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The Edge of Climate Change

New Models Predict Drastically Greener Arctic In Coming Decades

April 2nd 2013

Glacier calving

New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected. “Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

The Combined Powers of the U.S. Face a New Era in Geo-Politics

April 2nd 2013

Click to select Image

An era ended when the Soviet Union collapsed on Dec. 31, 1991. The confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union defined the Cold War period. The collapse of Europe framed that confrontation. After World War II, the Soviet and American armies occupied Europe. Both towered over the remnants of Europe's forces. The collapse of the European imperial system, the emergence of new states and a struggle between the Soviets and Americans for domination and influence also defined the confrontation. There were, of course, many other aspects and phases of the confrontation, but in the end, the Cold War was a struggle built on Europe's decline.

Many shifts in the international system accompanied the end of the Cold War. In fact, 1991 was an extraordinary and defining year. The Japanese economic miracle ended. China after Tiananmen Square inherited Japan's place as a rapidly growing, export-based economy, one defined by the continued pre-eminence of the Chinese Communist Party. The Maastricht Treaty was formulated, creating the structure of the subsequent European Union. A vast coalition dominated by the United States reversed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Read more ..


The North Korean Threat

China Aids Persecution of North Koreans

April 1st 2013

Kim Jung Un-Chinese Officiers

When the North Korean government stated on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea, a large number of refugees -- mostly Christians -- once again began fleeing across Chinese border in hopes of avoiding more suffering and starvation from the hard-line communist regime. In many cases, according to human rights groups, North Korean Christians are accused of being spies for South Korea or the United States and incarcerated in prison camps or worse -- killed.

"From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly," a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency said. Fleeing North Koreans are finding that the Chinese are no big help in providing asylum from the brutality and state-sanctioned killing in North Korea, according to the group Liberty in North Korea. Read more ..


Broken Government

Easter Has Friends on K Street

March 31st 2013

Lobbyist

The Easter Bunny — that cotton-tailed purveyor of egg-shaped confections — will deliver his annual baskets of goodies this Sunday. But not without some help from K Street lobbyists.

Organizations linked to the Easter holiday and its furry mascot have ramped up their efforts to influence lawmakers, according to federal lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Consider the National Confectioners Association, the trade group for all things cream-filled and candy-coated, which spent a record $420,000 on federal lobbying in 2012.

The association hired 20 lobbyists last year to push Congress for sweet deals on bills such as the Free Market Sugar Act and the Free Sugar Act of 2011. Nine of those lobbyists have previously worked for the federal government in some capacity.  Among them is William J. Morley, of the D.C.-based Altrius Group, who also lobbied on behalf of the Central American Sugar Association and the American Chamber of Commerce in Columbia. Read more ..


Cuba on Edge

Preserving Stability in Cuba

March 30th 2013

Cuba Street Scene

Cuba under Raúl Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity, including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate, automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers, where citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the “gradual transfer” of “key roles to new generations,” President Raúl Castro announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution.

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy, if it leads to reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring social chaos, especially among the island’s disaffected youth. Such an outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and regional security. To maintain Cuba’s social and economic stability while reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private and state-owned. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Obama Goes His Own Way in Syria

March 29th 2013

Corpses in Homs

President Obama is at odds with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and others on his national security team on whether to provide body armor and other non-lethal military equipment to vetted rebels battling Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, Foreign Policy reported Thursday.

The president's National Security Council principals all agreed to the aid last month, according to the report, but Obama has not acted on it. The Washington Post first reported last month that the administration was considering sending the aid, but Thursday's report is the first to claim that the council has sent the president an interagency recommendation urging the shift in policy. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

With Chavez gone, Will Pope Francis Play a Role in Latin America?

March 27th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

Following the spirit of the constitution, the next elections in Venezuela are scheduled for April 14th. Nicolas Maduro will be the candidate of the PSUV while Henrique Capriles Radonski will be the candidate of the united opposition (MDU).

Chavez’s death has left a legacy in Venezuela similar to that of Peron: a mythical figure that will be remembered by those who have materially benefitted from Chavez’s years as president and by those who see him as a symbol of redemption and independence regardless of any concerns for constitutional democracy.

