Calling on Iran

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, 30 August – 5 September 2012.

It’s only a few hours visit that comes strictly in the framework of a multilateral commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) but still the expected arrival of President Mohamed Mursi in Tehran today is a massive diplomatic gesture and a political message.

Mursi is expected in the Iranian capital to hand over the presidency of NAM to his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “The president will just participate in the opening session and then will leave Tehran. It is only a matter of a few hours,” said presidential spokesman Yasser Ali earlier in the week, before the head of state had embarked on a two-legged trip that had taken him to Beijing before his expected arrival in Tehran. 

Any meetings that Mursi might have while in Tehran for the NAM summit, Ali added in an abrupt tone, would be in line with the observed rules of protocol.

In other words, the spokesman of the president was stating that Mursi is not going to Tehran in any bilateral capacity and that he is not planning a bilateral segment of an otherwise multilateral commitment … //

… During his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia only a few days after taking the presidential oath, Mursi stated that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the guardians of “Sunni Islam” in the region.

What lies ahead for Cairo and Tehran in the short run are wider avenues of already existing economic and trade cooperation and the possible exploration of cultural cooperation. Expanded Egyptian-Iranian cooperation in several multilateral contexts is also plausible. Mursi, according to one of his aides, is expected to remind the gathering at the opening of today’s NAM summit of his proposal made before an emergency Organisation of Islamic Conference summit two weeks ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to establish a contact group of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to attend to the Syrian crisis.

This proposal would be renewed amid increasing concern in diplomatic quarters about the beginning of a more intense phase of violence in Syria that could lead to some sort of foreign military intervention to provide protection for violence-terrorised civilians.

Egypt and Iran have been cooperating in venues related to humanitarian missions in Afghanistan and to the promotion of Third World perspectives, certainly that of NAM, in relation to the reform of the UN and its Security Council.

Egyptian diplomats overseas say that they were asked by respective foreign authorities if Cairo was planning a resumption of relations with Tehran. The answer was that Egypt is planning a new phase of its foreign policy based on more engagement with everyone — not excluding a leading Muslim and Middle East country like Iran.

Indeed, Mursi arrives in Tehran from Beijing where he spent a few days for political and economic talks that opened new vistas of economic cooperation between the two countries and activated relatively sedated diplomatic relations and political dialogue.

The Egyptian delegation to China included 75 Egyptian businessmen as well as a handful of ministers specialising in investment, communications, tourism, trade and industry and transportation, set out to boost business with China and to attract more of China’s $60 billion in overseas investments.

Mursi is also planning two other visits to Malaysia and Brazil. “The president is considering visits to other Asian and Latin American countries whereby he would be soliciting the chances for cooperation,” Ali stated.

But in Tehran’s streets the perception of Mursi’s visit is unlike the participation of any other head of a NAM state. Citizens who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on the streets of the Iranian capital sounded keen about the news of Mursi’s visit and of the hope that it would allow for the resumption of relations between the two countries in what would eventually allow Iranians to visit Egypt and Egyptians to go to Iran.  (full text).

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