Among the numerous speculations about the changes that will take place in Egypt after the January 25 revolution that ousted the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak is the future of the relationship between Egypt and Iran in the coming stage.
Although the nature of relations with the United States and Israel top the agenda of foreign affairs topic in the post-Mubarak era, ties with Iran seem to have become lately more pressing, possibly due to the strain they have suffered for more than three decades.
Relations with Iran have been regarded by observers as one of the most enigmatic of Egypt’s foreign policies with the Egyptian government giving mixed signals about the possibility of closer ties with the Islamic republic.
It was obvious that Egypt was willing to mend fences with Iran at the time of reformist President Mohamed Khatami, from 1997 till 2005, while the situation was completely reversed when hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.
Relations between Egypt and Iran deteriorated remarkably during Ahmadinejad’s time as both countries exchanged incriminations of spying and infiltration in addition to Egypt accusing Iran of smuggling weapons to Hamas in Gaza and destabilizing Egypt’s national security.
In addition to tension on the level of governments, the Egyptian people were infuriated by a statement made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei during the January 25 revolution.
Khamenei argued that the Egyptian revolution is an extension of Iran’s Islamic revolution and predicted that an Islamic renaissance would take place in Egypt.
Egyptians who took part in the revolution expressed their reservations on Khamenei’s statements which, they said, gave the revolution a religious character while in fact it focused on demanding social justice and an end to corruption. They also accused Iran of meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs.
However, this tension dissolved when former President Mohamed Khatami gave a speech in which he praised the Egyptian people and said that Egypt has always been a source of inspiration for Iran.
The relationship between Egypt and Iran was put to the test a few days after Egypt’s Higher Council of Armed Forces took over after the ouster of the Mubarak regime when Iran asked for permission for two military ships to pass through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria.
Despite strong objections from Israel, Egypt allowed the two ships to pass, in the first step of its kind since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
A statement by newly-appointed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi and which many perceived as a “political bomb” seemed to chart the path the relations between the two countries are expected to take in the future.
“Iran is our neighbor and we have long-standing historical ties throughout different eras,” said Arabi.
Arabi added that the Egyptian government does not consider Iran an enemy state and hinted that relations will not be the same as before.
“We are turning a new leaf with all countries and this includes Iran.”
The Egyptian minister noted the possibility of raising the level of diplomatic representation interest section to embassy level.
“This depends on what both parties agree on. From our part, we want to start anew and we’re waiting for their response.
Iran welcomes initiative
Arabi’s statement was greeted with enthusiasm on the part of the Iranian government as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi lauded the historical ties that have always existed between Egypt and Iran despite recent strains.
“We hope that the new environment in Egypt will see the two countries and their great people getting closer,” he was quoted as saying by the Iranian Mehr News Agency.
Salehi added that stronger ties between Egypt and Iran will contribute to establishing stability in the entire region.
He also praised the Egyptian revolution and the struggle of Egyptians to achieve justice.
“Egyptians have written a new chapter in history.”
Salehi’s statements were followed by similar ones issued by head of the Iranian Parliament's Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi who stated that restoring relations with Egypt is extremely important for Iranian diplomacy and urged the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow up on the matter thoroughly until this end is reached.
Boroujerdi blamed the former Egyptian regime for being the main obstacle that hindered the resumption of relations between Egypt and Iran.
“Now that the regime fell and with the new developments taking place in Egypt, the environment is ready for this step,” he said.
Several issues that might have hampered the restoration of diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran still need to be addressed like the approach to the peace process, nuclear proliferation, and security in the Gulf region.
However, preliminary signs indicate that both sides are willing to resolve pending issues in a rational manner that works towards guaranteeing stability in the region and reaching a formula of understanding that serves all parties involved.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).