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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 ..


The Way We Are

Primed for Controversy

February 25th 2013

Elderly couple

In 2005, the writer Malcolm Gladwell introduced readers to the phenomenon of “thinking without thinking” — the mental work we all do automatically — in his blockbuster book “Blink.” Since then, the unconscious has been on a roll. Scores of popular books and articles have chronicled the power of subtle cues to influence our attitudes and actions.

Typical of the genre is a reliance on the “goal-priming effect,” in which study subjects automatically and unintentionally alter their thoughts or behavior when prompted by various kinds of information.

But now, goal-priming experiments are coming under scrutiny — and in the process, revealing a problem at the heart of psychological research itself. In a classic experiment conducted in 1996, a team of psychologists at New York University “primed” students to walk more slowly by exposing them to words typically associated with older people, like “Florida,” “bingo” and “gray.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Chuck Hagel and the Jewish Leadership Crisis

February 24th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Jewish groups are seconding the call of Senate Republicans for further review of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel before a final vote is held on his confirmation. A 58-40 Senate vote on Feb. 14 delayed a final yes or no vote on the former Nebraska senator’s appointment. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.

“Chuck Hagel has served this country, and his state, with distinction, as we have had the privilege to tell him in person,” American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris said in a statement Feb. 15. “But in light of his complex record in the Senate and controversial statements he has made since his public service on strategic and political affairs— notably grappling with the range of pressing Middle East issues—AJC believes that further Senate deliberation is called for before any final vote is taken.” Read more ..


The Diplomatic Edge

Secretary of State John Kerry Is Visiting Nine Countries but Not Israel. What’s Up?

February 23rd 2013

John Kerry

On February 24, 2013, the new secretary of state, John Kerry, leaves on his first trip abroad. He will visit nine countries, four in Western Europe and five in what is loosely defined as the Muslim, Arab world.  But he will not visit Israel, even after intense speculation in Washington that Israel was a certain stop on his itinerary. What’s up?

The question is relevant, because it immediately stirs memories of what happened in 2009. In June of that year, just a few months into his historic presidency, Barack Obama visited Cairo for good and important reasons but then refused to take advantage of geography and make the short hop to Jerusalem. He might at the time have been angry about Israel’s settlements policy. The upshot was that Obama got off on the wrong foot in his dealings with Israel, and nothing much happened in U.S.-Israel relations for the next four years, even as the Mideast neighborhood itself became engulfed in uncertain democracy-building, violent upheavals and what looked like a determined Iranian move toward nuclear weapons. Read more ..


The Political Edge

GOP Super Donor's Foundation Leans Left

February 22nd 2013

Money Money Money

Republican mega-donor Harold Simmons considers President Barack Obama to be “the most dangerous man in America,” and in a bid to unseat him, fueled conservative political groups with tens of millions of dollars. The Harold Simmons Foundation in 2011 most notably contributed a combined $600,000 to an arch political foe of Republicans, Planned Parenthood, and its North Texas affiliate, IRS records show.

Simmons’ foundation also bolstered several other organizations rarely associated with political conservatives or partisan Republicans, including public television, the League of Women Voters and even a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to curbing the influence of big money in elections. The foundation’s 2011 funding came exclusively from the billionaire’s personal fortune and that of his holding company, Contran Corp. Together, they contributed more than $9.8 million in 2011 — the foundation’s only income aside from $5.6 million in investment and capital gains income. The foundation ended 2011 with nearly $52 million in reserve after distributing about $17.4 million during the year, IRS records show. Read more ..


Inside Islam

The Saudis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic Banking

February 20th 2013

Rials

The early successes of Arab/Muslim-owned banking in Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, and the establishment of an economic foundation that modernized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were both the work of Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud (1906-1975). Prince Faisal served as Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler during the last years of King Saud's reign, and then as King Faisal he led Saudi Arabia from 1964 until his assassination by a family member in March 1975.

As king, Faisal rescued the country from bankruptcy. He instituted banking reforms and helped modernize and expand the nation's economy by opening commerce to Saudi families outside the Royal family. During Faisal's lifetime, both the incipient Arab banking sector and the international Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimun) benefitted immeasurably from his patronage Read more ..