We have seen these mythical signs of his legacy when Maduro placed Chavez in the same light as “Jesus the Redeemer”. He pointed out that Chavez is the Christ of the poor of Latin America. Read more ..


Broken Government

North Dakota is New Battleground over Abortion

March 27th 2013

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North Dakota adopted the nation’s strictest abortion ban Tuesday, setting the stage for a lengthy court battle and reviving the charge among abortion-rights supporters that Republicans are “radical” on women’s health. The measure, signed Tuesday by North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), bans abortions when doctors can first detect a heartbeat, or after about six weeks of fetal development.

Two other new laws ban genetic and gender discrimination in abortions, and require abortion doctors to maintain admitting privileges at a hospital. Dalrymple’s quick decision to approve the measures came as a surprise to abortion-rights supporters, who savaged the laws in language reminiscent of the 2012 election. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Implications of Possible Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

March 26th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

Claims that chemical weapons (CW) were used in Syria Tuesday center on two reported incidents. The first, claimed by the regime, was at Khan al-Asal in the northern Aleppo province; at least 25 people died (reportedly including 16 regime troops), and more than 110 were injured. The regime claims a rocket or missile with a chemical agent hit a government-controlled area. The second incident, claimed by the opposition, was in the town of Ataibah east of Damascus; it included "fierce shelling with chemical rockets" containing an agent that induced "suffocating and nausea cases" as well as "headache, vomiting, and hysteria cases." The two episodes occurred hundreds of miles apart.

According to Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi, the missile or rocket that struck Khan al-Asal came from Qatar or another Arab League country, a claim that may be possible to verify or refute through intelligence sources. He stated that those responsible "must be held accountable -- a king or a prince, a president or a minister." The Syrian regime has asked the UN to investigate. For their part, the military office of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) and other groups denied that they have the ability to deploy such weapons and instead blamed the regime, claiming it missed its original target of a police academy taken by the rebels. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Portents of Danger in the Cyprus Bailout

March 26th 2013

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The European economic crisis has taken different forms in different places, and Cyprus is the latest country to face the prospect of financial ruin. Overextended banks in Cyprus are teetering on the brink of failure for issuing loans they cannot repay, which has prompted the tiny Mediterranean country, a member of the European Union, to turn to Brussels for help. Late Sunday, the European Union and Cypriot president announced new terms for a bailout that would provide the infusion of cash necessary to prevent bankruptcies in Cyprus' banking sector and, more important, prevent a banking panic from spreading to the rest of Europe. Read more ..


Catholic Church on Edge

Pope Francis and a New Era for the Catholic Church

March 25th 2013

Click to select Image

With their unending infatuation with the exotica of ritual and royalty, all of the networks provided extensive coverage of the papal resignation and election.

Expect the same when Queen Elizabeth II either dies or abdicates.

The appearance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires on the loggia of St. Peter’s was greeted by a brief moment of surprise (conclave coverage suggested we would be seeing Pope Angelo Scola or Odilo Scherer -- the Italian Episcopal Conference even e-mailed an erroneous congratulations to Scola -- the papal version of “Dewey Defeats Truman.”) Then crowd went wild as the huge bell on St. Peter’s pealed out the glad tidings.

Pope Francis is widely touted as a pope of “firsts,” which is true, but with qualifications. He is the first non-European in many centuries (although his family history suggests a more “transnational” identity). He is the first Latin American (true enough, but this geographical short-hand obscures the distinctiveness of Argentine culture and Catholicism.) Perhaps most surprisingly, he is the first Jesuit elected to the See of Rome (truly remarkable since the Jesuit “brand” was pretty much damaged by Pope John Paul II’s punitive “take-over” of the order in the 1980s.) Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Understanding the Current State of the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

March 24th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Over the last decade, a clear international consensus has slowly emerged that Iran was not just pursuing a civilian nuclear program, as Tehran argued, but rather was seeking nuclear weapons. True, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right of signatories, like Iran, to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that did not include a right to enrich uranium in order to produce indigenous nuclear fuels that could be employed for nuclear weapons.

