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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Egypt needs ‘tough love’ to reject Iran’s overtures

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© AP Images

The visit of Iran’s envoy to the Egyptian capital, coinciding with the first direct flight from Cairo to Tehran in 34 years, was ostensibly to deepen his country’s ties with Egypt and discuss solutions to the Syrian crisis. But rather than a goodwill visit, it was shamelessly used as a platform to castigate Arab leaderships for giving Syria’s seat at the Arab League to a representative of the opposition coalition.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdullahian blasted the Arab League’s decision in the presence of its Secretary-General Nabil Al Araby and accused member countries of serving the goals of Western governments in the Middle East. “It would be better if the Arab leaders drew attention to defending oppressed people,” he said.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black when Iranians are among the most downtrodden people on earth! I too wish that Arab heads of state would defend the oppressed, in particular, the Arabs of Ahwaz and Iranian Sunnis that have been persecuted and treated like second-class citizens for decades. Iran’s treatment of its Arab and Sunni communities is a disgrace and its ‘concern’ for Syrians nothing but a sham.

Tehran’s core interest in Syria is the retention of its stranglehold over that geo-strategically important Arab country, serving as a conduit for terrorist organisations in neighboring countries’ funding and weapons. That aside, we’re still waiting to hear Al Araby’s riposte to that diatribe expounded on Arab soil – I guess we’ll have a long wait. If he had any kind of backbone, he would have told Abdullahian on the spot to keep his nose out of Arab affairs. By contrast, the Sheikh Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayyeb told the visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not to interfere in Bahrain or attempt to influence Egypt’s Sunni majority. We are used to Iranian aggression but the fact that this violation of our sovereignty occurred in Egypt, which used to be considered “the heart of the Arab World” when Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak were at the helm, makes my blood boil.

Abdullahian went on to tell the press that he had held a “constructive discussion” with Al-Araby with whom he “exchanged views especially on Bahrain, Syria and Palestine.” How dare this Iranian official equate the issues of Bahrain and Palestine with the tragedy unfolding in Syria! Bahrain’s problem arises from an Iranian fifth column on the island, instigating traitors to riseup against the monarch. And no one with even a scant knowledge of the true state of affairs should label it differently. Then to sweeten the pill, he audaciously expressed “Iran’s approval of the efforts of the Arab League in regard to the Syrian crisis”. I wasn’t aware that we need Iran’s rubber-stamping of our internal decisions.

The extent of Tehran’s meddling in Arab matters has reached an intolerable level. Why has Al-Araby and Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamel Amr provided Tehran with a free pass to express its dissatisfaction with Arab League positions? Where are the voices of Arab and GCC leaders, especially those directly threatened by Iran’s belligerence? Are they content to be bystanders permitting Iran to manipulate our region’s future?

This disrespectful ticking-off on the part of a top Iranian official and Egypt’s failure to appropriately respond should be considered a deafening wake-up call. It’s time we mulled some hard questions as to the loyalties of the Egyptian government; questions that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s man President Mohamed Morsi first moved into the Al-Ittihadiya Palace offices last year, I adopted a wait-and-see attitude. ‘Let’s give him a chance’ I thought based on his speeches and statements pledging that Egypt would remain the Arab World’s heartland and the guardian of Arab interests.

Initially, he talked a good talk and promised to be a president for all Egyptians regardless of their religious or political affiliations. Yet, not only has he let down the Egyptian people, driving the country towards bankruptcy and internal conflicts, he has laid out a red carpet for Iran’s ayatollahs, ministers and the secretive Revolutionary Guard Al Quds Force, which, by the way is grossly misnamed. Iran has no right to name a terrorist organisation, currently murdering Syrians, after one of Islam’s holiest places, Jerusalem, site of the Haram Al-Sharif and it’s a mystery to me why the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Arab League and Muslim leaders haven’t voiced their objections.

GCC leaders and the few remaining true Arab leaders must take a firm stand against Egypt which is sinking under the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime before our very eyes. Constructive intervention is urgently needed before it’s too late. Today, Tehran’s representatives are strutting around Cairo presiding over press conferences and there are numerous flights arriving from Iran packed with ‘tourists’ eager to visit Egypt’s tourist sites. Iran estimates as many as two million Iranian ‘tourists’ will head to Egypt annually. Tomorrow, we’ll see the nation’s Sunni mosques flying Shiite flags and Khomeini’s portrait on billboards like in Lebanon. Think that’s farfetched?

Egypt’s Minister of Tourism Hesham Zaazou is clearly concerned about the potential influx’s ramifications. He wants to impose restrictions permitting only ‘entertainment trips’ allowing Iranian visitors free access to tourist sites and resorts while barring them from mosques. That policy has been challenged by the acting Iranian ambassador in Cairo. “Iranian tourists have the right to visit whatever places they want in Egypt…” he said.

Some Egyptians have been so rattled at the new cozy Iranian-Egyptian relations that include a tourism agreement that they are organising protests against Iranian Shiite proselytizers. Egyptian cleric Safwat Hijazi told Al Arabiya that Iranian tourists won’t come simply to enjoy what the country has to offer, but will actively spread religious doctrine. Iran tends to “stir problems wherever it exists” like in Iran and Syria, he rightly noted.

In conclusion, there are two pressing issues that need addressing: The GCC should inform the Egyptian government where it stands. The time for coddling Cairo with billions in financial aid/loans should end as long as it embraces Iran, which, by its actions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain, has proved an enemy of Arab states. Any pledges of financial aid should be withdrawn on the grounds it will be used against us by Iran’s seeming new proxy in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood that is doing its utmost to infiltrate and poison Gulf States. Any GCC member country that refuses to quit proppingup the Brothers should be condemned. An iron hand must be used to push Cairo in the right direction; they must choose – them or us?

All Arab leaderships, including Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, should prevent Iranians treating our lands as though they were the owners, else call themselves Persian and be done with it. If Iranians wish to make demeaning statements on wholly Arab issues, they can be as offensive as they like on their own ground. Arab territories are precious and should not be open for Iranians to pour vitriol on our dignity, ignite dissent or proselytize Shiite ideology.

“The Arab world is writing a new future; the pen is in our own hands,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah II. True, but without the courage and conviction to draw a secure tomorrow a pen is just a hollow stick filled with ink!

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