Mursi to visit Iran, a first in decades

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Mursi to visit Iran, a first in decades

CAIRO - Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi will attend a summit in Iran later this month, a presidential official said on Saturday, the first such trip for an Egyptian leader since relations with Tehran deteriorated decades ago.

By (AP)

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Published: Mon 20 Aug 2012, 1:43 AM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 1:55 PM

The visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity, especially since Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and Iran underwent its Islamic revolution.

Until now, contacts have been channelled through interest sections, a low-level form of diplomatic representation. In May last year, Egypt, which was ruled by an interim military council, expelled a junior Iranian diplomat on suspicion he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.

It’s too early to assess the implications of the visit or to what extent the Arab world’s most populous country may normalise relations with Tehran, but analysts believe it will bring Egypt back to the regional political stage.

The visit is in line with popular sentiment since Mubarak’s ouster in an uprising last year for Cairo to craft a foreign policy independent of Western or other countries’ agendas.

“This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of manoeuvre for Egyptian foreign policy in the region,” said political scientist Mustafa Kamel El Sayyed. “Mursi’s visits ... show that Egypt’s foreign policy is active again in the region.”

“This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position,” he added. The official said that Mursi will visit Tehran on August 30 on his way back from China to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, where Egypt will transfer the movement’s rotating leadership to Iran.

The trip is no surprise — it came days after Mursi included Iran, a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, in a proposal for a contact group to mediate an end to Syria’s escalating civil war.

The proposal for the group was made at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in the holy city of Makkah.

During the summit, Mursi exchanged handshakes and kisses with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in their first meeting since Mursi assumed his post as Egypt’s first elected president.

The idea was welcomed by Iran’s state-run Press TV, and a leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said that Tehran’s acceptance of the proposal was a sign Egypt was beginning to regain some of the diplomatic and strategic clout it once held in the region.

After the fall of longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak in last year’s popular revolt, officials have expressed no desire to maintain Mubarak’s staunch anti-Iranian stance.

Last July, former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, who also heads the Arab League, delivered a conciliatory message to the Islamic Republic, saying “Iran is not an enemy”. He also noted that post-Mubarak Egypt would seek to open a new page with every country in the world, including Iran.

Tensions have not been absent, however, in contacts with Iran’s clerical state since Egypt’s uprising. When a delegation of politicians and youth activists made a visit to Iran last year, one Egyptian pro-democracy activist, Mustafa El Nagger, said his Iranian hosts claimed the revolt sweeping the Arab world was part of an “Islamic awakening”. He responded with a different interpretation: the anti-Mubarak uprising was “not a religious revolution, but a human evolution”.

“The old regime used to turn any of his rivals to a ghost. We don’t want to do like Mubarak and exaggerate of the fear of Iran,” said Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mursi was the leader of its political arm. “But at the same time, we should not take the Iranians’ ambitions lightly. As much as they don’t want us to interfere in their business, we don’t want them to interfere in our business,” he said, mentioning his group’s opposition to Iran’s “grand project to spread Shia faith”.

Aware of the regional countries’ anxieties, Mursi has focused on courting Saudi Arabia. He visited it twice, once just after he won the presidency, and a second time during the Islamic summit. In an attempt to assuage fears of the Arab uprisings, he vowed that Egypt does not want to “export its revolution”. He has also asserted commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

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