Egypt’s January 25 revolution was expected to change the status quo in the country’s relations with Iran. However, there are still many factors impeding the resumption of full diplomatic ties between the two countries. After the revolution in Egypt, the Salafists found an opportunity to intensify their anti-Iran campaign in the media, while some heavyweight politicians are also opposed to the resumption of ties with Iran. All this has made the prospects for a resumption of full economic and political ties between the two countries more grim.
Third parties are also to blame for this situation. A number of Salafists recently held a demonstration in front of the Iranian interests section in Cairo, and later it became clear that elements affiliated with Saudi Arabia gave orders for the action. This shows how much foreign countries are interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs.
The incident brings to mind a saying of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who once said that the main problem in the Arab world is that big Arab countries are under the influence of small ones. Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is now begging for cash from the governments of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In addition, there are more than 3 million Egyptian workers in tiny Persian Gulf countries, which doubles Egypt’s dependence on these little monarchies.
Moreover, since the 1970s, the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has exercised a great deal of influence on Egypt’s foreign policy because the six countries of the group provide more than 70 percent of the Arab League’s annual budget, which is now $5 billion. The situation got worse during the Mubarak era, and Egypt gradually lost its diplomatic position as one of the three major Arab countries in the world. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been competing for a bigger say in Egypt’s foreign policy decisions. Over the past two years, Saudi Arabia has spent $8 billion in the form of financial assistance to the government of President Mohammed Morsi, while Qatar has donated around $12 billion.
Qatar has other tools to help it implement its plans in Egypt, including important members in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian mufti based in Qatar. He is one of the main anti-Iran figures in Egypt and recently created a media frenzy about a threat allegedly posed by a number of Iranian tourists who had travelled to Egypt as a sign of the friendship between the two nations and governments.
Given the huge influence of the Salafists on the Muslim Brotherhood and their close connections with the Saudis and Qataris, there is certainly little chance of an enhancement in relations between Iran and Egypt. Exacerbating things more is the fact that the United States and Israel always support any anti-Iran initiative of the Egyptian government since they feel that an Iranian presence in Egypt would be a great risk to their interests in the country.
Hassan Hanizadeh is a political analyst and an expert on Middle Eastern issues based in Tehran.
This article originally appeared in Persian on the website Khabaronline.ir
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