Many countries with nuclear power infrastructures, like South Korea, Finland, Spain, and Sweden, actually received their nuclear fuels from abroad. Even in the U.S., 92 percent of the uranium used in 2010 by nuclear power plants was of foreign origin. But unlike these other cases, Iran chose to establish its own uranium enrichment infrastructure at Natanz and suspiciously kept it totally secret from the world until 2002, when it was revealed by the Iranian opposition. A second secret enrichment facility, near Qom, buried deep inside a mountain, was disclosed in 2009. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

From Ramallah to Cairo, The Winds of Change and Tension Are Blowing

March 23rd 2013

Obama, Bibi, Peres chat walking away

Barack Obama has traveled a long way over the past four years in his Middle East policy. In other words: the Mideast has traveled a long way since the President took office.

The tête-à-tête vis-à-vis Israel has now become hugs and kisses, and Obama is gradually bidding adieu to his landmark Cairo address in favor of his new address in Jerusalem.

The President’s remarks at a joint press conference Thursday with Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah underscore just how wide the gap is between the President Obama of 2009 and the reality of today.  Rather than counterproductive unilateral calls for Israel to stop building, an implied censure of Abbas for insisting on preconditions for negotiations – like that very same freeze. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

The Bias Against Working Women

March 22nd 2013

Working Women

In proclaiming March as Women's History Month, President Obama stated that "too many women feel the weight of discrimination on their shoulders." Liberals often make this claim, citing the fact that women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and call for stronger protection against gender-based discrimination by employers.

Conservatives typically respond by pointing out that men and women tend to make different choices about occupation, working hours and whether to take time off from the labor force. They cite studies showing that, after controlling for these choices, the gender wage gap falls to only a few cents.

Unfortunately, both sides are missing an important point. Our society does indeed discriminate against working women. But the main culprit isn't employers. It's the government. Fortunately, some simple policy fixes can help create real fairness for women. But these reforms will require liberals to accept tax and entitlement changes and conservatives to accept more mothers working outside the home. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Cyprus, Terrorism & Drugs

March 19th 2013

International Currency 3

For the first time during the Euro crisis, depositors will contribute to the cost of recapitalizing banks. But Cyprus's bailout precedent may end up affecting bank depositors elsewhere in Europe and even in the U.S. 

This bailout scheme was initiated by Germany, and agreed upon by the Cypriot government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union. Here's how it works: Nicosia will find 5.8 billion euro from a 9.9 percent "stability levy" on deposits larger than 100,000 euro and a 6.75 percent levy on smaller deposits.  The IMF will throw in a billion euro and the rest will come from the European Stability Mechanism. While the benefit would be limited the potential risks of destabilizing the whole banking system of Southern European eurozone countries, and beyond, are high. 

Cyprus has become a major money-laundering destination for Russians even before the fall of the Soviet Union. They were joined oligarchs who found safe haven in the Cypriot banks. Not surprisingly, the Cypriot government doesn't wish to push them away. Instead, it works to minimize the burdens on the large depositors (Russians) so as not to "derail progress on renegotiating a 2.5 billion euro loan from Moscow."  Read more ..


Egypt and Israel

Egyptian Security Officials In Israel To Discuss Security and Diplomacy

March 18th 2013

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Tower has learned that just days before President Barack Obama arrives in Israel for discussions on sensitive regional issues, a high-ranking group of Egyptian army intelligence officers has made a quiet trip to Israel to meet counterparts.

The discussions this week come at a time of increasing strain between Hamas, the Iran-backed terror group based in the Gaza Strip, and Egypt’s military and security forces, and as dire economic issues, as well as spreading riots, are straining the country. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has repeatedly overreached in pursuit of consolidated Islamist rule, deepening widespread public unrest that was already growing due to massive economic pressure.

The Egyptian army – the country’s most popular institution, which is still seen as a guarantor of social stability and public safety – has been making increasingly firm moves against Hamas, and as The Tower reported exclusively last week, each side has taken to waging a media-driven “cold war” against the other. Read more ..


