Cause for concern? Egypt is expected to normalize relations with Iran

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

The Emirati newspaper “The National” published today (Wednesday) that Egypt and Iran are normalizing relations and are expected to exchange ambassadors within a few months. This is according to a report by officials from Egypt.

A meeting in principle was agreed between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi. The meeting is expected to take place by the end of the year.

The normalization of relations was done through the mediation of Oman. The ruler of Oman, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, visited Egypt a few days ago, and spoke with the president about Cairo’s relations with Tehran. Oman enjoys close relations with Iran and has often taken on mediating roles in regional conflicts.

Iran has said it wants better relations with Egypt, the most populous Arab nation with more than 110 million people. The Egyptian government, on the other hand, has been silent regarding relations with Iran, but regional media have reported in recent weeks on an expected compromise in relations.

Egypt is expected to try to convince Iran to stop or at least reduce its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Aside from bilateral relations, the talks touched on reducing tensions in places where Iran has significant influence, such as Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, by supporting allied Shiite governments or armed groups.

The normalization of relations between Cairo and Tehran is added to a broad regional trend that has been taking place mainly in the last year. Just a few months ago, Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic relations with Iran that were severed in 2016, thereby removing a major source of tension in the Middle East. Egypt and Turkey, in dispute for a decade, are also working to normalize relations.

In addition, the eight-year war in Yemen, in which Iran supported the Houthis against the internationally recognized government, supported by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, has significantly calmed down amid diplomatic moves to end the conflict.

Moreover, Syria, where Iran has significant influence, was readmitted to the Arab League this month. Its president, Bashar al-Assad, attended the Arab summit last week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the first time in 12 years. Syria’s membership in the Cairo-based Arab League was suspended more than a decade ago after anti-government protests were suppressed. The readmission of Syria to the Arab fold was warmly received by Iran.

Tehran’s relations with Cairo, a close ally of the US, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have been strained since the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Pahlavi died in Egypt in 1980, where he is buried with other family members, which created tensions between Cairo and Tehran.

Relations deteriorated further when the Iranian government named a street in Tehran after Khaled al Islambouli, an Egyptian army officer who led a team of assassins who killed President Anwar Sadat during a military parade in Cairo in 1981. Repeated requests by Cairo to remove his name have been denied.

Recently, relations have been strained because of what Cairo sees as Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

However, unlike Saudi Arabia, which closed its embassy in Tehran in 2016, Egypt has maintained diplomatic representation in Iran since the Islamic Revolution. However, it only has a representative “in charge of relations” in Tehran. Iran, however, has a functioning embassy in Cairo.

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
archives. Photo: Kobi Gideon, Deputy Prime Minister

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