Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for a three-day trip with the intention of uniting forces in the region while trying to settle disagreements over the war in Syria. This marks the first trip by an Iranian president to Egypt since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, signaling the shifting dynamics in the region.
Such a meeting with Egypt’s former president Mubarak would have been unimaginable – and this follows Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s visit to Tehran in August.
Reuters reported that Morsi kissed Ahmadinejad and gave him a high-level reception with military honors as the Iranian president called for “a new starting point in relations between us.”
He also was quoted by Al-Mayadeen, a Beirut-based TV station, as stating, “The political geography of the region will change if Iran and Egypt take a unified position on the Palestinian question.”
Iran’s intention to form a united front with Egypt was also demonstrated by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who said that relations were “gradually improving” and that there was a need to “be a little patient.” He went on to state, “I’m very hopeful about the expansion of the bilateral relationship,” he told Reuters.
Prof. Barry Rubin, the director of the GLORIA Center and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, wrote in his Rubin Reports blog that the anti-Semitism of the two regimes are similar.
Rubin notes, “This is not just rhetoric but their political analysis: evil, subhuman Jews bent on world conquest and destroying Islam are running the United States but at the same time America is the centerpiece of the conspiracy to destroy Islam.”
He goes on to say that both are revolutionary regimes and a main difference between the two is that Morsi is more pragmatic and “smarter at using the United States whereas Iran’s rulers continue to antagonize it.”
Both leaders eye the reestablishment of full diplomatic ties, though Egypt must tread carefully because of its dependence on Western and Gulf economic aid. The Sunni Gulf states are weary about any Iranian-Egyptian alliance and have made their opinion of Iran clear.
As the Iranian president landed in Cairo, the Saudi-government backed daily Asharq Al-Awsat ran an editorial by Abdul Rahman al-Rashed stating that Iran finances conflicts and starts battles all over the world, “with a finger in every pie across the world.”
A day earlier, the paper ran an article about Iran’s increasing activity in Yemen and another pro-Gulf Arab paper, Al-Hayat, ran a story this week about the return of Iraqi Shi’ite political parties from Iran with an agreement to support Iraq’s leader, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
To sooth Gulf worries, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said on Tuesday that “the security of the Gulf is a red line and Egypt will not tolerate any attempt to harm it.” In a meeting with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told Ahmadinejad not to interfere in the affairs of Bahrain or other Gulf states and to uphold the rights of Iran’s Sunni minority, as reported by the AFP. Iran has been linked with attempts of instigating Shi’ite protests in the Sunni dominated Gulf countries.
However, this may not be enough to convince the anti- Iranian block of conservative Sunni states, which seek to maintain the status quo and put down any Islamic revolutionary activity.
Besides the Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria are also seeking to put down any revolutionary opposition, whether by the Muslim Brotherhood or jihadi Islamists such as al-Qaida. All of these regimes are fighting to stay in power, seeking to prevent and put down any uprisings or protests.
Notice that the two soothing statements made to the Gulf States were made by Egypt’s leading diplomat, and the head of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, who was appointed by Mubarak in 2010. The diplomat has a clear interest in allaying tensions with foreign countries, especially those that are supporting the country financially.
And the head of Al-Azhar was appointed by the former president of Egypt, who was a member of the conservative block, opposing revolutionary Islamic movements such as the Brotherhood. So it is no wonder, that he has voiced support for his ideological brethren in the Gulf.
Michael Rubin, an American scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post, “In the West, too often we bifurcate the Middle East into opposing groups: Arabs versus non Arabs, Sunnis versus Shi‘ites, dictatorships versus democracies, and republics versus monarchies.
The fact that Morsi and Ahmadinejad are shaking hands in Cairo suggests that the desire to spread Islamist revolution and support Islamist terror groups for now trumps any sectarian divide which diplomats use to reassure themselves.”
He went on to say, “If a competition develops for who can be the top Islamist leader emerges between Morsi, Ahmadinejad, and Erdogan, there will be no winner; the Middle East will lose and the casualties from terrorism and conflict enormous.”
The sticking point of Syria, where Iran backs Bashar Assad, while Egypt despises the regime for its massacre of fellow Sunnis, is a major point of contention, but if this obstacle could be overcome by some kind of compromise, it would move the countries closer.
This sentiment was reflected by Morsi when he said that Iran was key to resolving the Syrian conflict, “I believe that the Syrian problem could not be resolved without Iran and Iran’s efforts in this regard are prioritized,” as quoted by Press TV.
He went on to echo the Iranian president, “Iran and Egypt can expand their cooperation in different sectors and the world will definitely witness a new form of Iran-Egypt cooperation. Iran and Egypt have always sought peace, progress and security because we believe that our nations are entitled to progress.”