Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Iran-Egypt rapprochement worries conservative Arab sheikdoms


The prospects of normalization of Iran-Egypt relations have not only ruffled the feathers in Washington and Tel Aviv, but have also made some conservative Arab sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf nervous to the extent that the major official media in these countries have tried to downplay the significance of such a political development and to represent it in pessimistic terms . In a recent opinion article entitled “Iran, Egypt to bury the hatchet?” The Gulf News columnist Marwan Al Kabalan writes “ Indeed, the removal of Mubarak, a long-standing foe of Iran's regional ambitions, may facilitate the establishment of normal relations between Tehran and Cairo; yet, given the fundamental clash of interests between the two countries that might not be as easy as many might expect”. Al Kabalan also notes “many thorny issues need to be addressed by the leaders of the two countries before normalisation of relationships is reached. The removal of Mubarak must be therefore seen as a one little hurdle amongst many that need to be surmounted”.

While providing a self-soothing account of the regional political developments for some conservative Arab sheikdoms, Al Kabalan’s analysis of the Egyptian political developments grossly misrepresents the reality. By referring to “fundamental clash of interests” between Egypt and Iran Al Kabalan shows that he has largely underestimated the depth and extent of the still-unfolding political developments in Egypt.

Although today Egypt is ruled by an interim government comprising Mubarak-era political elites, its ongoing diplomatic rapprochement with Iran signals that post-Mubarak era will be qualitatively different than the Mubarak era both in domestic politics and in foreign policy terms. While it is reasonable that the current Egyptian political officials would want to allay the concerns of some conservative Arab sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf by saying that their relations with Iran “does not amount to a strategic alliance”, it remains to be seen how the upcoming democratically-elected government of Egypt will redefine its national interests and foreign policy goals. What is certain is that a democratic and independent-leaning Egypt will not define its foreign policy goals towards Iran in the same terms that its ousted US- and-Israeli-backed dictator did.

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