Cairo & Tehran, Old Enemies, Forming a New Axis ?
Many foreign political analysts seem increasingly are concerned over the geostrategic implications of the rapid rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, two former foes that are apparently becoming new friends in the Arab Spring era! They are currently busing working to enhance their relationship and warm up their once frosty ties.
The move comes after many signals sent by the two countries leaders. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian president to visit Cairo in more than three decades, was given a red-carpet welcome by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi when he arrived last February in the land of Pharaohs.
For his part, Mursi, member of the powerful Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, has attended a Non-Aligned Summit in Iran, becoming the first Egyptian president to set foot in in Tehran since the Islamic revolution.
The resumption of direct flights between Iran and Egypt, the most populous countries in the region, is the culmination of the political will and readiness shown by the Islamist-led governments installed in the two countries, to open a new chapter in their relations.
Cairo and Tehran broke off relations after the overthrow of the Shah in the Islamic Revolution and Egypt’s recognition of Israel in 1979 and offering a safe haven to the deposed Shah. Shortly after they cut bilateral diplomatic ties, Iran made a provocative decision to name one of its main streets after Sadat’s assassin, Khalid Islambouli.
When Hosni Mubarak took over, he quickly transformed Egypt into a regional anti-Iranian bulwark, supporting Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran and constantly thwarting Tehran’s regional maneuvers and attempts to expand its influence. Yet, towards the end of his rule, Mubarak recognized Iran’s regional role, its economic potentials and welcomed its efforts to mend bilateral ties.
In late 2010, the two countries engaged in a series of diplomatic flirtations, which intensified and gained momentum after Mubarak’s downfall. And as the Egyptian economy lost steam hit by sociopolitical woes and tensions, the Iranians sensed great opportunities and reached out to the Egyptian Islamist government offering financial and economic assistance, instead of being squeezed by conditional loans of international financial institutions.
Confronted with growing international isolation over its nuclear program and staunch support for the Syrian regime, the Iranian authorities have been more than eager to foster their ties with the new Islamist government which emerged in Cairo.
For the time being, Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim country, and Egypt, the major Sunni power in the region, are now focusing on their mutual interests, setting aside their sectarian rivalries. Though they disagree on a number of issues, including Syria, they have convergent views on the Palestinian issue and Israel.
In Washington, the White House and State Department try to remain calm and decline to comment on the rapprochement between Cairo and Tehran, saying it is up to the Egyptian and Iranian governments to decide what kind of relations they want.
However, a secret meeting held lately between Egypt’s intelligence chief and a senior official from Iran’s Intelligence and Security services raised fears in the West and the neighboring countries over the prospects of an alliance between the two countries.
It would certainly be a nightmare for America and the West if such two countries, which were once- U.S. allies in the most strategically vital region of the world, managed to make a strategic pact, forming a new axis of resistance to world superpowers.
According to some analysts, it is unlikely that the Egypt-Iran thaw will develop into fully restored relations, given the pressure exerted by the United States and the Sunni oil-rich Gulf monarchies on Egypt which has reassured Gulf Arab countries that it would not sacrifice their security and would stand by them as in the Gulf wars.