Egypt-Iran relations hang between rapprochement and crisis

Dina Ezzat , Monday 30 May 2011

After the Saturday arrest of an Iranian diplomat on grounds of espionage, any harmonising of Egyptian-Iranian relations now seem dim and uncertain, according to an Egyptian diplomat

Nabil Elarabi

"I think it has become unrealistic now to talk of any nearby upgrade of diplomatic relations; we are obviously getting into a new phase of crisis – unfortunately," said an Egyptian diplomat who asked for his name to be withheld.

The remarks followed news of the planned deportation of an Iranian diplomat from the Iranian diplomatic mission in Cairo less than 24 hours following his arrest by Intelligence agents over charges of espionage.

"The deportation is being worked out, but we don’t have the details," said the diplomat.

According to an official source familiar with the developments of the case of the Saturday evening arrest, the details of the announced espionage include trying to collect crucial economic and political information on Egypt and of "building a network of contacts to provide a regular flow of information."

The affair of Sayed Qassem El-Husseini, the Iranian diplomat in question, is downplayed by an Iranian diplomatic source in Cairo who said that the matter is being exaggerated for some reason or the other. "It is unfortunate that this is happening when we thought we are going to make a good breakthrough in relations."

Upon his appointment in March, Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi announced a keen interest in upgrading diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran to full ambassadorial level.

Egypt, El-Arabi argued, should not be different from a large part of the international community who maintain full diplomatic relations with Iran.

"I guess that Minister El-Arabi was not aware of the volume of sensitivity in many security quarters over relations with Iran," argued the diplomat who spoke to Ahram Online.

The statements of El-Arabi also raised considerable question marks in several Arab Gulf capitals where the very thought of Egypt pulling away from its Gulf alliance in the face of possible Iranian power plays causes alarm. These concerns were immediately dispelled by repeated 'very high-level' Egyptian assurances.

Egyptian-Iranian relations have been severed by the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Despite many forms of cooperation in multilateral forums, especially UN Security Council, relations remained below the full ambassadorial level.

The past five years were marked by repeated accusations from top Egyptian officials against Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of several Arab countries via Shia groups – especially within Lebanon and Iraq.

It is not clear how Iran will react to this new development. The Iranian diplomat declined to predict any reactions.

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