The Eurozone on Edge

The Eurozone's Gambling Problem: Rolling the Dice on Cyprus

March 18th 2013

Euro Bills

In Cyprus, the eurozone’s leaders are yet again gambling the future of the currency zone through an excessively risky move. As is too frequent in the euro crisis, cruelly binding political constraints blocked the most sensible approach. Instead, they have chosen a path that may get them through the next period while laying the seeds of a worse trouble down the line. They may get lucky, but they are increasing the vulnerability of the currency zone to a future wave of crisis. (In due humility, we must note that U.S. politicians are not strikingly better at these types of decisions.)

The Cypriot government was about to run out of money and the banking system needs a bailout that is too large for the state to support in the long run, even if it could borrow the cash now. The best solution would have been a eurozone rescue on fairly lenient terms, as an interim solution if not a longer-term one. The country is very small; its economy is only about one half a percent of the total in the eurozone. A pragmatic rescue would have paid dividends in increasing the zone’s stability at a critical time when problems in Greece, Italy, Spain and elsewhere are worsened by political constraints created by the run-up to Germany’s September federal elections. Read more ..


Iran Nuclear Cheats Caught

Covert Iranian Nuclear Dealings via Turkey Revealed

March 17th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

An investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor's office of Germany has revealed that Iranian front companies based in İstanbul transported 941 items with nuclear applications through Turkey, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, in 2012 German police detected that materials with nuclear applications obtained in Germany and India were transported to the Mitech company in Iran through Turkey by an Iranian national, Hossein Tanideh. Mitech is under US and European Union-imposed sanctions.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, which is also the German branch of Interpol, informed its counterpart in Turkey about Tanideh's dealings, and Tanideh was arrested after being referred to the Küçükçekmece Court in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2013. As part of the investigation, Mesut Atasoy, who is the owner of one the front companies implicated in Turkey, was also taken into custody, while three other Iranian nationals are still on the run. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

How Revolutions Work: Turkey, America, and the Arab World

March 15th 2013

Haghia Sophia

A fascinating article on Islamism in Turkey that also reflects on the situation in Arabic-speaking countries has been written by Soner Cagaptay, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish research program. I’m a fan of his analysis so nothing in the following article should be taken as criticism but rather as an exploration of his article’s themes.

There’s also a very interesting parallel here with domestic events in the United States. But first, Cagaptay’s theme us as follows:  There are strong limits on how far Islamism can go in Turkey; and, the Arabic-speaking states are very different from Turkey in lacking a strong secularist (or at least anti-Islamist) sector that is deeply embedded in the country’s culture and history. I think he is right on both points but let’s look more into the details. First, on Turkey itself. Cagaptay’s article was prompted by a personal experience in Istanbul. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Global Jihad? Al Qaeda Expands to Africa, Beyond

March 15th 2013

NYPD and flag

A recent study found American citizens make up more than half of those convicted for involvement with al Qaeda. Many converted from Christianity to Islam. The stunning statistic is another sign that the face of al Qaeda is changing -- in more ways than one. "They have these aspirations essentially to use Mali as a base to expand jihad across the entire part of Africa: North Africa, West Africa. And also from there, they can franchise into Europe," said Rudy Atallah, CEO of White Mountain Research and a former counterterrorism director for the Pentagon.

Atallah said al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, poses a growing danger to Africa and beyond. "It's the wealthiest AQ affiliate in the world," he told CBN News. "They've made so much money -- I've heard quotes as much $90 million to $120 million -- between ransoms and drugs. "So they're flush with cash," Atallah said. "They have a lot of weapons and they have recruits everywhere." Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Greek's Radical Left: The Dangers of the Disaffected and the Unemployed

March 14th 2013

Greek Protesters

In last week's Geopolitical Weekly, George Friedman discussed how the global financial crisis has caused a global unemployment crisis and how Europe has become the epicenter of that crisis. He also noted that rampant unemployment will give way to a political crisis as austerity measures galvanize radical political parties opposed to the status quo.

Because unemployment is so pervasive, jobless, disenchanted people are joining radical parties espousing a wide variety of ideologies. Examples include populist euroskeptic parties, such as Italy's Five Star movement; far-right parties, such as Greece's Golden Dawn party; and anti-austerity leftist groups, such as Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza. With unemployment in Greece at 27 percent, it is not surprising to see both radical right-wing and radical left-wing groups gaining support from those who have become deeply disaffected by the crises.  Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

The Ryan Budget: DOA But Driving Fiscal Debate

March 13th 2013

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee, has just released Republicans' version of the Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2014.  It promises to balance the budget by 2023 and to eliminate the entire national debt shortly after 2050.  Between 2014 and 2023, spending would be reduced by $4.6 trillion.  All of the deficit reductions are to be achieved through spending cuts; changes to the tax code will be revenue-neutral.

