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EDITORIAL: Intriguing manoeuvres by Egypt

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Intriguing manoeuvres by Egypt

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Some intriguing developments are occurring in parts of the Middle East which are going to change the political dynamics of that region.
They reflect the peculiar vagaries of democracy in multicultural states.
As a consequence, the West is now confronted with some challenges in Egypt which will determine the complexion of politics in that region in the immediate future. A new sense of independence is emerging.
The difficulty with the clamour for democracy is the fact that sometimes the outcome does not suit the protagonists in the West. This was the situation with Hamas in Palestine and now the Brotherhood in Egypt.
The not yet confirmed news that Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi will attend a summit in Iran later this month has rattled the United States. It will be the first such trip for an Egyptian leader since relations with Tehran deteriorated decades ago.
The visit could mark a thaw between the two countries after years of enmity, especially since Egypt signed its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and after Iran underwent its Islamic revolution.
The proposed trip is no surprise as it came days after Mursi included Iran, a strong ally of President Bashar Assad, in a proposal for a contact group to mediate an end to Syria’s escalating civil war at the recent Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit.
Under Mursi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt, which is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, sided with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab states in trying to isolate Shiite-led Iran.
Egypt is the current head of the Non-Aligned Movement, founded during the Cold War to advocate the causes of the developing world. It is set to hand over the chairmanship to Iran at the Tehran meeting and perhaps too much should not be read into it.
However, it should be remembered that in May last year, Egypt’s then ruling interim military council expelled a junior Iranian diplomat on suspicion he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.
Since the overthrow of Mubarak last year, Egypt and Iran have signalled interest in renewing ties severed more than 30 years ago after Iran’s revolution established the Islamic Republic and Egypt’s recognition of Israel.
However, with Western governments pushing Iran to halt its disputed nuclear programme and with the United States being a major donor to Egypt’s military, any improvement in ties could become a tricky path to tread.  
It’s too early to assess the implications of the proposed visit or the extent of any normalization of relations with Iran, but analysts believe it could return Egypt to the regional political stage.
It is felt that Cairo should craft an active foreign policy in the region, independent of Western and oil Gulf countries’ agendas.
However, any normalization between Egypt and Iran has to be carefully calculated or it could be Mursi’s eventual undoing.