Monday, April 4, 2011

Egypt wants to resume relations with Iran

As reported in Haaretz, the foreign minister of Egypt's current military government has reached out to the Islamic Republic of Iran with an offer to resume the diplomatic relations that were severed after the 1979 revolution:
"The Egyptian and Iranian people deserve to have mutual relations reflecting their history and civilization," said Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby after meeting Iranian official Mugtabi Amani.
I can't help believing that the wording for this announcement was chosen, not only as a diplomatic opening, but also as a message to the relative newcomer power on the block, the US, to "butt out - and anyway, you couldn't really understand. You measure your history in centuries - and only a bit more than a couple of them, at that.  We measure ours in millennia."  Indeed.

This will not go down well, of course, with another entity that asserts that its ties to Palestine are millennia old as well.  Ever since the rumblings against the now departed Hosni Mubarak began months ago, Israeli politicians and commentators have been screaming bloody murder about what they see as the impending Islamist take-over of Egypt.  And it certainly hasn't escaped the attention of the West's mainstream media (e.g., the NY Times, both here and here) that the reforms evidently under way in Egypt are creating political space for the legitimization of the long-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood  as well as the reassertion of influence (verging on intimidation) in local communities by Salafist groups who advocate - even insist upon - a purist version of Islam that has little patience either for Israel or for Western cultural influences in Muslim lands.

Many analysts agree that room will have to be made for Islamist groups in any new Egyptian government once the generals step down (which they indeed have promised to do; but I'm not holding my breath).  The leaders of those groups for the most part have been insisting that they do not intend to impose a strict Islamist regime in Egypt, but the fact is that most Egyptians see Egypt as a Muslim country where life ought to be in tune with Muslim values.  Egypt's Muslims are almost entirely Sunni, whereas Iranians are Shia - but Israelis (and most US politicians, who understand nothing about the difference anyhow) will be inclined to lump them as the "Islamic menace" to Israel.

Gaza, of course, will now be even more of a concern to Israel, which will fear that Iran, which already provides support to the Sunni Hamas movement that dominates there, will be able to use Egypt as a back-door through which to funnel aid and weapons.  Israel may opt to strengthen its blockade of Gaza, or even launch another military strike in hopes of eliminating Hamas before Iran's ties to Egypt strengthen.  However, Muhammad el-Baradei, the former IAEA head who now aspires to lead Egypt, has been quoted as saying that any new Israeli attack on Gaza will prompt an Egyptian response - a contingency Israel didn't have to worry about as long as Mubarak was in control.

It's difficult to know if the US might have seen an Egyptian outreach to Iran coming, but if Iran responds favorably and the Egyptians follow through, you can bet that Hillary's shop will be applying tremendous pressure on the Egyptian generals now running the show - even to the point of blackmailing them with the threat of withholding military and economic aid.  That, of course, may bring accusations from Egypt's reformers that the US backs Arab democracy and self-determination only if Israel's regional interests can be safeguarded.

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