Iran-Egypt Relations Enters a New Phase
Iran and Egypt have entered a new phase of relations, rosy but full of unresolved problems
Negotiations between Iranian and Egyptian officials have entered a new phase. In the recent weeks two senior Iranian officials, i.e. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, parliament’s spokesman, and Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, Supreme Leader’s advisor, visited Egypt to talk on normalization of ties with Egypt.
On his meeting with Husni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, Nategh Nouri said: “in talks with Mubarak, we reached agreements on increasing meetings between senior delegations of Tehran and Cairo in different areas, working towards further concordance and increasing the level of relations, especially in political and economic affairs.”
According to Nategh Nouri, regional issues and means to support Iran-Egypt ties were discussed. About the possibility of concordance between Iran and Egypt on Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, Nategh Nouri stated: “Egypt and Iran are two great countries of the region and they can influence the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine”
Nategh also thanked Egypt’s aid to the Palestinian nation, especially to the people of Gaza, by re-opening the Rafah border crossing and mediation of the Egyptian President between Fathah and Hamas.
About the probability of the United States’ attack to Iran, he said: “there is a remote possibility that the United States chooses the military option and opens a new front in the region, especially when it’s stuck in the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently they’ve focused on [presidential] elections and domestic problems such as the falling dollar and the economic recession and they know well that attacking Iran will backfire on them.”
Iran’s Parliament Speaker, Haddad Adel, who had traveled to Cairo to attend the Interparliamentary Summit of the Islamic States, met the Egyptian President and discussed the latest developments in the region, particularly the bilateral ties.
Developments of Iraq, Lebanon’s political crisis, Iran’s nuclear issue, and reinforcement of bilateral ties were some of the matters discussed in this meeting. Haddad Adel remarked that: “my visit as the Parliament Speaker after 30 years of fallout was aimed to improve the relations.”
He described his meeting with Egyptian officials as friendly and stated: “what we saw in these meetings was preparedness to start over new relations between the two countries based on increasing cooperation, and my visit to Egypt to realize the intended goals of both sides had a positive result.”
Stating that decisions on future meetings between Egyptian and Iranian officials have not been taken yet, he said: “in this visit, agreements on continuing the meetings between Iranian and Egyptian officials, and also expansion of ties were made.”
In this regard, referring to regular contacts between his country and Iran, despite non-existence of diplomatic ties, Husni Mubarak emphasized that Iran is a major and influential country of the region.
About the level of cooperation between Iran and Arab countries, especially Egypt, Mubarak said: “we have regular contacts with Iran despite the lack of diplomatic relations after peace between Egypt and Israel (the Camp David Treaty).”
On the level of contacts he remarked: “resumption of diplomatic ties, regional developments and ways to expand cooperation are the major focus of these negotiations.”
About the time to restart Iran-Egypt ties Mubarak said: “we may resume the relations after unsolved problems have been cleared up.”
Speaking with La Republica, about concerns of Iran’s rising influence in the region, especially in Iraq, Mubarak stated: “I prefer not to talk about the influence of Iran or any other country, rather I would like to discuss about the role of Iran and its aid to other countries to establish peace, stability, and security. Iran is an important country of the region and can play a positive, constructive role to realize stability in the Middle East and [Persian] Gulf countries.”
Therefore, it seems that with frequent visits of Iranian officials to Egypt, especially visits of the Supreme Leader’s confidants which are generally aimed to expand bilateral ties, Iran-Egypt case is entering a new phase and the relations between the two countries will become friendlier.
Why are Egyptians hesitant?
As it was said, the frequent visits of Iranian officials to Egypt, that will most likely continue if nothing extraordinary happens, shows that they are determined to resume ties with Egypt. But this time, unlike Khatami’s meeting with Mubarak which didn’t lead to normalization of relations; serious attempts show that Iranian and Egyptian officials apparently want the relations to restart as soon as possible.
But seemingly, despite suggestions, the relations between two countries are not going to restart hastily and without taking notice towards the realities of the region. Although the visits of the officials of the two countries have become frequent, the level of diplomatic relations hasn’t been promoted yet. It seems that although the two countries try to keep the media away from the depth of differences; these differences are really serious and deep.
The quality of Iranian officials’ visits to Egypt reveals that the normalization of Iran-Egypt ties is pursued with especial attention and care.