Let's begin with the basics.  According to CBO's baseline budget projections, spending in 2023 will be $5.94 billion, while revenues will be only $4.96 billion.  Reaching balance in 2023 would imply spending cuts totaling nearly $1 trillion in that year alone—a reduction of more than 16 percent, fully 3.8 percent of the GDP. Not every category of spending is cut.  Defense spending would be increased by more than $500 billion above the baseline during the next decade, and spending for veterans would also rise.  That means that non-defense cuts would have to total more than $5.1 trillion. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Israel Likely to Be Next Target of Syrian Rebels, General Says

March 12th 2013

Rebel fighters

Israel’s military chief of staff warned that some of the rebel forces trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad may soon turn their attention southward and attack Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights.

“We see terror organizations that are increasingly gaining footholds in the territory and they are fighting against Assad,” Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said today at a conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. “Guess what? We’ll be next in line.”

Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule in Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The U.S. and its allies have sought ways to support Syria’s opposition without allowing arms to reach the hands of rebel groups associated with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Read more ..


Japan on Edge

Earthquake, Tsunami, Meltdown - The Triple Disaster's Impact on Japan, Impact on the World

March 12th 2013

Fukushima damage

Two years ago today, a devastating 9.0 earthquake struck Japan’s east coast, followed minutes later by a massive tsunami with 100 foot waves. Japan’s legendary investment in earthquake-resistant design meant that only about 100 people died in the earthquake itself although almost 20,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami. The economic destruction of the "Triple Disaster" was massive: 138,000 buildings were destroyed and $360 billion in economic losses were incurred. This was the most expensive disaster in human history. Japanese response to the earthquake and tsunami was rapid, effective and life-saving. Some 465,000 people were evacuated after the disaster. But it was the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant – the world’s worst global nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 – which caused the most fear and provoked the greatest criticism of the Japanese government’s response. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's European Enablers

March 12th 2013

Given Hezbollah's long and sordid history in Europe, and the fact that it has now resumed violent operations there, what will it take to get EU member states to ban the group?

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will welcome his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is making his first official visit to Canada since taking office last May. Their meeting provides a timely opportunity for Ottawa to teach Paris a thing or two about how to deal with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has long sought to engage in financial and logistical support activities in Canada. Thankfully, Canadian law enforcement investigators and intelligence agencies have taken the threat seriously. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama Bundlers Closely Tied to Influence Industry

March 11th 2013

Obama-Limo

President Barack Obama prides himself on rejecting donations from registered lobbyists, but a newly released list of campaign fundraisers is peppered with leaders from companies and law firms that lobby the federal government.

New bundlers, whose names were released this week, include Anthony Welters, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and Qualcomm co-founder and former chairman Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan.

Each raised at least $500,000 for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that includes Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and party committees in several battleground states.

The exact amounts are unknown. The campaign only divulges bundlers’ fundraising activity in broad ranges, with a top category of “more than $500,000.” Qualcomm has spent at least $6 million each year since 2007 on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. UnitedHealth spent at least $2.5 million annually in the same period. Read more ..


The New Egypt

U.S. Betting on the Wrong Egyptian Horse

March 11th 2013

Cairo embassy protest Sep 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood continues the process of destroying Egypt with one ideologically driven catastrophic error in judgment after another. This weekend's involves yet more violence in Port Said. Riots there have been going on for months now and the latest episode is detailed below by James Dorsey.  As has been the case, the riots are not about football, but the Egyptian regime's character and policies.

Mohamed Morsi et al. have mishandled the protest over soccer riot convictions so badly that now the police are on strike in more than a third of Egyptian provinces, including not only Port Said, where they've abandoned their posts, but also parts of Cairo.  More than 50 people have died in Port Said in the past month.

