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Egypt: with Turkey or Iran?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

We’ve been hearing about alleged reconciliation efforts between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government as recently reported by different sources.

In this same context, we’ve been hearing about similar efforts between Turkey and Egypt, which were jumbled by some Hamas leaders’ comments in Gaza, who were positively praising the Egyptian leadership, namely by hardliner Mahmoud al-Zahar and moderate Osama Hamdan.

The cause behind these comments can be two things that are incompatible: Hamas is with the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and a permanent ally of Iran on the other hand. In the past, it was possible to support the Turks and the Iranians together, but today supporting both is impossible; one should either be with Turkey or supporting Iran exclusively as both countries are currently engaged in wars. Iranian militias are fighting the pro-Turkish opposition in Syria and the clashes are raging today on the borders of Turkey.

Since Mohamed Mursi time in office, Cairo has chosen not to support any party in the Syrian war; the same position persisted since the second Egyptian revolution, which pushed the government of Abdel-Fattah ell-Sisi to be all-out against the Turkish intervention in its affairs and thus, resorted to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood opposition.

Historical relationships

At the same time, the Egyptian government has moved away from Iran, on the grounds that at the heart of Cairo’s historical strategy, and since the days of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt played the role of a balancer against Tehran. Abdel Nasser stood against the Shah's quest to dominate the Gulf in the sixties, and Anwar Sadat was against Khomeini’s regime and received the deposed shah. On the other hand, the Iranians glorified Sadat's assassin and put his name on one of the main streets in Iran. Isolated President Husni Mubarak and Sadat adopted Nasser’s policy. The only one who opened a window of dialogue with Tehran was the second isolated President Mohamed Mursi, who broke the ice when he visited the Iranian capital, and then received president Ahmadinejad, which was the first visit of an Iranian president to Cairo.

What does the future hold?

Despite the frequent rumors, I believe that Cairo cannot come to terms with Tehran, especially in such serious circumstances where the Iranian regime is waging the broadest expansive war since the revolution, about 40 years ago.

Ending the conflict between the two regional countries, Egypt and Turkey, will strengthen the Arab side in the conflict in Syria, especially in its confrontation against Iran.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

It would be a miracle if the Egyptian leadership reconciled with its sole adversary, the Muslim Brotherhood. Will the group’s cessation of activities against the Egyptian government, mean opening the doors of Cairo’s airport to the repentant persons wishing to return? The miracle would happen if Cairo got closer with Tehran, but two miracles can’t happen at the same time, and of course, this does not include the improvement of protocol relations because they do not mean much.

If the reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood takes place according to Cairo’s terms, it would have extinguished one of the greatest fires and tensions in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood is an interface to a regional camp and it fought on his behalf on several fronts. The reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood will inevitably lead to the Egyptian-Turkish reconciliation. Ending the conflict between the two regional countries, Egypt and Turkey, will strengthen the Arab side in the conflict in Syria, especially in its confrontation against Iran, and will ease the pressure on the Iraqi government that was secluded after the departure of the Americans; Iraq is currently trying to undertake internal and external domination alone.

The second miracle, which is the end of the Egyptian-Iranian dispute as Hamas is trying to suggest, will bring the Egyptian government to one achievement: weaken the Turkish front and thus marginalize the Brotherhood. In contrast, Egypt will lose its strategic front with the Gulf. Despite the conflict inside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding the Egyptian affairs and other issues, the GCC countries agreed on the rejection of any bias for Iran, and this is a very important reason behind their position in Syria. However, Egypt's shift toward Iran is far from being imagined, although some Egyptian observers talk about the need for rapprochement with Iran.

Sisi’s government has charted for itself an internal strategy and focused on the legitimacy of development and solving the accumulated problems faced by the country and on the needs of its citizens. It distanced itself from going into the external conflicts.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Mar. 04, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.