Sunday, April 3, 2011

Egypt warms up to Iran

A second indicator has appeared that in the downstream of the regime change in Cairo, there are new stirrings in the Egyptian regional policies. The permission granted by the Egyptian authorities, in the face of US and israeli concerns, to the two Iranian warships to cross the Suez Canal, the first-ever since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, was an act imbued with 'new thinking'. Now comes a far more definitive step by the Egyptian government. Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said on Tuesday (March 29) that Egypt is ready to “open a new page” with Iran. The state-run Middle East News Agency quoted el-Arabi as saying, “The Egyptian government doesn’t consider Iran to be an enemy state. We’re opening a new page with all countries, including Iran.” He offered that restoring full diplomatic ties depends on the Iranian side and added that the two countries have historically-rooted relations.
Tehran has been swift to respond. “Good relationship between the two countries will definitely help stability, security, and development in the region,” Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi said in Tehran Saturday. Salehi praised the Egyptian revolution and said, “The Egyptian people by taking steps toward realizing their just demands opened a new chapter in the history of the country and again I congratulate them on this victory.” Salehi added despite ups and downs the “historic relations” between the two countries have always persisted and “I hope in the new environment we witness an upgrade of relationship between the two countries and the two great nations of Iran and Egypt.”
The ties between the two countries were severely damaged following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and literally disintegrated following Egypt’s recognition of Israel later in that same year. Egypt is still the only Arab country that has no embassy in Tehran. A "thaw" in Iran-Egypt relations began tentatively appearing since 2008 when Hosni Mubarak and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad met for the first time and the then Iranian FM Manouchehr Mottaki visited Cairo for official talks. But by end-2008, the two countries clashed over the crisis over israeli blockade of Gaza and Egypt resumed its allegations of Iran-backed hizbollah plots to destabliise the Mubarak regime. By end-2009, however, the "thaw" somewhat resumed. The blow-hot-blow-cold pattern can now be expected to give way to a more predictable relationship.
For Iran, which has excellent relations with Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, to add Egypt to the basket of 'friendly countries' will be a diplomatic coup. It enables Tehran to focus on the GCC states. Egypt is also disengaging from Yemen, which has been a point of discord with Iran. If Egypt-Iran relationship gets normalized, Israel and Saudi Arabia would probably feel disheartened.
Of course, the US policy to 'isolate' Iran regionally by building a containment ring of 'pro-West' regimes was heavily predicated on Mubarak's hostility toward Iran. That policy is no longer sustainable. Egypt is a test case in a broader sense, too. A pattern is emerging: the successor regimes in the Middle East will be much more responsive to public opinion and they may no longer passively acquiesce with the US regional policies.


tick said...

NAM spirit petered out when Egypt recognized Israel in late seventies. This move by itself was a very a courageous one, but cost Egypt its natural leadership of Arab nations. The mantle passed instead to Saudi Arabia and the Arabic world discourse became non-intellectual, acquired predominantly religious colour. The Sunni-Shia divide assumed serious political overtones.

With Egyptian exclusion, and cold war motivated interventions, NAM sadly became a motley crowd of ultra-leftists, religious obscurantists, dynastic democracies, nasty west installed military rulers, and ruthless as well as corrupt despots. The secular democratic kindred spirit, an instrument to safeguard newly freed nations disappeared.

If Egyptians are able to firm up their secular democratic credentials, it is likely that the Arab leadership, given their intellectual endowments, would be regained as well. This effort to open up to non-Arabic and predominantly Shia Iran suggests firming up of secular mooring.

It is too early to tell whether this may have some bearing on NAM movement as well. Likely, not just within NAM but the Arabian dialogue with Western democracies would be lot more civilized, authentic and on matching intellectual footing.

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