According to the Guardian UK,"Police have also refused to protect President Mohamed Morsi's home in the Nile delta province of Sharqiya. Among several seemingly contradictory grievances, police demand better weapons. But conversely, they also claim the Morsi regime is using them as unwilling pawns in the suppression of protesters who demand the regime's downfall."

The Guardian also reports that the government is trying to "Ikhwanise" the police according to junior police officers who don't approve of that. Read more ..


Inside the Catholic Church

Cardinals Debate Qualifications for Pope

March 10th 2013

Vatican-Palazzo Apostolico

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned as pontiff last month, has pledged his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to whomever succeeds him to guide the 1.2-billion-member Roman Catholic Church. As cardinals continue their discussions, Vatican experts ask what kind of pope do they believe will be best suited to lead the church?

The Rev. Thomas Reece, at Georgetown University, said the cardinals will be looking for someone who can best convey the Catholic message.

“The most important thing is to figure out how to preach the gospel in a way that is attractive and understandable to people in the 21st century - especially young people,” said Reece. “Certainly in the north, in Europe and the United States, we see young people leaving religion, not just Catholicism, but Christianity and other religions. So, how to make the message of Jesus, which I think is very attractive and challenging, get it across to young people so that it doesn’t turn them away. That is the real challenge.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's Unseen Crisis: Displaced Women Face Rape, Insecurity, Poverty

March 9th 2013

Syrian refugees

In the past week, the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed headlines around the world as the number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad reached one million. But there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding inside Syria. Syria’s internally displaced population passed the two million-mark months ago – by some estimates, there are more than three million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls. International Women’s Day is a chance to give these consequences the attention they deserve, but have lacked so far. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Sizable Job Gains, but a Long Way from Good Health

March 9th 2013

Employee applications

Employers added 238,000 workers to their payrolls in February, the 29th consecutive month of job gains. Over the past six months employers have added 187,000 jobs a month, a rate of gain that is fast enough to reduce the ranks of the unemployed. The unemployment rate, which is calculated using a different survey, dropped to 7.7 percent in the month, its lowest level since December 2008.

As has been the case for most of the past year, the employer survey offers a brighter picture of progress than the Labor Department’s household survey. Reported job gains in the household survey were only 170,000 in February. An important reason the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points in the month is that the number of adults who are employed or looking for work fell 130,000. Over the past year, the household survey shows that the labor force participation rate has declined 0.4 percentage points. Part of the decline is traceable to the aging of the population. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

Current Limits of U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

March 8th 2013

Obama Pentagon

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world -- and they can advance military cooperation -- but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel's missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel's enemies have missiles. But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Drone strikes in the U.S. unconstitutional, say lawmakers

March 7th 2013

 The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on Wednesday that any suggestion of drone strikes in America “detracts attention from the real threats facing the country.” Rogers, who serves as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was responding to statements made by the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday regarding the killing of American Islamists overseas and stateside

Holder claimed on Wednesday that using lethal force, such as an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) strike against an American citizen within the borders of the United States is legal and justifiable in "extraordinary circumstances" comparable to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "The president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland," Holder said to lawmakers during hearings aired on C-Span TV. Read more ..


Transportation on Edge

New Partnerships for American Rail

March 4th 2013

Amtrak high speed

American passenger rail is in the midst of a renaissance. Ridership grew by 55 percent since 1997 and is now at record levels, with over 31 million travelers annually. That's faster than other travel modes like aviation and far outpaces the growth in population and economic output during that time. Travel corridors like New York to Washington, Seattle to Portland, and Chicago to Milwaukee all boast higher shares of riders on rails than in the air.

Painting such a rosy picture of American rail may seem incongruous to those that like to chastise its beleaguered carrier, Amtrak, for transgressions related to food service, timeliness, and subsistence on federal subsidies. But in a new report, my colleagues Adie Tomer, Joseph Kane, and I find that Amtrak is actually finding itself well-positioned for the future. Part of this was initiated by federal lawmakers who, in 2008, gave Amtrak the kick-in-the-pants it needed by ordering the establishment of metrics and benchmarking for performance.  Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran in the Balkans--a History and a Forecast

March 2nd 2013

Iranian clerics

As the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities continues to loom over the strategic horizon, despite continued claims by the US that sanctions are weakening the mullahs' regime, there is increased speculation among security analysts about collateral damage from such an action. One scenario in particular that has caused concern involves a counterstrike by Iran or its allies such as Hezbollah against targets outside the Middle East. In this regard, when a suspected Hezbollah suicide bomber killed six Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in July, it confirmed that the Balkans were a potential front for terrorism in any future conflict.

