Egypt, Iran Walk Sectarian Tightrope In Relations

In his speech, Abdel Ghafour called for this conference “to be the launching pad for supporting the cause of the Arab people in every neighboring Arab country against the Persian occupation.”

During the press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamel Amro, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was all smiles as he confirmed that the ice that covered the relations between both countries would soon be melted.

Meanwhile, tension flared between the two countries during the conference titled “Support for the Ahwaz People,” which was held in Cairo yesterday [Jan. 10] against what the conference organizers called “the Persian occupation of the Ahwaz Arab land.”

Since the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Egypt and Iran have been experiencing on-off tension in their relations, especially following the speech of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit that was held in Tehran last year. Morsi confirmed that Egypt will remain the protector of Sunni Islam in the world.

However, the relations between the two countries are likely to take on a new turn following the recent controversial conference in Cairo that coincided with Salehi’s visit to Egypt.

A swift reading of the timing of the visit and the conference shows that the conference organizers were keen to take an opposing stance to that of the authorities. This stance was adopted by political Islam groups — such as the Salafists and al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya — independently of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In order to begin to assimilate the message behind this conference, it should be known that the conference organizers and attendees are affiliated with Salafist groups. The conference included representatives of Al-Azhar Mosque, the World Islamic Coordinating Council, the Ahwazi “Justice” movement, the Forum of Muslim Scholars, and the International Humanitarian Institutions Union, in addition to the Egyptian Reform Party and the Building and Development Party, the political arm of the Gamaa Islamiya.

However, the most surprising thing was the presence of Emad Abdel Ghafour, the president’s assistant for community outreach (a Salafist). This suggests that while the Egyptian regime exchanged words of praise with its Iranian counterpart, it has been sponsoring the opposing conference behind the scenes.

In his speech, Abdel Ghafour called for this conference “to be the launching pad for supporting the cause of the Arab people in every neighboring Arab country against the Persian occupation.”

“We raise our voices not only in the names of Arabs but also in the names of Sunni Kurds and Ahwaz people who have been subjected to great injustice. While some countries raise the banners of justice, we seek more than that. We want to show our support for the oppressed.”

In a statement to As-Safir, Abdel Ghafour denied any link between the date of the conference and the timing of the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Cairo, and confirmed that it was a coincidence and that the conference was scheduled before Salehi’s visit.

Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Arifi, who delivered a speech, claimed that Iran benefits from 90% of gas resources and produces more than 87% of the Ahwaz oil and exports it to the world. “Iran used the Ahwaz oil to fight Muslims, the Islamic ideology and the Koran,” he added.

The conference has overshadowed Salehi’s visit. During his meeting with Salehi at the headquarters of Al-Azhar in Cairo, Ahmed al-Tayeb, Sheik of Al-Azhar addressed the “call of help” he received from Sunnites in Iran, claiming they do not enjoy their basic rights and their right to practice their own traditions and culture, according to the rights of minorities set forth in the Islamic law and other international laws.

Salehi demanded “full rights of Sunnis in Iran,” confirming that Al-Azhar rejects Iranian intervention in Bahrain’s internal affairs.

In light of these tensions, questions remain about the future of Egyptian-Iranian relations. This is true in spite of a report by The Times (of London) on existing security cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Iranian regime in order to learn a lesson from Iran’s experience in controlling security forces in the wake of an Islamic revolution.

Will these conferences deepen the gap between the two countries, or will the Egyptian-Iranian relations thrive in the upcoming periods?

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