Unnatural Partners

Iranian leaders are trying to form a new alliance with Egypt, holding diplomatic talks with the goal of bringing the Persian State out of international isolation. On February 7, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad will attend a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo. This follows on the heels of consultations between Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi who met earlier this week. Reportedly, there were also secret talks between one of Morsi's political advisors and the commander of the Iranian Quds Force regarding security and intelligence cooperation between both countries.

Earlier this month, Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Hamdy claimed that Egypt would pursue a relationship with Iran's proxy, Hezbollah. This is part of a new regional policy that Egypt is forming in order to reclaim its position as the leader of the Arab world. Because of the revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak and the instability in Egypt that followed, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have taken on the role as overseers. But now that is changing as Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt while reaching out to Middle Eastern countries.

Since the Arab Spring, and the ousting of Mubarak, Iran has continually tried to improve relations with Egypt. Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt and current Research Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, says that though Morsi is a Sunni and Ahmadenijad is a Shiite, "for them, Islamic solidarity is more important and they will try to reach an understanding between them... In the long run, they will try to create an Islamic circle in the Middle East, facing the West."

Mazel implies that Egypt is negotiating with Iran because the Iranians have too much influence, especially in Iraq and Syria. Morsi's political backing in his own nation is the Moslem Brotherhood. According to Mazel, "The Moslem Brotherhood needs peace and calm in order to get Egypt stable, in their own way, by imposing Islamic law, Sharia.... They don't need a confrontation with Iran. This is the main reason they will try to have compromised relations with Iran. And, they will, at the same time, try to create an Islamic country and improve the economy."

The Moslem Brotherhood has been the main Sunni power benefitting from the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia in December 2010, and moved to Egypt in January 2011. Their goal is to gradually take control of the Arab Middle East, while at the same time, maintaining an understanding with Persian Iran. Mazel says that for Egypt it is not about the Sunni-Shiite divide. "This is not the time to fight against Iran, if they can reach a kind of agreement with Iran about the sphere of influence."

At the same time, Morsi needs the Brotherhood to build a force around him, internally in Egypt, in order to protect his political interests. He cannot trust the Egyptian standing army; and, he is vastly unpopular with secular Egyptians who have not accepted the new Egyptian constitution or the referendum. They have protested that it was done by a consensus of only a majority of Islamists, and they are afraid that the Brotherhood will crack down on their freedoms by instituting Sharia Law. If the constitution is not agreed upon by 75-80% of the Egyptian population, Mazel says it is not a legitimate constitution. He explained why a majority of Egyptians will continue to put down the constitution in its current form, and why it must be abolished and rewritten.

"They are afraid the Moslem Brotherhood will falsify and cheat and take over. The Brotherhood will do everything to win the election... The Moslem Brotherhood means business. They mean to stay in power. They are not going to quit power. They are not going to a fair election in the future. They are putting their people in every government ministry."

In the meantime, Egypt will continue to be unstable because the opposition is strong. Will Morsi fall? Mazel says, "No", because the Moslem Brotherhood that backs Morsi is made up of fanatic Islamists. He believes they will continue to use tactics to scare the Egyptian people that are opposed to Morsi's rule. "There will be violence, but Morsi will stay as is."

Morsi realizes that there are also opposing forces against him in non-Islamic countries. He's reaching out to his moderate Arab neighbors in order to maintain good relations, while also hoping for Iran's backing. He is trying to gain the legitimacy that he has lost in Egypt, deferring accusations against him, hoping he can rule effectively in the midst of chaos and instability at home.

C. Hart reports on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.