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Egypt-Iran relations stuck in neutral

Cairo and Tehran have been seeking to stabilize ties and find common ground on Syria and Palestine ever since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was deposed and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected.
A protester holds the Syrian revolutionary flag in front of police standing guard outside the Iranian ambassador's house during a protest against Iran in Cairo April 5, 2013. Ultra-Conservative Islamist Salafists brought down the Iranian flag at the house of the Iranian ambassador in Egypt Mojtaba Amani on Friday, and replaced it with the Syrian revolutionary flag. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTXY9MP

TEHRAN, Iran — As cloudy as the winter days of Tehran, as dusty as the summer days of Cairo, relations between Iran and Egypt maintain their 35-year-old uncertainty, proving to both countries and the region that the basis of tension and political hostility between both nations isn't related mainly to regimes and policies, but rather to some deeper aspects that need to be uncovered, or maybe investigated, in case both have the genuine intention to re-establish and enhance their ties.

On July 3. 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood's rule in Egypt was toppled amid demonstrations by millions of Egyptians who came to the streets of Cairo to voice their dismay and request a change. Most of Iran's allies in the region celebrated the change except for Iran, despite that both Islamic governments in Cairo and Tehran had strained ties. Both former presidents of the two countries, Mohammed Morsi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited the other country's capital, but neither was capable of coming back to his office with an appropriate memorial picture to add to the history album of both nations. Iranian media addressed the change in Egypt as a coup d'état, while officials in Tehran continue to equally criticize the new Egyptian leadership and the former one.

According to an Egyptian diplomat who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Cairo tried its best to explain to the Iranians that the Muslim Brotherhood was outside the equation and that those ruling the country today wanted real, solid and everlasting relations with Tehran: "We sent two delegations to Tehran; none was received by senior level officials, while another group of pro-Brotherhood personalities enjoyed a warm welcome and was received by high level officials, including Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's supreme leader adviser,” the diplomat said. The pro-government Egyptian delegations visited Tehran in December, while the third delegation that’s said to be close to the Brotherhood arrived in Tehran in January.

The diplomat voiced concerns over the future of relations, saying, "New Egypt is an independent state, we want better relations with all countries without compromising our sovereignty; we regard Iran as a potential friend, still, they have to make the second step, but unfortunately they still see and listen to Egypt from both the Brotherhood's eyes and ears."

Another Egyptian source, one of the main leaders of the June 30 demonstrations that helped topple former president Mohammed Morsi, and whom I met last week in Beirut, told me that there's a feeling that Tehran was cautious about a future, prominent role that might be played by Egypt in the region, and this might be one of the main reasons behind the Iranian reluctance.

No one in Tehran can deny the coldness in relations with Egypt. "We regard all that's happening in Egypt as internal issues," said a senior Iranian official. "All that we care about is seeing Egypt as soon as possible on the democracy track. The Egyptian people deserve being fully represented, therefore we call on the Egyptian government not to isolate the Islamists by accusing them of terrorism. they shouldn't repeat the mistakes of Morsi."

According to the official, Tehran looks forward to a stable and developed Egypt: "We respect all movements and activities, we regard the Muslim Brotherhood along with other Islamists as part of the Egyptian society; we respect all activities by political factions as far as they are not linked to terrorism and don’t affect the security and stability of the country; we want strong ties with all Egyptian parties and we regard the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the main factions."

"We might have agreed on Syria," said the official, "still, we have a long way to go. In Palestine, for example, we need to agree on a unified stance, Gaza needs the siege to be risen, people are dying over there because of the siege, and the resistance is direly affected, Israel is the only winner."

Al-Monitor knew that fresh efforts to normalize ties between both countries were expected to begin with the awaited visit of prominent Egyptian journalist Mohammed Hasanein Heikal, whose words are well-heard by Egypt’s presidential favorite, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. While in Beirut on Dec. 2, Heikal met Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for six hours and both men discussed the relations between the group and Egypt, and Iran and Egypt. At the end of the meeting, a source told Al-Monitor, Nasrallah handed Haikal a special invitation to visit Tehran from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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