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Emerging cooperation between Egypt and Iran

The maiden visit by an Egyptian President to Iran since 1979 may result in a landmark achievement, though it is unlikely to please America and Saudi Arabia due to their vested interests.

In a possible fundamental realignment of the geo-political map of the Arab region amidst the continuing fragile peace and security scenario here, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's impending visit to Iran to attend the Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran may lead to a robust re-engagement between the two countries.

Egypt and Iran are the traditional heavyweights in the Middle East, enjoying considerable clout with their neighbours. Although there are sharp divisions between them, both are progressive societies with all round socio-economic and technological developments along with the formation of a strong politico-militarily establishment. Their coming together will, in all likelihood, result in the formation of a strong united front capable of maintaining freedom and identity of the region, much to the discomfort of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.

America has gone overboard to cultivate a relationship with the new leadership in Egypt. Perhaps in a bid to woo the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration sent three top officials to call on the newly elected President in Cairo within a month. Nevertheless, President Morsi surprised all when he purged the Mubarak-era military top brass, headed by the Defence Minister, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi. Prior to Hosni Mubarak's ousting, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon had been facing-off with a pro- West alliance of Egypt and the Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia. Their strong mutual differences on the grounds of being the Arab and Muslim countries of the region had also suited Israel and America which, since the Arab- Israeli war in 1973, has not been threatened by a united front of regional countries.

There have been considerable behind-the-scenes preparations for Morsi's visit with regard to all these positive developments between Egypt and Iran. In fact, he and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Makkah on the side-lines of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit. While aptly seizing an opportunity for resolution of crisis in Syria during Makkah summit, President Morsi broke ranks from Saudi Arabia and Qatar by proposing a "contact group" on Syria, to be formed by a coalition of Tehran, Cairo, Ankara and Riyadh. Iran welcomed the Egyptian proposal immediately, perhaps due to being ignored earlier by the pro- West grouping on this contentious issue. Foreign policy spokesman Rahim Mehmamparast went on to praise the Egyptian initiative as the means "to review and follow up on [regional] issues so that peace would be established in the region as soon as possible and tensions would cease."

That is why Morsi's proposed visit to Tehran has aroused considerable euphoria in Iran and its importance has not been lost. The Speaker of the Iranian parliament commented, "As two large Muslim countries, Egypt and Iran have had close ties for a long time and played key roles in Islamic civilisation." Iran- Egypt relations actually soured during the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, with no diplomatic representation between them.

Against this backdrop, the emerging power relations in the Middle East with respect to the likely cordial relations between Egypt and Iran may prove to be a milestone towards establishing a strong and effective united front against interventions by outside powers like the US, other western countries and Russia. This would enable minor differences to be resolved and allow them to reap the rewards of their natural riches in their own national interests, with the wider benefit of peace and security in the region and beyond.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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