Iran has become remarkably present on the Egyptian scene since the fall of the former regime. This presence was confirmed when the Muslim Brotherhood started controlling state institutions, thus sounding alarm bells that the Iranian model, with an Egyptian flavor, is about to be reenacted. The resemblance between the two cases lies in the ability of an Islamist faction to hijack a social movement in order to monopolize power. This happened in Iran and is now happening in Egypt, with variations of course.
The Iranian presence is not only manifested in this similarity, but also in the mystery that shrouds the mechanism and nature of the new relationship between Egypt and Iran. There are undoubtedly many factors that seem contradictory and that will be made clear over time.
- Relations with the United States are very crucial for the Muslim Brotherhood because they constitute proof that the group is still supported by the West even if against the people’s will. As for the relationship between Iran and the West, it is no secret that each of them demonizes the other. The question is: how can the architects of Egypt’s foreign policy manage this contradiction? Or is it all a matter of coordination and role play?
- Egypt and Iran differ, or at least that is what appears to be, about Syria, yet it looks like they have both determined the limits of this disagreement.
- Egyptian-Iranian relations seem to be at their best despite constant play upon the fears of simple-minded Sunnis and which was demonstrated in the speeches delivered by the Egyptian president whether in Iran or in Egypt with Iranian attendance. This discourse is unwise since it is bound to deepen the rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims even though its promoters might not be aware of that.
- The relationship between Egypt and Gulf states is very crucial, especially in the light of the financial crisis, yet the tension between them has reached unprecedented levels. Some parties might assume or might convince Egyptian politicians that waving the Iranian card can put pressure on Gulf nations and whoever does that is playing with fire.
- It is obvious that the Iranian presence is increasing and this is demonstrated in mutual visits between the two countries. What is more important is the type of Egyptian delegations invited to Iran and the nature of the meetings that take place there. It is also necessary to note the Iranian presence in Egyptian media. Iran is trying to expand its media presence through its official news agency for the aim of competing with the Turkish news agency. This expansion is seen in the number of its offices and correspondents. If parliamentary elections are coming up, what would be the extent of Iranian influence on this process? Another question is: how far is the ruling authority in Egypt aware of this or at least turning a blind eye to it or coordinating it?
Despite the question marks about this relationship, there is undoubtedly an obvious Iranian influence in the Egyptian scene under the new regime. There is not a clear proof than the message the Iranian news agency proudly addressed to President Mohammed Mursi and in which 17 Iranian regime loyalists called for emulating the Iranian experience in Egypt. These included Ali Akbar Welayati, former Iranian Foreign Minister and the supreme guide’s international affairs advisor, and Dr. Haddad Adel, former parliament speaker and the supreme guide’s brother-in-law. They all expressed their willingness to provide Mursi with their expertise and knowledge as far as the Islamization of the state is concerned, arguing that the Iranian revolution is an invaluable experience that can be copied in Egypt to establish a religious state with popular contribution.
It is noteworthy that according to the Velayat-e faqih system in Iran, the supreme guide is at the head of the political hierarchy and enjoys absolute constitutional powers.
He has the right to appoint and dismiss army commanders, chief judges, chief prosecutors, directors of the national radio and TV networks and the members of the Guardian Council of the Constitution and the Expediency Discernment Council. He also has the right to appoint the president after elections and to impeach him through a Supreme Court Order.
It is also customary in Iran that the president obtains the approval of the supreme guide before appointing ministers in key ministers like the interior, foreign affairs, national security, and petroleum.
The writers of this message, who called upon Mursi to apply Islamic law, said that despite the eight-year war and economic sanctions, Iran was still able to achieve substantial progress thanks to Islamic law and the wise leadership of Khomeini and Khamenei and was able to eliminate poverty in the countryside and impoverished towns.
The signatories of the message then enumerated the scientific, educational, industrial, and economic achievements of Iran and which they attributed to religious rule.
Writers of the message finally called upon the Egyptian president to establish a religious state and to disregard “international goals and pressures” or “calls for separating religion from politics.”
I have always called for establishing communication channels and a healthy relationship with Iran, yet it is important for us to know what we are doing and to give precedence to the interests of the nation and not those of a group or a project that transcends national borders.
Abdel Latif al-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of "Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak," a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy