Egypt Iran rapprochement: Some timid first steps
Egypt and Iran are set to ease out differences but are not expected to immediately restore diplomatic relations, sources say
Dina Ezzat, Friday 10 Aug 2012
The visit of Iranian vice president Hamid Bakaei served a bigger purpose than that of handing out an invitation for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran late this month from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, according to diplomats on both sides.
The visit, they said, opened the door for a smoother rapport between Cairo and Tehran whose relations remain severed since they were cut off by the Islamic Republic of Iran upon the ousting of the Shah and his reception in Egypt in 1979.
Bakaei was received by Morsi who promised, according to Egyptian and Iranian sources, to accept the invitation.
Morsi's expected two-day visit to Iran would be the first by an Egyptian president in over three decades since late president Anwar Sadat was a regular flyer to Tehran.
The visit of Morsi, Egypt's first Islamist president to the Islamic Republic of Iran, is expected to be short – a day most probably.
According to the tentative schedule of the visit Morsi would head the Egyptian delegation to the NAM summit. He would turn over the presidency of the summit from Egypt to Iran. He would then hold talks with his Iranian counterpart and senior Iranian officials and intellectuals on the side of the summit.
The talks of Morsi in Tehran as those of Bakaei in cairo this week would focus on expanding the avenues of cooperation between he two countries, both at the bilateral and multilateral fronts.
On the bilateral front, the two countries would examine specific plans for economic, scientific and cultural cooperation – excluding most probably the expansion of the volume of Iranian tourists to Egypt who wish to visit the Cairo mosques affiliated to the family of Prophet Mohamed.
"This issue is out of the question now," said a senior security source.
Traditionally, Egyptian security bodies are sensitive to these religious tours for fear of an assumed expansion of the very limited volume of a few thousand Muslim Shiaas in a country of close to 90 millions which is predominantly Sunni Muslim and 10 per cent Copt.
Also on the table of bilateral talks is the cooperation of the two countries to help ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza living for the last five years under an Israeli siege that international humanitarian organisations qualify as a brutal violation of international humanitarian law.
Egypt, set to toughen its security measures in Sinai following the Sunday brutal slaying of border gurads at the hands of suspected Islamist militants, is willing to consider alternatives to provide Gaza with basic humanitarian needs in parallel with the closing down of illicit tunnels between Gaza and Rafah which are used to smuggle food and medicines, along with arms to fighters.
Developments in Syria, Tehran's strategic ally, will also be on the table of Morsi's talks with his Iranian interlocutors.
Egyptian officials say it is unwise to exaggerate the prospects of a boom in Egyptian Iranian relations at this moment.
"Eventually things could improve but it is premature now to expect an immediate normalisaiton of relations," said an Egyptian diplomat.
According to the same diplomat, who had served in Egypt's diplomatic mission in Tehran, the call for resuming normal relations with Iranpredates the election of the Islamist president.
"Amr Moussa (Egypt's foreign minister in the 1990s) tried very hard to give a push to this matter and he was hoping to make a breakthrough when he visited iran in December 1997 at the head of the Egyptian delegation to the Organisaiton of the Islamic Confernce summit there but his efforts were undermined by security warnings to the (ousted) president," he said.
Upon his assignment as Egypt's first post 25 January Revolution minister of foreign affairs in March 2011, Nabil El-Arabi announced plans to resume relations with Iran. However, the plans were subverted by the same security bodies.
Today, these security bodies blame Tehran for supporting the militant groups that executed the Rafah operation – something that Bakaei categorically denied in his talks with Morsi.
In his meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo, Bakei examined avenues of the plausible economic and trade cooperation between Cairo and Tehran, including an old plan that was designed by Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last minister of civil aviation and morsi's own adversary in the second round of presidential elections, to establish commercial aviation line between the two countries.
Translation of books and exchange of some films and musique bands are also considered by both sides.