The Defence Edge

The Morality, Strategy and Danger of Drone Strikes

February 19th 2013

Click to select Image

Airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles have become a matter of serious dispute lately. The controversy focuses on the United States, which has the biggest fleet of these weapons and which employs them more frequently than any other country. On one side of this dispute are those who regard them simply as another weapon of war whose virtue is the precision with which they strike targets. On the other side are those who argue that in general, unmanned aerial vehicles are used to kill specific individuals, frequently civilians, thus denying the targeted individuals their basic right to some form of legal due process.

Let's begin with the weapons systems, the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper. The media call them drones, but they are actually remotely piloted aircraft. Rather than being in the cockpit, the pilot is at a ground station, receiving flight data and visual images from the aircraft and sending command signals back to it via a satellite data link. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Issues Facing Colombia's Negotiations with FARC Narco-Terrorists

February 18th 2013

Colombia FARC leadership

“We didn’t come here to waste time.” A defensive Iván Márquez, spokesman of the decades-old Colombian FARC revolutionary group uttered these words on January 31, during the latest round of peace talks between Bogotá and the insurgent movement. Now, some media outlets routinely have latched onto the automatic narrative that the negotiations are floundering in Havana. As such, a general cynicism surrounds the latest attempt at peace, as well as the likelihood of a substantial agreement before the November deadline of this year. Despite the formidable odds that are at stake, Márquez has insisted that the guerilla movement remains committed “toward ending the conflict and reaching peace.” Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior

February 16th 2013

Iranian clerics

This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.

Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

How US Military Aid to Fatah Actually Bolsters the Hamas

February 15th 2013

Hamas Terrorist with Rocket

On February 5, 2013, the reconstituted US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa held a subcommittee hearing on the subject of "Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects”.

Two senior expert witnesses from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy testified and expressed optimism that US trained Palestinian Security Forces, affiliated with the Fatah, will combat the Hamas terror group which competes for power in the nascent Palestinian Arab entity. Such optimisim defies reality.

Let us take a dispassionate look at the past and present reality of the Fatah- dominated Palestinian Authority armed forces, known as the PSF, the Palestinian Security Forces When the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, President Yasser Arafat, by design, established a multiplicity of security forces with overlapping authority and in competition with one another. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

In Undisclosed Speech, Hagel Said State Department Is Controlled by Israel

February 15th 2013

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel, whose nomination is currently being filibustered by Republicans, reportedly argued in a previously unknown speech that the U.S. State Department is controlled by the Israeli foreign ministry. In documents he delivered to Senate investigators as a part of his confirmation process, Hagel was required to inform the Senate Armed Services Committee of any formal speech he had delivered since January 1, 2008. Though Fox News reported that Hagel failed to disclose two speeches, the remarks in question, which were delivered in March 2007, preceded that time period. 

Republican political consultant George Ajjan wrote about the 2007 speech — delivered at Rutgers University’s Center for Middle East Studies and cosponsored by the American Iranian Council — on his website the following day. Ajjan told the Washington Free Beacon that he was taking notes as Hagel was speaking. “If I wrote it, that’s what happened at the time,” he said.

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Details Emerge on Obama's Drone Doctrine

February 14th 2013

John Brennan (Counterterrorism)

Last week John Brennan testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee as President Obama's nominee for CIA director and was repeatedly questioned about the White House's use of drone strikes. Brennan's testimony and a policy memo recently obtained by NBC News highlight how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are an increasingly important, if not controversial, weapon of war for the White House.

Brennan, who has been central in counterterror operations using drones, took criticism from both sides of the aisle during his testimony. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss questioned the Obama Administration's use of drone strikes over capturing terrorist suspects and asked why only one high value al-Qaeda target has been detained since Obama became president. California Senator Dianne Feinstein challenged Brennan about the killing of Americans abroad in U.S. drone strikes, asking how such behavior could be justified. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

A North Korean Nuclear Test for Iran?

February 13th 2013

Iran centrifuges

Might Iran simply buy nuclear technology from North Korea, thereby bypassing their own strained efforts to build a nuclear weapon? At least one expert believes North Korea's recent nuclear test, its third since 2006, may have in part benefited Iran, a terror-sponsoring state that has worked for years to build a nuclear device.

 Dr. Alon Levkowitz, coordinator of Bar-Ilan University’s Asian Studies Program and a member of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said Tuesday's N. Korean nuclear test may have been carried out in the presence of Iranian nuclear scientists.

