a reprocessing plant.
"Motivated in part by concerns that Israel was involved in nuclear weapons development, (Hedayat) apparently felt it was incumbent upon Egypt to try to match Israel's nuclear capabilities," wrote Barbara M. Gregory in the Nonproliferation Review.
According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Egypt approached the Soviet Union and China in the early 1960s with requests for nuclear arms but was turned down by both.
After suffering defeat at the hands of the Israelis in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 and frustrated by the inability to gain easy access to nuclear weapons technology from the Soviet Union and China, Egypt discarded its nuclear arms ambitions.
After President Anwar Sadat came into office in 1970, the country began to improve relations with the United States and Israel in order to secure western investment. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and ratified the NPT in 1981, after refusing to do so in response to discovering Israel's nuclear ambitions.
In 1998, concern that Egypt would actively pursue a weapons program arose after Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, said Egypt would acquire nuclear weapons if it became necessary.
"Acquiring material for nuclear weapons has become very easy and it can be bought," Mubarak said, in a break with the former regime.
A November 2004 update of Egypt's current nuclear status by nuclear experts at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies stated that "Egypt's active nuclear research program and recent activities and acquisitions aimed at developing an independent nuclear fuel cycle could provide cover and opportunity for developing a clandestine weapons program. However, Egypt has never possessed nuclear weapons and does not have experience in developing them clandestinely."
In 2005, the IAEA said it had found evidence of secret nuclear experiments in Egypt that could be used in weapons programs, but has not yet drawn a conclusion about the scope and purpose of the experiments. In January, the organization dispatched a team of inspectors to investigate allegations that Egypt had conducted undeclared experiments, Reuters reported.
"The work appeared to have been sporadic, involve small amounts of material and lack a particular focus," the agency told the Associated Press.
Egypt's government has rejected these claims.
"Nothing about our nuclear program is secret and there is nothing that is not known to the IAEA," said Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady in January 2005.
Egypt is critical of Israel's nuclear weapons program, and because of Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal, Egypt has become one of the most vocal critics of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.