Egyptian presidency denies Mursi gave interview on stronger ties with Iran


The Egyptian presidency has denied that President-elect Mohammed Mursi gave an interview to Iran's Fars agency on Monday, in which he had been reported to say that he was looking to expand ties with Tehran to create a strategic “balance” in the region.

“Mr. Mursi did not give any interview to Fars and everything that this agency has published is without foundation,” a spokesman for the Egyptian presidency told the official news agency MENA.

Earlier, Fars had quoted him as saying he was interested in better relations with Tehran, Reuters reported. “This will create a balance of pressure in the region, and this is part of my program.”

Fars also quoted Mursi as saying that he wants to “reconsider” the peace deal with Israel, according to AFP. Reuters also quoted Mursi as saying the same statement.

“We will reconsider the Camp David Accord,” Mursi was quoted as telling a Fars reporter in Cairo on Sunday, just before his election triumph was announced.

At the time, Al Arabiya was not able to confirm the report about reconsidering the Camp David treaty with Israel, especially that the President-elect had vowed to respect all international treaties on his first speech to the nation on Sunday night.

Fars had noted that Mursi said the issue of Palestinian refugees returning to homes their families abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the 1967 Six-Day War “is very important.”

He added though that “all these issues will be carried out through cabinet and governmental bodies because I will not take any decision on my own.”

Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been severed for more than 30 years, but both sides have signaled a shift in policy since former president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year in a popular uprising.

Mursi’s alleged comments were percieved to be unsettling to Western powers as they seek to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear program, which they suspect Tehran is using to build atomic bombs. They cautiously welcomed the democratic process that led to Mursi’s election, but made clear Egypt’s stability was their main priority.

Fars said he was speaking a few hours before the result of the Egyptian election was announced on Sunday, and that a full version of the interview would be published later.

Mursi’s victory over former general Ahmed Shafiq in Egypt’s first free presidential election was subsequently hailed by Iran as a “splendid vision of democracy” that marked the final phase of an “Islamic Awakening.”

“The foreign ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran congratulates the victory of the Egyptian nation in these elections and the presidency of Doctor Mohammed Mursi,” it said in a statement on the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

Islamic Awakening

“The revolutionary movement of the Egyptian people... is in its final stages of the Islamic Awakening and a new era of change in the Middle East.”

Iran has lauded most Arab Spring uprisings as anti-Western rebellions inspired by its own 1979 Islamic Revolution, which empowered the Shiite clerical establishment.

But it has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s closest Arab ally, and at home it has continued to nullify demands for reform, which spilled into the street following the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

“The historic Egyptian nation, with their responsible participation in the momentous election have again proved their determination to realize the noble and justice-seeking ideals of the great revolution of Egypt with a splendid vision of democracy,” the ministry said.

Mainly Sunni Muslim Egypt and predominantly Shiite Iran are among the biggest and most influential countries in the Middle East, but they have had no formal ties since 1980, following Iran’s Islamic Revolution and Egypt’s recognition of Israel.

Western powers accuse Iran, the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of concealing a nuclear-weapons program, and the U.S. and Israel have declined to discount the possibility of military strikes against the country’s atomic facilities. Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty maintains its nuclear work is peaceful and intended to generate electricity.

There has been an exchange of warnings between Iran and Israel over the past months; each threatening to strike the other in case of any military attack.

Any tie-up between Egypt and Iran would alarm Israel and its ally the United States.

Difficult new reality

Israeli media, meanwhile, expressed almost unanimous concern on Monday about the victory of Mursi, warning of a difficult new reality.

“Darkness in Egypt,” read the headline of the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, with commentator Smadar Peri writing inside the newspaper that Mursi’s victory was a dangerous development for Israel.

“From our standpoint, when the presidential palace in Cairo is painted for the first time in Islamic colors, this is a black and dark day,” she wrote.

Elsewhere in the same newspaper, analyst Alex Fishman wrote that Mursi’s victory meant “everything is open, and the future is unclear,” according to AFP.

“Israel should be prepared for every eventuality,” he wrote, evoking the possibility of “an Islamist intelligence minister, a re-examination of the peace accords, a collapse of the economic agreements and lack of security coordination.”

“The new Middle East. The fear has become reality, the Muslim Brotherhood are in power in Egypt,” lamented the Maariv daily.

“The peace treaty has been put in doubt,” the paper wrote, adding that “there is very serious concern in the political and military class in Israel because Egypt is the largest of its neighbors and has decisive influence on the Arab world.”

Yaakov Katz, writing in the English-language Jerusalem Post, took a more pragmatic view, offering the “good news (that) in the short term nothing is expected to change.”

“Egypt’s president-elect will have far greater challenges to deal with than to pick a fight with the Jewish state,” Katz wrote, pointing to the Egypt’s dire economic predicament in the post-uprising period.

But he said Mursi’s election had altered Israel’s defense realities, and could “affect the growing terror threat in Sinai,” as well as “hinder Israel’s operational freedom the next time there is a flare-up... in Gaza.”

The left-leaning Haaretz devoted most of its front page to Mursi’s victory, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Sunday night saying the Jewish state “respects the results.”

“Israel hopes to continue cooperation with the Egyptian government on the basis of the peace treaty,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said.