“The most disturbing question is whether the Iranians are using North Korea as a backdoor plan for their own nuclear program. The Iranians didn’t carry out a nuclear test in Iran, but they may have done so in North Korea,” Levkowitz said. “There is no official information on this... but Iran may have bypassed inspections via North Korea. If true, this is a very worrying development.”  Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Iran and North Korea are Immune from Traditional Arms Controls

February 12th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. administration made deterring, preventing, or eliminating the threat of nuclear terrorism a top priority. Americans are rightly worried that a terror sponsoring state such as Iran or North Korea, in cooperation with a terrorist group, might seek to detonate a nuclear device in an American city.

Thus, by default, considerable focus has been on the nuclear threat and preventing such an attack from occurring in the first place. Toward that end, the United States has adopted a four-year plan to sequester as much nuclear material as possible, both domestically and abroad. For too long, however, conventional wisdom assumed keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists meant primarily safeguarding nuclear material produced as part of the nuclear energy fuel cycle and safely storing or eliminating nuclear weapons material in the former Soviet Union. (The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has done extraordinary work in this area since 1991.) Read more ..


Broken Government

Current Debate over Guns Does Nothing to Help a Beleaguered ATF

February 11th 2013

ATF officers

The massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has placed gun violence squarely at the front of the national agenda. Long-skeptical legislators have expressed a new openness to at least consider laws that might keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Polls show increased support for some new restraints on guns. And just a month after the massacre, President Obama signed nearly two dozen executive actions and proposed a package of legislative initiatives that together represent the most comprehensive effort in decades to reduce what he called “the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.”

Conspicuously absent from the president’s agenda, however, is much of anything that might address the stunning and widespread weaknesses that have for years crippled the federal agency responsible for enforcing the nation’s gun laws — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Yes, the president announced his nomination of a full-time director for the long-leaderless agency —widely known as ATF — and some of the new proposals do tacitly acknowledge a number of the agency’s long-standing challenges. But the initiatives are modest, and Congress may not go along with any of them. So for now, the bureau remains systematically hobbled by purposeful restrictions, flimsy laws, impotent leadership and paltry budgets. And it’s not at all clear there’s anything on the horizon that would change that situation. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

A Sign of Change: Maliki Ulema Partners Against Sahel Extremism

February 11th 2013

Mosque-Marine

Extremism halts charity, and creates fear of religion; [it puts] pressure on Muslims and occupies people with controversies at the expense of work and construction in life.
Algerian imam, Magharebia 02 February 1913

In late January religious leaders from Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania met at Algiers to found The League of Ulemas of the Sahel.  A regional body of religious scholars of the Maliki rite, its aim is to discourage Sahelian youth from taking the path of Salafist radicalism.  According to Algerian imam Youcef Mechri, the new body's secretary-general., they plan  to work with mosques and youth centers to educate youth about the dangers of extremism. 

The imams "unanimously" denounced crimes committed in Islam.  As Niger's imam Boureima Abdou Daouda, the League president put it: "We are convinced that only religion can provide a moral solution to the  multidimensional crisis and the evils that threaten us. We must defend religious references in our region to cut off the preachers of violence and destruction,"Sheikh Mouadou Sufi of Burkina Faso added: "Everybody knows that our religion teaches us neither violence nor terrorism, but the love of others and tolerance. What is happening in northern Mali [are] serious violations such as forced marriage, amputation of hands and stoning. [They] are a result of misinterpretation of the Qur'an."      Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Narco-Terrorists Trafficking Cocaine in the Name of Allah

February 10th 2013

Cocaine intercepted in Europe in rice sacks from Africa
Cocaine intercepted in Europe inside rice sacks from Africa.

“Terrorism and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague,” stated Attorney General John Ashcroft (March 2002). “They thrive in the same conditions, support each other, and feed off each other.”