A recent flurry of diplomatic activity confirms the extent of Western government concern over the possibility that pro-Iranian Islamist factions in southeastern Europe could cause serious problems for Western interests if Israel or the US attacks Tehran. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

The Great Cyber Smackdown

March 1st 2013

Shadowy Computer User

The Internet is now a battlefield. China is not only militarizing cyberspace -- it is also deploying its cyberwarriors against the United States and other countries to conduct corporate espionage, hack think tanks, and engage in retaliatory harassment of news organizations.

These attacks are another dimension of the ongoing strategic competition between the United States and China -- a competition playing out in the waters of the East and South China seas, in Iran and Syria, across the Taiwan Strait, and in outer space. With a number of recent high-profile attacks in cyberspace traced to the Chinese government, the cybercompetition seems particularly pressing. It is time for Washington to develop a clear, concerted strategy to deter cyberwar, theft of intellectual property, espionage, and digital harassment. Simply put, the United States must make China pay for conducting these activities, in addition to defending cybernetworks and critical infrastructure such as power stations and cell towers. The U.S. government needs to go on the offensive and enact a set of diplomatic, security, and legal measures designed to impose serious costs on China for its flagrant violations of the law and to deter a conflict in the cybersphere. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Real Meaning of the Argentina-Iran Agreement

February 28th 2013

Iran centrifuges

There is a new deal brewing between Argentina and Iran in order to improve relations between the two counties which have been on shaky ground ever since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in 1994. Though Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, was widely believed to have perpetrated these two attacks no individual has ever been brought to justice. However, Argentina issued arrest warrants and orders of extradition for several high officers in the Iranian government given their involvement in the attacks.

In January 2013, Argentina reversed course and signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that deals directly with the terrorist attack on the Jewish headquarters but omits the attack on the Israeli Embassy. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Attempted Rapprochement with Egypt: Implications for Sunni-Shiite Relations

February 27th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough. Read more ..


China and Japan

China Tests Japanese and U.S. Patience

February 26th 2013

Soldiers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned Beijing that Tokyo is losing patience with China's assertive maritime behavior in the East and South China seas, suggesting China consider the economic and military consequences of its actions. His warning followed similar statements from Washington that its patience with China is wearing thin, in this case over continued Chinese cyberespionage and the likelihood that Beijing is developing and testing cybersabotage and cyberwarfare capabilities. Together, the warnings are meant to signal to China that the thus-far relatively passive response to China's military actions may be nearing an end.

In an interview The Washington Post published just prior to Abe's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, Abe said China's actions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and its overall increasing military assertiveness have already resulted in a major increase in funding for the Japan Self-Defense Forces and coast guard. He also reiterated the centrality of the Japan-U.S. alliance for Asian security and warned that China could lose Japanese and other foreign investment if it continued to use "coercion or intimidation" toward its neighbors along the East and South China seas. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Palestinian Authority’s Responsibility for the Outbreak of the Second Intifada: Its Own Damning Testimony

February 26th 2013

Bethelem Protestors

On February 11, 2013, on Israel’s Channel 10 television program “The Source,” it was claimed that there was not even an “iota of evidence” that the Palestinian Authority leadership, and Yasser Arafat in particular, planned and initiated the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000 and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis by 2005.

Rather, it was claimed that this was a spontaneous popular uprising that ran counter to the interests of the Palestinian leadership. As a consequence, Arafat appears to be exonerated by the narrative presented. The program also reopened the old debate over whether the Second Intifada was ignited by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Yet, extensive testimony at the time and in retrospect demonstrates the Palestinian Authority’s role in initiating and managing the Second Intifada as an extensive terror onslaught, designed to impose a unilateral, unconditional withdrawal upon Israel, and improve conditions in anticipation of the battle for realizing Palestinian demands for the return of the refugees. Read more ..



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