The new Brotherhood regime is in orbit around America’s regional clients, be they big or small!
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt has uncovered the shortcomings of Egyptian foreign policy, which is designed to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Mustafa al-Labbad.
This article was first published in Arabic on 11/2/2013. Read original article.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not expect that series of prohibitive demands from al-Azhar: the rights of Sunnis in Iran, the rights of the Arabs in Khuzestan, non-interference in Bahrain’s affairs, stopping the bloodshed in Syria and ceasing the spread of Shiism in Sunni countries.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit took the spotlight away from the summit itself. The visit was the first by a sitting Iranian president. It signaled that the troubled relationship between the two major eastern poles has improved. That relationship has been troubled for more than three decades.
The grandiose airport reception that Ahmadinejad received from his Egyptian counterpart triggered speculation that relations between the two countries was about to resume and that a new regional axis that would break the existing regional balance is about to be born. But the Iranian president’s meeting with Al-Azhar Mosque’s Grand Sheikh poured cold water on Iranian dreams. What are the future Egyptian-Iranian relations after Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo? What are the shortcomings in Egypt’s new regional policy as revealed by the Iranian president’s visit? We will try to answer those questions below.
The future of Egyptian-Iranian relations
Religion plays a role in Iranian politics because religion is in the Iranian constitution and part of the country’s practice for more than three decades. So it was thought that Egypt becoming more religious would form common ground between Tehran and Cairo. Yet the sectarian tension plaguing the region for years, and for which all parties are to blame, has unfortunately become the main conflict in the Middle East.
The Iranian president sat next to al-Azhar Mosque’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb and raised the victory sign with his hand in front of the cameras, but then the mood quickly changed.
Ahmadinejad was surprised that the joint press conference was attended not by Tayeb, but by his advisor Sheikh Hassan al-Shafei, who then listed a series of demands from Iran: the rights of the Sunnis in Iran, the rights of the Arabs in Khuzestan, non-interference in Bahrain’s affairs, stopping the bloodshed in Syria and ceasing the spread Shiism in Sunni countries. Those demands are in effect a list of accusations toward Iran’s policies in the region. However, to be fair, no Iranian politician, including Ahmadinejad, could agree to discuss such issues, especially those involving Iranian internal affairs (Arabs in Khuzestan and Sunnis in Iran).
Al-Azhar’s positions were different than those of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some al-Azhar scholars believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to dominate the institution and impose the Brotherhood’s ideology on it.
Ahmadinejad’s disappointment with the al-Azhar meeting and the protest aside, Iran was still able to score a goal against its opponents. It showed the region and the world that economic sanctions are not preventing regional doors that have for decades been shut in Iran’s face from opening up. Egypt was and will remain the biggest Arab country. Egypt scored a goal against its opponents in the Gulf by brandishing its relations with Iran. But the Egyptian government is using its relations with Iran to score short-term goals in a way that does not befit Iran’s regional importance.
The shortcomings of Egypt’s regional policy
To expand its relations with Egypt, Iran is only paying an internal price: the various Iranian political wings must agree with each other on the nature of these relations. But Egypt’s price would be much higher. The Muslim Brotherhood would have to pay both an internal and an external price. One, their Salafist ally will hinder any rapprochement with Iran. Two, the alliance between Turkey and Qatar will also hinder a rapprochement. So Egyptian-Iranian relations will show limited improvement in the next phase. There will be neither estrangement nor a regional partnership. The latter is not realistic in light of the current balance of forces nor with the way Morsi is managing the Iranian file.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo revealed three shortcomings: the first is about transparency. Who is setting Egyptian foreign policy? In Mubarak’s days, the president and the security agencies used to set the relations with Iran. But who is doing that now? That is a valid question given that the president’s foreign affairs advisor is a former foreign relations official for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international wing.
The second shortcoming is about Egypt’s agenda. How does the current administration define Egyptian national interests? And what are Egypt’s regional and national priorities?
The third shortcoming is about context because the improvement in relations with Iran is coinciding with deteriorating relations between the UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems that rapprochement with Iran is Egypt’s substitute for its relations with Gulf countries, especially after relations between the UAE and the Muslim Brotherhood worsened after the UAE arrested a Brotherhood cell. A visit from Morsi’s adviser Essam al-Haddad failed to resolve the crisis.
Iran, Turkey and a twist of fate
Relations with Iran are important and necessary to diversify Egypt’s regional relations. Yet the purpose of Egypt’s relations with any country, including Iran, is not for its own sake but only to serve Egypt’s national interest, which does not necessarily match the interests of a political current, even the Muslim Brotherhood.
What a weird twist of fate: The great Egyptian people rose up against their government because their country’s regional and international status declined under its rule and because it was a mere satellite of the U.S. administration, and now they are being asked to rise up, again, because their country’s foreign policy is being tailored to the interests of a particular political group. The new Brotherhood regime is in orbit around America’s regional clients, be they big or small!