The nexus of terrorist groups and international criminal organizations is complex, linking money, geography, politics, arms, and tactics to create a mutually beneficial relationship. This nexus yields hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues worldwide—for 1992 alone, the figure was close to $1 trillion. A decade later, with the exponential growth in drug consumption, U.S. experts estimated the profits to be as high as $2 trillion. Since then, a staggering supply of heroin from Afghanistan, Iran and Mexico, and cocaine from South America, have created millions of new drug addicts the world over and filled the coffers of Islamist warlords. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Illusory Sanctions on Nuclear Iran

February 10th 2013

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges
Iranian nuclear centrifuges

While the U.S. declares more sanctions on Iran, the EU, which had ratified the UN sanctions resolution against Iran on June 9, 2010, has been steadily removing Iranian banks from its sanction list. The EU's recent removal of Bank Sederat, Bank Sina and Bank Mellat helps to bolster Iran's economy, facilitates European purchase of Iranian oil and gas and other trade with Iran, and eases Tehran's funding of those who advance its agenda.

American statements of the hardship caused to the Iranian economy seem to have little effect on the Revolutionary Guards. ECASB.COM reports that they are busy building the world's tallest double-curvature arc dam on the Bakhtiari River in southwestern Iran.

Last week, Pakistan announced a $250 million loan from Iran to help finance the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline "exporting 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas per day to Pakistan." In addition, Iran will pay "$500 million to complete the Pakistani section of the project...the rest will be provided by the Pakistani government." Would that come from the $1.4 billion the U.S. is giving to Pakistan for economic development? Read more ..


Indonesia on Edge

Urban Gangs in Indonesia

February 7th 2013

Indonesian security forces

Following a wave of violent confrontations and tit-for-tat killings, the leaders of five mass organizations-cum-urban gangs in Greater Jakarta – Pemuda Pancasila (PP), Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM), the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR), the Betawi People’s Forum (Forkabi), and Badan Pembina Provinsi Keluarga Banten (BPPKB) -- agreed to a ceasefire in June 2012. The violence to be shut down had erupted in the late winter and early spring of 2012, escalating and taking on ethnic overtones in March 2012 when the leader of another gang John Refra, a.k.a. John Kei, was arrested on murder charges. Fronting as a debt-collecting business, Kei’s Key Youth Force (Amkei) was centered on Moluccan migrants in Jakarta and had been clashing with rival gangs from Flores. The June gang truce, facilitated by police negotiations and mediation, for a moment seemed to turn the violence off. The gang truce paralleled a ceasefire announced by two large gangs in El Salvador --an ocean away. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Consumption Amenities in Higher Education

February 6th 2013

Graduates

A great deal of attention has been paid to the issue of rising costs in higher education. A variety of explanations are in the public discourse, but the media often mentions luxurious campus amenities as a major culprit. Climbing walls, spending on athletic facilities and luxurious housing have all been offered as explanation for the rapid increases in tuition. Despite all of the discussion on this topic, a couple key points remain unclear. First, what do we know about trends in non-instruction spending on college campuses? Second, how should we think about amenities in higher education?

Thanks to the initiative led by the Delta Cost Project, data on spending are now available to help answer these questions. A report released in December by the American Institutes for Research explains that over the past decade the average share of spending on instruction across all institutions has declined. They also find that in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, all types of institutions cut spending on activities that support academics. While the shift of resources away from instruction has not been dramatic, it does seem that spending patterns reflect changing priorities. However, the magnitudes identified in the report suggest that increases in spending account for a relatively small fraction of tuition inflation. Between the years 2000 and 2010 the average annual tuition for private bachelors degree programs increased by $8,290 (approximately 30 percent). During that same period spending per full-time student student on all core activities (including instructional and non-instructional) increased by only $2316(approximately 11 percent). Read more ..


Algeria on Edge

Algeria a Complex Ally in War Against al Qaeda

February 5th 2013

Islamic terrorists Algeria

David Cameron’s visit to Algiers last week, the first ever by a British Prime Minister, underscores Algeria’s growing importance in the war against al-Qaeda. But it is an extraordinarily complex ally in the war. The generals who run Algeria, the Arab world’s largest remaining police state, were surprised and embarrassed by the al-Qaeda attack on the Amenas gas facility in January. Their worry now is that the attack will raise questions about their one strong competency, providing stability and fighting terror. They are the West’s ally but a difficult and very suspicious partner.

Cameron and his hosts agreed to develop a strategic partnership to fight terrorism, and especially al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now that the French have driven it out of Mali’s cities. In practice, this will mean closer ties with Algeria’s Departement du Renseignement et de la Securite, DRS, one of the world’s most feared intelligence services. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Inappropriate Use of the Fourth Geneva Convention

February 4th 2013

DomeOfTheRock

Background
The language of Article 49 was crafted in the wake of World War II and the Nazi occupation – an occupation that led to a war of aggression in which Nazi Germany attacked its neighbors with impunity, committing a host of atrocities against civilian populations, including deportation and displacement of local populations in occupied Europe. Millions were sent to forced labor camps and those of particular ethnic origin, most notably the Jews, were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. The drafters of Article 49 were concerned with preventing future genocide against humanity.

