Iran’s image takes a beating
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Egypt to participate in the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has failed to cultivate a positive image of Iran and its president in Egypt. On the fact of it, the visit was a reminder that Iran is still a key player in the region. Nonetheless, the popular humiliating attack on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a chilly and a sharp message that the influence of Iran has further diminished.
By and large, the Egyptian people do not trust the Iranian leadership. Iran’s support for the embattled president of Syria made Iran less popular in the Sunni world. Ahmadinejad’s polemics against the United States and Israel has not helped him win the hearts and minds of the Arabs. Thus far, the Iranian president has not been successful in matching his anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric’s with actions that could make a difference.
The insistence on the verbal “resistance” does not resonate well with the Arabs at a time Iran continues its negative interference in the internal affairs of some Arab states. Thus, evoking the injustice befell the Palestinians to detract from the real issues in the region can hardly boost Iran’s status. For this reason, Ahmadinejad’s delivering of his routine rants against the West is nothing but a smokescreen to conceal the real objectives of Iran in the region.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt turned sour as he endured humiliation by people. His attempt to brag the fact that he is the first Iranian president to visit Egypt since Iran’s revolution of 1979 was undercut by the unexpected humiliation of having a show thrown at him. In fact, the visit would have been impossible in the past given Mubarak’s unambiguous anti-Iran stance. Egypt’s rift with Iran in the wake of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty proved to be both serious and persistent.
By demeaning and embarrassing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his visit to Egypt, the Egyptian people made a big point of saying that Iran’s policy in Syria and the wider region is nothing but grotesque. Tehran’s unqualified support for Assad’s regime has gained Iran nemesis in this part of the world. These days, there is no love lost between Iran and a majority of the Arabs.
And yet, Egypt is going through a very critical moment. It seems as if the street is taking control again and President Mursi is not oblivious to the Egyptian sentiments toward Iran and its policies in Syria and the Gulf. Additionally, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has not led to sea change in Egypt’s position toward key regional issues. “So far, the rise of these Islamic parties has not lived up to Iran’s hopes or expectations. They have come to power not to be led by Iran but to lead themselves,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington.
The anti-Iranian sentiments are dominant in Egypt. Abdel Moneim El-Shahat, a prominent and vocal spokesman for the Salafists called on the President of Egypt to “reaffirm the Sunnism of Egypt… reject Shiite and its tools.”
It is worth reminding that the Salafists are eager to take a stand to what they see as attempts to turn Sunnis to Shiites in Egypt. Abdel Moneim El-Shahat expressed his opposition to the visit of Ahmadinejad for political reasons. And yet he is not against dialogue with the Iranian president provided that such a dialogue centers on five main issues: Putting an immediate end to the killing and massacres committed against the Sunnis in Syria and Ahwaz; dismantling and decommissioning the militant Shiite organizations that stir seditions in the region; discussing the human rights files of the Sunnis in countries that Iran interferes in their internal affairs; disallowing the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and finally banning Iran from spreading Shiism and Shiite revolution in the Gulf region as it constitutes a strategic depth for Egypt.
Far from being cordial, the Egyptian-Iranian relations are at best cold. For both political and strategic reasons, the two countries are not expected to enjoy a cozy relationship. Although many pundits and analysts focus on the differences between the two countries on the Syrian revolution, one should also take into account that Iran’s sectarian agenda has only aggravated the already bad image of the country in much of the Arab world.
The public assault on the Iranian president in Egypt should be seen within this light.