Iran’s media ‘optimistic’ about relations with Egypt

Regime-linked news sites say Cairo-Tehran links ‘central issue’ on president-elect’s foreign policy agenda.

Mohamed Morsy supporters in Tahrir 390 (photo credit: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters)
Mohamed Morsy supporters in Tahrir 390
(photo credit: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters)
Even as Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Morsy moved to deny that he had told an Iranian news outlet he planned to rethink a peace treaty with Israel and rekindle ties with Tehran, the issue of Iranian- Egyptian links remained a hot topic on Iran’s media on Tuesday.
Two of Iran’s news sites – Mashregh News, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guards, and Tabnak, the website of ex-Revolutionary Guards commander and Expediency Discernment Council secretary Mohsen Rezaee – published editorials expressing optimism that Iran’s ties to Egypt would slowly improve under a Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
Iran severed all diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1979, after then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat signed the historic Camp David Accords with Israel. In a move that infuriated Egypt, Iran named a Tehran street after Khalid Islambouli, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist who assassinated Sadat in October 1981. (In 2001, Iran changed the street’s name to the more generic – but still politically charged – Intifada Street.) According to Iranian scholar Prof. David Menashri, president of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, Iran has long sought to improve its relations with Egypt, which have thawed somewhat since former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011.
Iran has taken credit for influencing the events of the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution, Menashri said. The regime has tried to create the impression that change in Egypt was influenced by the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the reformists have claimed that the 2009 protests against the disputed election victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were the stimulus, he said.
Menashri pointed out that immediately after Mubarak was ousted, Iran moved to test its power by asking Egypt permission to allow two of its naval vessels to transit the Suez Canal, a request Egypt granted.
While it is in Iran’s interests to show that it and Egypt are close – alongside Turkey, the two states are the Middle East’s key countries – there remains a “gulf of mistrust” between them, Menashri said, noting that Iran also has to consider other influential players such as Saudi Arabia and the US.
As far as Morsy is concerned, Menashri said it was “too soon to tell” whether he will move for greater ties with Iran, adding that the new president will have to consider Egypt’s many different populations, and the fact that almost half the electorate did not vote for him.
Significantly, Menashri said, while the Muslim Brotherhood is based on religion, in Iran the supreme authority is Islamic and religious whereas in Egypt a democratic process is occurring.
Mashregh, in an editorial titled “The future of Iran-Egypt ties,” predicted that Iran’s links with Egypt would improve over time. However, the news outlet wrote, stumbling blocks include the US, which it said had a vested interest in Egypt and Iran failing to normalize relations, and was trying to use Israel as a base to influence the region.
“Some Arab countries – presumably Saudi Arabia – don’t want normal relations between Egypt and Iran, the Mashregh said, adding that Israel was “another obstacle,” which would try to directly and indirectly impact the Brotherhood.
Importantly, Mashregh pointed a finger at Egyptian Salafists, a Sunni Islamist movement, accusing them of hindering improved Iran-Egyptian relations, saying the group has spread anti-Iran propaganda in Egypt and that they are funded by Saudi Arabia.
Egypt’s leading Salafist party, the ultraconservative al-Nour – which backed Morsy in the runoff election – has accused Iran of trying to spread Shi’ite Islam in Egypt.
Mashregh said the Egyptian people are keen to improve their country’s ties with Iran, and that the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders have a “balanced perspective” on foreign relations and look to relations with Iran.
The Revolutionary Guards-linked news outlet said Iran should be optimistic that relations between the Islamic Republic and Egypt will develop under Morsy’s presidency.
In an editorial titled “Won’t Egypt’s Morsy come to Iran?,” Tabnak said that the most important foreign policy challenges the Egyptian president- elect faces are his country’s relationships with Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as the issue of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel.
However, Tabnak also noted that the voting statistics revealed that even though Morsy was elected, there are “sharp divisions” in Egypt, and that his short-term challenge was to create domestic unity. He therefore will not have time for foreign policy for some time yet.