Critics and enemies of Israel, including members of the UN and organs such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have come to use the Geneva Convention as a weapon against Israel, even when statements by authoritative analysts, scholars and drafters of the document contradict everything said by those who distort history for politically motivated reasons. It is common knowledge that from its birth, Israel customarily follows international humanitarian law without being told or forced to do so by outside authorities.
 
"Occupied Territory"
The term "occupied territory," which appears in the Fourth Geneva Convention, originated as a result of the Nazi occupation of Europe. Though it has become common parlance to describe the West Bank and Gaza as "occupied territories," there is no legal basis for using this term in connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Professor Julius Stone, a leading authority on the Law of Nations, categorically rejected the use of the term "occupied territory" to describe the territories controlled by Israel on the following counts: Read more ..


China Rising

China's Economic Warfare

February 4th 2013

Soldiers

The acceleration in Chinese hacking into U.S. government agencies, major financial institutions, businesses and media outlets seems to match China's growing investments in this country. Both began to intensify since the economic crisis of 2008.

The statements issued by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and the Washington Post, implied the hackers went only after the passwords and files of reporters who took part in investigations on the wealth accumulated by China's political elite and spying facilitated by Chinese communication devices used in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

Apparently, to calm their subscribers, the papers' ridiculous message was, that "the hacking was not an attempt to "gain commercial advantage or to misappropriate customer information." However, the FBI, which, has been investigating the attacks on media outlets for more than a year considers the activity a national-security threat. Surely, the access to financial and commercial information stored in the papers' computers has eased China's growing investment acquisitions in the U.S. and elsewhere. Read more ..


China Rising

Selling US Technological Secrets to the Highest Bidder

February 4th 2013

Soldiers

If your offer is high enough, you could purchase U.S. technological secrets. Rest assured, the Obama Administration will not block the sale. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Fox News revealed that “the U.S. government has approved the sale of bankrupt, stimulus-fund recipient A123 Systems, Inc., to China’s Wanxiang Group Corp., with a North American business based in Elgin, Ill.

Apparently Wanxiang bid was $5 million higher that that of the Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls. “The Chinese company created “a new independent trust to buy A123’s civilian unit. The civilian arm makes up the bulk of the company’s operations. The idea would then be for Wanxiang to buy the business from the trust.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Fall and Iraqi Stability

February 3rd 2013

Syrian Jihadis

As a fragile postconflict state, Iraq can ill afford the chaos currently roiling in neighboring Syria. If President Bashar al-Assad's regime collapses, large segments of north-central and western Iraq could become deeply unstable, with local factions opening a de facto civil war against federal forces, whether temporarily or indefinitely. For the United States, keeping Iraq on an even keel would be a supreme test of diplomatic skill at a moment when attention would understandably be focused on Syria itself. But such a crisis could also open a window of opportunity to reestablish influence over Baghdad.

SECTARIAN DYNAMICS
Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites perceive the Syrian conflict very differently. The majority Shiite population sees it as a frightening, negative development. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration is the first modern Arab government to be led by Shiites, and in their view, major Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey will not tolerate this state of affairs in the long term. Reflecting their historical sense of victimization, the newly dominant Iraqi Shiites see the Syria crisis as the beginning of a revanchist Sunni backlash, and they fear their hold on Baghdad may be the next domino to fall. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria's War Affecting Turkey in Unexpected Ways

February 3rd 2013

Syrian Refugees

On January 21, members of the Turkish Youth Union (TGB), a far-left nationalist group, attacked German Patriot missile teams dispatched to help defend Turkey against threats from Syria. The incident served as a reminder of the unexpected ways in which the Syrian war could impact Turkey's stability. Ankara has become a direct player in the conflict through its support for armed and unarmed groups battling Bashar al-Assad's regime. Yet Turkey is also embroiled in the war in broader strategic terms, through its vulnerability to spillover along the 510-mile border with Syria. Washington should watch these spillover effects closely, as they risk straining Turkey's economy, accentuating its sectarian and political divisions, and compromising its overall stability. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Democratic Super PACs Start Year With Cash Advantage

February 3rd 2013

Money Stack

Prominent super PACs are already preparing for their next act — the 2014 midterm elections — with Democratic-aligned groups leading the way.

