By Xavier Villar

In recent months, following the restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, speculation is rife about a similar rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and Egypt.

Should this diplomatic rapprochement materialize, it would mark the end of over 40 years of absence of relations between the two Muslim-majority countries.

The relations between Tehran and Cairo have seen different phases throughout history.

In 1952, following the revolution that overthrew King Farouk’s monarchy, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser allied with the Soviet Union.

This decision was perceived as a threat by the Iranian Pahlavi monarchy, which maintained close political, diplomatic, and economic ties with the United States and the Zionist entity.

Consequently, diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran were severed in 1960 and were not restored until 1970, a few months before Nasser’s passing.

With the ascension of Anwar Sadat to power in 1970 and the implementation of his neoliberal policy known as Infitah, the relations between Egypt and Pahlavi Iran reached unprecedented levels of collaboration and coordination.

In the 1970s, before the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, both countries shared a political vision that, in broad terms, followed the discursive framework established by the notion of “Western modernity.”

This discourse was based on the mobilization of symbols, rhetoric, and narratives that revolved around the alleged superiority of the West as an ideology.

As noted by Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, “This political modernity cannot be conceived without invoking certain categories and concepts whose roots can be traced back to the intellectual and even theological traditions of Europe.”

One of those categories essential to understanding the discourse of Western modernity is secularism, understood as the regulation of Islam under state control.

Under the Pahlavi regime in Iran, secularism was expressed through the depoliticization of Islam. On the other hand, in Egypt, Islam was being co-opted by the authorities to neutralize criticisms coming from Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.

In geopolitical terms, this shared vision materialized in the recognition of the Zionist entity and the signing of the Camp David Accords by the government of Anwar Sadat in 1978.

From Iran’s perspective, this agreement, achieved under the supervision of the United States, was perceived as support for the pro-Western policy of the Pahlavi dynasty, which had been collaborating with the Zionists for years.

A notable example of this collaboration was the establishment of the Iranian intelligence services, known as SAVAK, in 1957, with assistance from the CIA and Mossad.

This political-ideological affinity between Cairo and Tehran underwent a drastic change in 1979 with the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, the exile of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, under the leadership of Imam Khomeini.

Egypt decided to sever ties with the Islamic Republic, officially implementing this rupture in 1980. In March of that year, the Sadat government granted asylum to the deposed Shah, who was suffering from terminal cancer and would pass away a few months later.

This gesture was seen by the Islamic Republic as an insult to the Iranian nation, who resisted Shah’s tyrannical rule for decades and suffered in unimaginable ways.

Imam Khomeini rejected the Camp David Accords, accusing Egypt of betraying the Palestinians. In connection to this issue, it is worth noting that as early as 1964, Imam Khomeini was forced into exile from Iran after delivering a public speech in which he strongly criticized the relations between the Pahlavi dynasty and Israel.

The distancing between Cairo and Tehran became notable during the 1980s. When the war broke out between Iraq and Iran in September 1980, a war that began with Saddam Hussein’s troops invading Iranian territory, Egypt, like most Arab and Western countries, supported Iraq.

This support for the Iraqi dictator continued throughout the eight-year war, during the tenure of Hosni Mubarak, who assumed the presidency following the assassination of Sadat in 1981.

It was in 1991, during the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, when both countries resumed their relations, albeit in a limited manner, focusing primarily on trade exchanges without the opening of embassies.

The relations between Tehran and Cairo continued to improve in subsequent years. In 2001, for instance, a meeting took place between President Mubarak and Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Khazarri, marking the first high-level encounter between the two countries since 1979.

Between 2006 and 2008, several visits by senior Iranian officials to Egypt took place, including by then-speaker of the Iranian parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel.

In 2008, Iran offered a diplomatic agreement to Egypt, in which it pledged to reopen its embassy if Cairo agreed to do the same in Tehran. However, at that time, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United States, President Mubarak rejected the diplomatic agreement, citing Iran’s nuclear program as an obstacle to the reestablishment of relations.

Iranian authorities viewed the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, which resulted in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the holding of elections, and the victory of Mohamed Morsi, as an opportunity to achieve full restoration of diplomatic relations.

The government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, led by Mohammed Morsi, took significant steps towards a new era in diplomatic relations with Iran.

These advancements reached their peak with Morsi’s visit to Tehran in 2012, marking the first visit by an Egyptian president to Iran since 1979.

Despite that, full normalization of relations was not achieved. Several experts point out that the reason behind this was the lack of freedom for the Egyptian government to pursue an independent foreign policy and reach an agreement.

Saudi Arabia, which held considerable influence in the country, remained a roadblock.

The events of 2013, which resulted in the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent establishment of a government led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, did not bring about significant changes in the diplomatic efforts of both countries.

From a political perspective, the Islamic Republic condemned the military coup. Tehran also condemned the massacre carried out by the Egyptian military in August 2013, which resulted in the death of over 1,000 people.

Despite these significant political differences, Iran has shown a spirit of flexibility while adhering to its political principles. These principles, in terms of foreign policy, can be summarized into four basic points:

1. Establishment of regional institutional channels that promote dialogue and diplomatic solutions to potential conflicts.
2. Joint design of regional objectives.
3. Emphasis on regional cooperation.
4. Reduction of foreign military presence in the region.

In the past two years, there has been a clear improvement in relations between Iran and Egypt, which cannot be analyzed without considering the recent diplomatic normalization between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia.

This normalization has facilitated, for example, a decrease in Saudi pressure on Egyptian authorities regarding direct negotiations with Iranians.

In May this year, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, publicly approved the restoration of diplomatic relations with Egypt during a meeting with the Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tarik in Tehran.

The restoration and normalization of relations with Egypt would signify a new failure of the joint Zionist-American strategy to isolate the Islamic Republic.

Furthermore, it would highlight the Islamic Republic’s regional strategy, which aims to distance itself from the destabilization caused by external actors such as the United States and the Zionist Entity.

Lastly, the restoration of diplomatic relations between both countries also carries significant political and discursive implications, emphasizing the principles of autonomy and independence.

These political principles underlie the discourse articulated by the Islamic Republic since its establishment. In other words, the Islamic Republic continues to uphold an anti-hegemonic and anti-Western vision in the region.

However, it is important to acknowledge that Egypt’s willingness to address the outstanding challenges remains uncertain, given its political and strategic alliances. Therefore, it would be premature to predict the final outcome of the ongoing negotiation process between the two nations.

Xavier Villar is a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and researcher who divides his time between Spain and Iran.

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV or Education Monitor).

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