Political, Economic, and Cultural Obstacles to Development of Iran-Egypt Relations

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ja'far Qannadbashi
Middle East and Africa Expert

A recent protest rally which was carried out by a group of Salafist radicals in Egypt, who protested against traveling of the Iranian tourists to the north African country, as well as their attempt to storm the residence of the head of Iran's interests section in Cairo once again reminded analysts of obstacles which exist on the way of improving bilateral relations between the two countries. Similar reactions had been also shown concurrent with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo, but on a more limited scale. In addition, an anti-Iranian conference was held in Cairo at the same time which provided the Western and regional media with an excuse to talk about the existence of serious obstacles on the way of promoting Iran's relations with Egypt. Before such events, they did not have suitable excuses to focus on this issue apart from a short trip to Iran by the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran. In fact, critical reactions to Ahmadinejad’s Egypt visit created a suitable atmosphere for the media to highlight the problems with which both countries are faced for the promotion of bilateral relations. Also, the way Morsi chose to interact with the Iranian officials during his trip to Tehran, including his remarks in support of the opposition forces fighting against the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, were followed by the first analytical reports on the obstacles which bar improvement of relations between Iran and Egypt. As a result, every step taken by officials in Tehran and Cairo, which could have potentially bridged the existing gaps of the past between the two states, were practically used as excuses by the media to stoke discord between Tehran and Cairo. As a result, the process of regional convergence between Iran and Egypt, which had started as a result of the upsurge in anti-Zionist and anti-colonialistic sentiments among both countries’ people following the fall of the Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was stalled due to such problems.

Although a set of vital and strategic exigencies call on Iran and Egypt to move toward regional convergence in their relations, and despite the fact that the necessity of promoting bilateral relations to the highest possible level has been also confirmed by foresighted analysts, there are still major impediments on this way. As a result of the existing barriers, the outlook of regional convergence between Iran and Egypt has been vague, which has in turn, faced both countries’ diplomats with serious problems for the further expansion of bilateral relations. It goes without saying that to achieve the two countries’ strategic goals at a regional level, and more importantly across the Muslim world, such impediments should be recognized and meticulous plans should be made to remove them. Of course, a review of the existing obstacles on the way of developing Iran's relations with Egypt will produce a long list of various items which can be put in different categories and every one of them explains part of the difficulty which Tehran and Cairo are facing for attuning their regional positions.

Political obstacles

The first group of obstacles to improvement of Iran's relations with Egypt consists of multiple political barriers which have drawn more attention from analysts compared to other kinds of obstacles. They can be enumerated as follows:

1. Lack of practical will and perseverance in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry despite certain remarks by the country’s President Morsi who has emphasized on the necessity of promoting brotherly and strategic relations between two countries;

2. The regional policies adopted by the Freedom and Justice Party (the political wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood) as the governing political party in Egypt, on such issues as supporting the opposition in Syria or backing claims by littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf with regards to three Iranian islands [including Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Mousa];

3. Opposition of Salafist parties and groups to further development of relations between Iran and Egypt; and

4. Exertion of powerful pressures on Egypt by the Western states and reactionary Arab states to prevent expansion of Iran-Egypt ties. Almost all regional and transregional countries, which will be at disadvantage due to the expansion of relations between Iran and Egypt, are making covert and overt efforts to prevent this.

Of course, this group of obstacles, in turn, has its roots in other structural impediments which if removed, a large part the existing problems on the way of bolstering bilateral relations will be resolved. These structural impediments include:

1. Absence of a powerful government with broad-based support among people in Egypt the sign of which was failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in restraining street unrest in the country;

2. The crippling problems with which the Egyptian government is faced in domestic political and economic fields (including failure of Morsi's government to give rapid response to the political and economic demands of the Egyptian masses);

3. Absence of a suitable opportunity as well as necessary requisites for the formulation of a calculated strategy for the Egyptian foreign policy;

4. Vulnerability and resilience of Morsi's government as a result of its weakness in the face of both the radical figures and the secular political currents (both leftist and rightist);

5. Efforts made by the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing to avoid being accused of inclination toward Shias and Iran. This factor should be considered in association with the election atmosphere in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood’s need to garner as many votes as possible; and finally

6. Efforts made by Morsi's government in order to maintain the position of Egypt in the Arab League and other regional political groupings.

Cultural impediments

The second group of impediments to the development of relations between Iran and Egypt consists of a multiple of cultural obstacles which play a fundamental role in the creation of other obstacles, while dampening the willingness of Tehran and Cairo for further closeness in relations and more regional convergence. These impediments include:

1. Promotion of Shiaphobia in Egypt and among other Sunni societies under the pretext that the Islamic Republic of Iran is bent on promoting Shiism under the guise of expanding relations with Egypt;

2. Promoting Iranophobia in Egypt and among other Sunni societies by alleging that the Islamic Republic of Iran is planning to revive its ancient empire and promote Persian culture across the region;

3. Promotion of anti-Arab sentiments in Iran by emphasizing that none of the Arab societies can be a desirable ally for Iran;

4. Promoting concerns about possible spread of Wahhabism in Egypt and intensification of radical and Salafist tendencies in this country; and

5. Creating negative mentalities about development of bilateral relations between the two nations. Anti-Iran circles aim to foster the mentality that expansion of bilateral relations between Tehran and Cairo will not benefit either side. They claim that any form of bilateral exchanges as well as political interactions among the two countries’ officials will entail political costs for both sides and make them lose certain advantages. For example, efforts have been made to create the mentality among the Iranian nation that relations with Egypt are not only useless for their country, but are also a form of giving concession to the Egyptian side. In other words, there have been efforts to convince the Iranians that establishment of relations with Egypt is tantamount to ignoring the dignity of the Iranian nation.

Some of these impediments are, in fact, mental impediments because they have been created as a result of the ever-increasing efforts by the Western media groups. Meanwhile, the regional, especially Egyptian, media have spared no effort to further promote the negative propaganda of the West because of ideological, financial, or even organic dependence on them.

Economic and trade impediments

The third group of obstacles to development of Iran's relations with Egypt includes economic and trade impediments which have been doing their part in preventing expansion of relations between Tehran and Cairo. This group of impediments includes:

1. Instability in all economic and trade fields in Egypt as a result of the revolutionary developments in the Arab country;

2. The private sectors of Egypt and Iran lack adequate information about the capacities and needs of the other side;

3. Absence of economic and trade agreements between the two countries as well as necessary bylaws for trade and economic cooperation; and

4. Absence of necessary bylaws for the expansion of banking and insurance cooperation between Iran and Egypt in order to facilitate economic exchanges and guarantee commercial transactions or bilateral investment.

It is obvious that most of these impediments can be removed through bilateral exchanges and dialogue. However, some of these impediments can be only eliminated through establishment of stability in Egypt and reduction in the intensity of the ongoing economic crisis in the world.

Key Words: Political, Economic, and Cultural Obstacles, Iran-Egypt Relations, Morsi, Qannadbashi

Source: Khorasan Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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