Of the five super PACs with the most money in the bank through the end of 2012, all support Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance reports released Thursday.

The United Auto Workers’ super PAC, launched last September, reported the most money in the bank at $8.9 million. The group spent almost $2.7 million ahead of Election Day.

Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC that backed the re-election of President Barack Obama, ranks second, ending the year with $3.7 million in the bank after spending $65 million on ads that pounded Obama’s GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

Rounding out the top five: the super PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which reported $3.2 million on hand; Fair Share Action, which reported $1.8 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that specializes in opposition research, which reported $1.3 million. Read more ..


Israel's New Northern War

The New Red Line for Israel

February 2nd 2013

Israeli Jets Parked

Israel has adopted new defense procedures in response to regional instability, a Times of Israel analyst wrote on Thursday. Wednesday's dawn attack on what appears to have been a shipment of Syrian missiles is the first result of this new policy.

Analyst Mitch Ginsburg refers to this change in policy as "new red lines." Previously, Israel's "red lines," - events that would automatically trigger military action - have concentrated only on unconventional weapons.

Now, however, not only nuclear or chemical weapons are included, but also what Ginsburg calls "strategic weapons." This is mostly the result of the Syrian regime's instability and the possible acquisition of these weapons by the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israelis Vote for Continuity on Foreign and Defense Policy

February 1st 2013

Israeli Jet Diving

It was an election whose results stunned pundits both in Israel and abroad, a "wide and deep repudiation" of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as some hastened to claim. And elections, as we know, have consequences. So are major changes expected in Israel's foreign and defense policy? In a word, no.

First, though both his own party and the larger bloc he heads lost seats to parties on their left, Netanyahu will remain prime minister. And his views haven't changed.  

Second, he didn't just win on a technicality. Though voters arguably did repudiate his domestic policies, they actually backed his foreign and defense policies overwhelmingly.

A striking pre-election poll commissioned by the anti-Netanyahu daily Haaretz asked voters which party leader they most trusted to handle various issues. On diplomatic negotiations, an area where many non-Israelis deem him an unmitigated failure, Netanyahu beat his rivals by a margin of more than 2 to 1. On security, his margin of preference was more than 4 to 1 - a tribute to the last four remarkably peaceful years despite the chaos engulfing Israel's northern and southern neighbors. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

North Korea is Ferocious, Weak and Crazy

January 31st 2013

North Korean soldier and goat friends

North Korea's state-run media reported Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's top security officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures," which has been widely interpreted to mean that North Korea is planning its third nuclear test. Kim said the orders were retaliation for the U.S.-led push to tighten U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang following North Korea's missile test in October. A few days before Kim's statement emerged, the North Koreans said future tests would target the United States, which North Korea regards as its key adversary along with Washington's tool, South Korea.

North Korea has been using the threat of tests and the tests themselves as weapons against its neighbors and the United States for years. On the surface, threatening to test weapons does not appear particularly sensible. If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon. And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don't succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russia's Interests and Syria's Turmoil in the Mideast

January 31st 2013

Assad and Putin Syria and Russia

On January 20, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry announced that it will evacuate approximately one hundred Russian citizens from Syria, mostly women and children. However, the ministry downplayed the importance of the evacuation, with those leaving representing a mere fraction of the many thousands of Russian citizens residing in Syria. Indeed, the hopes that President Vladimir Putin will finally budge on his support for the Syrian regime are unwarranted. Russia is unlikely to change its position given that its interests in Syria are not only military and strategic, but also commercial and cultural.

Cultural connections

Moscow has counted an Assad-led Syria as its closest ally in the Arab world for more than forty years. During the Cold War, many Russians moved to Syria and, in turn, many Syrian elites studied at top Russian schools such as Moscow State University and the Peoples’ Friendship University. Intermarriage occurred in both countries. The Soviet leadership, for its part, sought to groom top students from allied countries whom it could later rely on for support. Because Syria was key to the Soviet position in the Middle East, Syrians were referred to as “allies” and “friends” in public broadcasts and statements. Read more ..



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