domingo, 20 de febrero de 2011

Artículo No. 01 Asia Times 18.2.11 Iran hopes for Egypt in new orbit By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Different players are watching Egypt for very different reasons. Arab youth see it as a brilliant success story, and are striving to copy it in countries like Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.

The United States is obsessed with Egypt, worried about the loss of president Hosni Mubarak, a traditional American ally in the Arab world. Israel is very worried - if not frantic - given the numerous favors Mubarak had provided vis-a-vis the Palestinians in Gaza and in upholding and protecting the Camp David Accords of 1978.

Iran, however, and Hezbollah in Lebanon are thrilled to see the end of Mubarak, a man who aggressively challenged theirpolicies, often against the will of his own people, and all were quick in celebrating his thundering collapse on February 11.

Mubarak to Iran is what Cuban leader Fidel Castro was to the United States - a long-standing and aging opponent who did not leave behind a single good deed for which to be remembered. With him gone, they are hoping that Egypt will shift into a new orbit, next to countries like Syria and Turkey, relieved that for the next six months at least until possible elections, there will be no Mubarak to meddle in the affairs of Lebanon or those of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

At one point, when both countries were governed by pro-Western monarchies, relations had been very warm between Tehran and Cairo, resulting in a brief 1939 marriage between the sister of the king of Egypt and the Shah of Iran.

In the 1950s, however, then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser accused the shah of being an agent of "American imperialism" while the shah blasted him as a "puppet of the Soviet Union". Nasser threatened to conquer Iran's Khuzestan province - which he called Arabistan - and popularized the term "Arab Gulf" instead of "Persian Gulf".

Relations improved, however, in terms of bilateral trade and political coordination under Anwar Sadat, only to come to an abrupt end after the Iranian revolution of 1979. The Iranians were furious with Sadat, who hosted the toppled Shah Reza Pahlavi, severing relations with Cairo in 1980. They named a street in honor of Sadat’s assassin in Tehran in 1981.

All of that history combined to weigh heavily over the past 10 years on Egyptian-Iranian relations, explaining why the Iranians are thrilled to see the end of Mubarak, who carried nothing but contempt for the Iranians until curtain fall.

All Iranian attempts at improving relations with Mubarak drastically failed, notably the 2003 high-profile meeting between him and then-Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. The Iranian leader invited Mubarak to Tehran but the Egyptians said that they would not make the trip and normalize relations with Iran until all public tributes to Sadat’s assassin were "erased".

To please the Egyptians, Iran even changed the name of Khaled Islambouli Street, renaming it after the uprising that erupted in Palestine in 2000, Intifada Street. In 2007, senior Iranian leader Ali Larijani visited Cairo, meeting with foreign minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit, ex-vice president and former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Mohammad Said Tintawi, the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, the highest authority in the Muslim Sunni community.

In January 2008, a groundbreaking meeting took place between Mubarak and Gholam Ali Hada, the then-speaker of the Iranian parliament. This was followed by a phone call between Mubarak and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and a meeting between the Egyptian president and Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Mubarak called bilateral relations "positive and appropriate", while Mottaki said Egypt supported Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear technology.

A breakthrough, however, never really saw the light, given Egypt’s hostile position towards Hamas and Hezbollah, which it saw as Iranian proxies in the Arab world. One of the driving reasons behind Mubarak’s very aggressive attitude towards Hamas, for example, during the 2008 war on Gaza was because he simply could not see the conflict through the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.
As far as he was concerned, given Iran’s alliance with Hamas, if the Palestinian group was not crushed, he would eventually have Egyptian borders not with Gaza, but with the Islamic Republic of Iran. That is why he struck with an iron fist, sealing the Rafah crossing into Gaza, preventing pro-Hamas demonstrations in Egypt, and urging Israel - behind closed doors - to continue in its war, hoping that they could crush the Islamic resistance in Palestine.

In 2006, during the Israeli war on Lebanon, Mubarak argued that Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah was an adventurer who had done Lebanon a great disservice by going to war against Israel - words that echoed what had been said in Riyadh. Mubarak sent shockwaves throughout Iran when he appeared on al-Arabiyya TV in 2006 and said that Shi'ites of the Arab world were more loyal to Iran than they were to their own countries, echoing what King Abdullah of Jordan had earlier described as a "Shi'ite crescent".

In 2008, Nasrallah came close to calling for a popular uprising against Mubarak, and a revolt in the Egyptian army, given that he had repeatedly refused to open the Rafah crossing. Mubarak responded by arresting Hezbollah members in Egypt, accused of illegally transporting arms to the Palestinians in Gaza.

The Iranians needless to say were furious. They were equally very angry with Mubarak’s strong backing for Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas' pro-Western Fatah movement and his blind support for Lebanon’s ex-prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who since 2005 has aggressively tried challenging Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon.

By the time the Egyptian revolt broke out in January, all room for dialogue between Mubarak and the Iranians had come to a grinding halt. They are now closely watching who will come next to the Presidential Palace in Cairo next September.

The Iranians have no illusions; they realize that even if he so wishes, the next president of Egypt cannot back out on Camp David, even if he wished. That after all would put him on a collision course with the US. Although uncertain what kind of leader he will be, what is certain is that the next president will be a complete contradiction to Mubarak.

Mubarak, for example, was in his early 80s while the new president will be much younger - hopefully in his 40s. Mubarak was a dictator while the new president will certainly be elected to office through a parliamentary democracy and not stay in power for more than two terms.

The ex-president was hostile to Hamas and Hezbollah and was radically pro-American and pro-Israeli. The new president will probably be way less pro-American or pro-Israeli than his predecessor, which makes him by default, closer to resistance groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria. 

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