The reason why the relations haven’t been promoted and the problems remain unsolved, is completely obvious. 30-year old differences can’t be resolved through one single night. We mustn’t forget that there’s no need to make haste in normalizing relations with Egypt, although Egypt can be a key country in Iran’s diplomatic relations. Due to the current circumstances, Iranians do not want to yield to Egyptians’ demands easily, especially when it seems that these demands are based merely on Egypt’s political and regional interests. Therefore, as Mr. Larijani has stated, there shouldn’t be any haste in restarting ties with Egypt.
Concerning the Iranian party, three points are noteworthy. Firstly, Egypt is a country that has lost its traditional political position in the region and it’s not the key country it used to be. As a result of the developments of the region, the Egyptians have been replaced by Saudi Arabians in the Arab and Middle Eastern affairs. Therefore, Iranians tend to take advantage of this situation and establish ties before Egypt regains its previous position.
The next point is the common threat for both countries. The Great Middle East project and United States’ plans to change the political structures of Middle East countries, has lead to an affinity between the stances of Iran and Egypt. To extend their project, Americans have put Egyptians under pressure and even during the 2005 presidential elections of Egypt they acted against Mubarak’s government since it oppressed civil movements. As to Iran, the Americans are increasing their threats day by day and they have even threatened Iran with a military attack. It is because of these threats that Iran and Egypt have taken closer stances in recent years.
The last point is that Egypt-Israel relations are not as warm as before. During recent months Egyptians have come into direct contacts with the Iran-supported Hamas movement. Even Israel security bodies accused them of helping Hamas with military aid. In Lebanon, Egyptians are interested in playing an independent role in competition with Saudi Arabia and they follow the same policy in Iraq. Since Iran plays a part in these issues, therefore, Egyptians have to sit at the table of negotiations with Iran to attain their goals. That makes normalization of ties with Iran inevitable.
But there are different reasons that explain Egyptians’ hesitation in normalizing relations with Iran despite their urgent need.
One reason is their fear from Iran’s influence in the region. After Hizbullah’s victory in 33-days war with Israel, Iran found an increasing influence in the region. Since the focus moved to Shiites, and Arab states like Egypt have Sunni regimes, this has become a cause of concern for them. Iranians are fully aware of this fact and they try to make the best of it for their own interests. That is why Iranians too are not willing to restart the relations quickly.
Iran’s influence in Iraq, a sign of which is the extremely friendly relations with the present government and other parties and political groups at the higher levels; Iran’s influence in Lebanon, through the heavy presence of Hizbullah Movement in this country; and Iran’s influence in Palestine, with heavy support for Hamas, are reasons why Arab countries such as Egypt have become alert about Iran’s influence in the region.
Palestine, which is the symbol of Arabs’ resistance, has now adopted Iran as a model. Iraq, which is the religious heritage (as the center of caliphate) of Arabs, is facing the rise of Shiite parties that are firmly supported by Iran and are not willing to lose this support at all. Lebanon, the most democratic of Arab countries, is under the control of Iran-supported Hizbullah. Therefore it is natural for Arab countries that have not yet recognized the Iraqi government, Hizbullah Movement and Hamas, to be afraid of Iran’s increasing influence.
The United States’ pressure mustn’t be disregarded in this case. Americans are not content with the facile normalization of Iran-Egypt ties, since they know it may be against their interests and demands in the future. Also, this relation may force Egypt to give privileges to Iran to sustain the ties, which may be at odds with the United States’ interests. In addition, they know perfectly well that normalization is tantamount to opening a new front against Israel, the natural ally of Iran.
Of course, it must be said that establishment of ties with Egypt by Iran can be advantageous for the United States since at any rate expansion of ties with Arab states which are allies of America, may force Iran to accept agreements which it has rejected previously. This means that from the point of view of the United States, Iran will have to comply with norms in its diplomatic affairs. However, it seems that Americans, even if they have given Egyptians the go-ahead to resume relations with Iran, are trying to take the most out of this situation and compel Iran to undertake some commitments.
Therefore, we shouldn’t await a quick improvement in Iran-Egypt ties, despite Islamic Republic’s attempts to establish ties as fast as possible. Maybe Iran’s interests, especially against the United States, necessitate normal relations with Egypt, but obstacles have made this pretty challenging.