Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi is in Tehran this week for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Since taking office on June 30, Morsi has had a busy itinerary. He visited Saudi Arabia last month, is due in China next week, and on September 23 will be in Washington on President Obama’s invitation.
Morsi also found time, one day before taking office, to vow to secure the release of “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian currently serving a life sentence at a North Carolina facility for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
Within Iran, Morsi is encountering some interesting landmarks. Israeli commentator Smadar Peri points out that on Sunday his convoy passed through Tehran’s Islambouli Square—named after Khalid Islambouli, who assassinated one of Morsi’s predecessors as Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, in October 1981. Islambouli was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which some sources identify as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—that is, Morsi’s organization.
There has, indeed, been bad blood between Egypt and Iran since those days. Relations were broken off in 1980, a year after Ayatollah Khomeini’s Shiite revolutionaries took power in Iran. It didn’t help matters when Iran hailed Islambouli (executed in Egypt in 1982) as a martyr. Morsi’s visit to Iran this week is the first by an Egyptian president since 1979.
It’s also reported that Morsi will be among NAM heads of state to be hosted this week at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. This at a time when Iran is racing ahead in its nuclear weapons program, denying the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its nuclear sites, and intensifying its genocidal rhetoric against Israel and vows to destroy it.
Does all this indicate a rapprochement between Shiite-Islamist Iran and Sunni, newly Islamist Egypt? Another Israeli analyst, Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, notes that there are serious obstacles to such a reconciliation.
They include particularly the fact that in Syria, Iran is helping Bashar Assad’s Shiite-offshoot Alawite regime fight largely Sunni rebels—including a presence on the ground of Iranian Revolutionary Guards actively killing Sunnis. The Sunnis, for their part, are backed by the Sunni Arab countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Seemingly, then, Egypt and Iran are on opposite sides of the bitter, bloody sectarian conflicts now being waged in Syria and elsewhere in the region, which have both Persian vs. Arab and Shiite vs. Sunni dimensions.