A South Alabama University professor says “there are some areas where the interests of Tehran and Cairo may intersect.”
In an interview with the Tehran Times, Nader Entessar also said, “The red-carpet treatment given to Ahmadinejad by his Egyptian counterpart upon the Iranian president's arrival at the Cairo airport signaled that the long awaited breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian stalemate may be around the corner.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What is your assessment of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Egypt?
A: Mr. Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Egypt could have been a watershed event in Iranian-Egyptian relations since the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. After all, the regime of Hosni Mubarak disliked the Islamic Republic intensely and did everything in his power to undermine Iranian interests. Mubarak was one of the staunchest supporters of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War and was served as a loyal client of Washington throughout his reign. That partly explains why Mubarak's demise was so warmly welcomed in Tehran and why some high-level Iranian officials have sought to normalize Egyptian-Iranian relations under the Islamist-oriented government of Mohammad Morsi. The red-carpet treatment given to Ahmadinejad by his Egyptian counterpart upon the Iranian president's arrival at the Cairo airport signaled that the long awaited breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian stalemate may be around the corner. However, the hoped-for improvement between Tehran and Cairo did not materialize.
As demonstrated by Ahmadinejad's visit to Al-Azhar, from Egypt's perspectives the Sunni-Shia divide remains an obstacle to Iranian-Egyptian relations. Although the Iranian president's visit to al-Azhar was meant to ease the sectarian tension in the Islamic world, it became the nadir of Ahmadinejad's visit to Egypt. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, al-Azhar Mosque's Grand Imam, gave a cold reception to the Iranian president. Worse yet, al-Tayeb publicly snubbed Ahmadinejad by not attending what was supposed to be a joint news conference and instead sending his advisor Sheikh Hassan al-Shafei who began a provocative and unfriendly diatribe against Iranian policies in the Persian Gulf. Al-Shafei then criticized Iran's policies towards the country's Sunnis and the Iranian Arabs in Khuzestan. This was a blatant interference in Iran's internal affairs that should have resulted in the immediate departure of Ahmadinejad from Cairo. After all, Mr. Ahmadinejad was not in Egypt as a private citizen; he was there as the president of a sovereign state and should not have tolerated such a public rebuke from an al-Azhar official who is an Egyptian government employee.
Notwithstanding Iran's desire to establish formal diplomatic ties with Egypt, such ties cannot be pushed at all costs to Iran's interests if Cairo is not ready to reciprocate. Of course, there are some areas where the interests of Tehran and Cairo may intersect. For example, the deteriorating relations between Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the UAE may allow Egypt to compel that country to develop closer relations with Iran in the Persian Gulf. However, areas of disagreement far outnumber potential areas of cooperation between the two countries in the near term. Tehran and Cairo have so far followed diametrically opposing policies with respect to the Syrian crisis. The rise of the Salafi and Wahhabi-type groups in Egypt will certainly make it difficult to have a genuine rapprochement between Tehran and Cairo. Furthermore, Egypt today is riven with deep political divisions in all areas, and the stability and the future direction of the post-Mubarak system still remains uncertain. Finally, we should not forget that although President Morsi has taken some tentative steps to differentiate itself from Mubarak's foreign policy of blind obedience to Washington's diktat, Egypt still remains a U.S. client state.
Q: Why Hamas has closer relations with Egypt in comparison with Iran?
A: With respect to Hamas and its close ties to Egypt, we should remember that Hamas has its roots in the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood and was established as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Although Iran has been a consistent source of support for Hamas, philosophically the organization feels much more at home with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood than it feels with Iran's revolutionary ideology.
Nader Entessar is professor of the University of South Alabama. He is the author of Kurdish Ethnonationalism (1992) and the co-editor of Reconstruction and Regional Diplomacy in the Persian Gulf (Routledge, 1992) and Iran and the Arab world.
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