February 2013


Good discussion over at Abu Aardvark’s about alternative US policy ideas towards Egypt. I make two appearances (though I’ll leave you to figure out which).

Advertisements

A new strategic alliance between Egypt and Iran is not likely in a region currently being contested by four would-be hegemons, though the US might find unintended consequences stemming from its attempts to further isolate Tehran, or in leaving Cairo to collapse.

 

While most attention is on renewed protests throughout the Arab Spring countries, I wanted to look briefly at news this past week of Iranian President Ahmedinijad’s visit to Cairo. This is the second time leaders from the two countries have met, the first being President Moursi’s visit to Tehran last August. This time, Ahmedinijan called for a strategic alliance between the two countries. So, do we have the beginnings of a new power axis across the Middle East that will redefine international affairs for generations to come? I rather doubt it.

There is some historical precedent for an alliance. Before the 1979 Iranian Revolution and before Egyptian President Mubarak’s reign, the two countries had some ties and the exiled Shah is even still buried in Egypt. But even if the only thing holding back diplomatic relations until now was just the personal enmity between rulers, I’d argue that the Middle East is no longer an environment supportive of such a friendship.

The MENA region is developing into a four-way contest between Iran, Egypt, Saudi, and Turkey, each seeking to assert their control. Each can lay claim to being a regional power with a certain manifest destiny, and each sees great opportunity in the new Middle East. Egypt desperately wants to be the center of power it once was, but its economy is in tatters and its political situation dangerously unstable. Iran has a leg up on Egypt, but that leg’s pretty firmly weighted down by sanctions just now.

This is not to say that the two countries won’t be able to improve their relations or manage some form of cooperation on certain issues, and certainly Egypt could use some cash about now (though sanction-beset Iran is not in the best position to offer any), but whatever ties resurface now that Mubarak is out of the way, they will likely stop prior to true friendship. Simply put, this region ain’t big enough for the both of ’em.

But is there anything that could change that calculus and get Iran and Egypt on the same side? I think the defining of sides in this case from the US might, under the right circumstances, lead to such an arrangement. Ahmedinijad’s call for an alliance is based on the idea that each country has more to lose in a region controlled by the US and its allies (read Israel) than in one controlled by either of them. Right now, I don’t think Egypt’s leaders see it that way, but the  US’ policy of trying to turn the entire world against Iran for the sake of Israel doesn’t go down very well with people in the region (in Egypt any more than in Iran), and an Iran seeking to recoup its losses from a chaotic Syria might just redouble its charm offensive elsewhere. Also, if both countries are teetering on their own, there might be some appeal in trying to hold each other up instead.

On a side note, it is good to see that the shoe-throwing-protest meme from several years ago is alive and well. Also, the triple slow-mo in this video is amazing.