by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 1, Rabi' al-Thani, 1434)
Western media outlets are giving the worst possible twist to normal growth and development of relations between Iran and Egypt. As long as Egypt was an US-zionist colony, it was considered normal. Egyptian independence raises alarm bells.
Ever since Mohammed Mursi won the 2012 elections and ascended to the Egyptian presidency, US and European periodicals have been awash with a doomsday fantasy — the political union of Egypt and Iran, alchemizing the “Arab Spring” into an Islamic revolution and creating a Middle East in which Saudi Arabia is firmly sidelined and Israel surrounded. That is to say, a political geography over which US hegemony entered into its forecasted twilight.
Most recently, this doomsday scenario has been revived by Mursi’s reception of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad on the occasion of the summit of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation being hosted in Cairo last month. This was the first visit by an Iranian head of state to Egypt in over three decades, and Mursi’s welcome of Ahmadinejad appears to return the overtures that Tehran has repeatedly made to the Ikhwan since the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Predictably, news coverage of the visit has pitched toward veritable hysteria. In a speech, Ahmadinejad compared the direction of the Egyptian state and Iran, declaring that they were on a bus in which the passengers were arguing, even while the vehicle was moving toward the same destination. But what was splashed across every headline is Ahmadinejad’s declaration that Iran was ready to offer financial support to the Ikhwan government.
“We can provide a big credit line to our Egyptian brothers,” Ahmadinejad told the Egyptian daily al-Ahram, in an interview. “If the two peoples cooperate and join forces, they can become an important element.” Pandemonium broke loose. The Huffpost blazed a mega-captioned headline: “Ahmadinejad Egypt Trip: Iran Says Ready To Lend Cairo Much-Needed Funds.” “Iran’s Ahmadinejad seeks strategic axis with Egypt,” declared Reuters. “Despite sanctions, Ahmadinejad offers loan to Egypt,” warned the Jerusalem Post. Meanwhile, the US right wing Front Page Magazine prognosticated on “The Emerging Egyptian-Iranian Strategic Alliance.”
The hysteria of a possible Egyptian and Iranian alliance is nothing new. It is hardly a shocking development that should jolt the world audience upright at the edge of their seats. Rather, it is a twice told tale, a warning shrilled since the early aftermath of the “Arab Spring” in order to send a clear message about Egypt’s future trajectory — in that it must remain within NATO’s map for North Africa and Asia. For instance, the commentary is remarkably similar to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s remarks after Mursi attended the Nonaligned Movement’s summit in Tehran in August 2012.
In an op-ed circumspectly titled “Mursi’s wrong turn,” Friedman used his lofty perch to rap Mursi’s knuckles with the figurative ruler. “Excuse me, President Mursi, but there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran’s people that the world approves of their country’s clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement — the exact same kind of democracy movement that brought you, Mr. Mursi, to power in Egypt.”
The apocalyptic warnings continued apace through 2012, when the Washington Free Beacon published (on the September 11 anniversary no less) an article, captioned with a picture of Mursi and Ahmadinejad embracing. This offering to journalistic brilliance described a meeting that took place in early August 2012 between Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Murad and a senior official of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). “The Cairo-Tehran Express” blared the headline. “Egyptian-Iranian intelligence meeting prompts fears of a new Middle East terror axis.”
While NATO affiliates conduct war games and exchange sensitive intelligence on a regular basis, one might wonder how this meeting between intelligence representatives of two regional powers within the same geographic neighborhood could be a sign of deep political intimacy between Iran and Egypt, the veritable rise of a Persian-Arab conglomerate. If the Washington Free Beacon article were a science fiction movie, it would climax in a gruesome shot of a Mursi-Ahmadinejad brain merger, the splashing gore and brain fluids of the now conjoined leaders baptizing the birth of a New Evil Empire.
Just in case media reports couldn’t get any more ridiculous, one can take solace in the unplumbed depths of the US right-wing evangelical press. “Egypt Unites With Iran and Fulfills a Bible Prophecy,” declares the editor’s letter on the webpage of The Trumpet. And what is this “awesome prophecy,” as The Trumpet so eloquently puts it? The editor turns to the Book of Daniel, which declares that “And at the time of the end [that is, just before Jesus Christ returns] shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.” By the strange calculations only known to Protestant evangelical savants, the editor has determined that the king of the South is Iran which has united with Egypt, and against which a new “Holy Roman Empire” (aka Europe) will make war and destroy.
Protestant prophecies of course, are known more for pumping up mass adrenaline levels than their grasp on reality. Nevertheless, their general strategy is in line with mainstream news sources that have illustrated a Persian-Arabic amity that will spread like a “virus” (as some reports have phrased it), and even encompass Turkey to create a trifecta “Iran-Egyptian-Turkish” alliance that will raise a “Greater Middle East.” The scenario seems to vivify Europe’s memories of the Muslim conquest of Iberia, Salah al-Din’s reconquest of Jerusalem, and the Ottoman Empire’s escapades in Eastern Europe, all rolled into one nightmare.
Of course, such doomsday reports are counterbalanced with articles published in foreign policy journals and secular Middle East journals, which balance the melodrama with realism. “Although some Middle Eastern intellectuals and philosophers showed enthusiasm for that triangle [composed of Iran-Egypt-Turkey] over the past decades, the historical experience shows that it has never actually happened in reality,” notes Mustafa al-Labbad writing for Lebanese journal al-Safar. Other political analysts, the same ones who circumspectly noted that the Arab Spring could be a canvas that could be rewoven to fit in Pentagon Inc.’s frame (at least in the short term), recognize the political and ideological constraints on Mursi and the rest of the Ikhwan. It is precisely these constraints that the doomsday fantasy attempts to manipulate through shock scenarios.
Mursi et al., netted in ideologies of modernization and democracy, are intellectually bound to the nation-state frame — a frame at odds with their transnational impulses to align themselves with other Muslim nations, and to provide a viable solution for the Palestinians. They are also hamstrung by their long-standing alliances with Petro-Muslims. That is, the Salafis and Wahhabis, which granted the Ikhwan a degree of asylum through the crackdowns of the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak years. Currently, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikhdoms are cashing in on the relationship, offering even more dazzling sums to offset the economic damage setting in as a result of neoliberal policies that Mursi has signed on to at the behest of the IMF and the World Bank. This cash cycles into toleration for Salafis in Egypt to gain greater control of the political system — to the disgust of many Egyptians, both secular and religious.
Iran’s “charm offensive” as news reports have phrased it, is confronting a rather implacable grid in which Mursi signs away political freedom for superficial influence. The “doomsday scene” is a horror story, designed to pump up emotions over a fabricated scenario. In practical terms, the struggle for Egypt’s soul certainly continues, but the bargaining chips are firmly in the hands of Pentagon Inc. Case in point: news of “Iranian money” has predictably stirred up Qatar, which has promised to dole out more petro-cash to keep Mursi firmly within the Saudi-Gulf-US orbit.
Even as Mursi fumbles his way toward some measure of political influence, the cost is astronomical — losing any real measure of power to chart an independent course for his country. Egypt’s new constitution, as many observers have noted, may sideline Mubarak supporters but also entrenches Salafi political influence — a back door for Pentagon Inc. Unfortunately, the new Egypt that the Ikhwan is designing is a new kind of doomsday scenario, an unwitting recycling of the political violence and autocracy that Mursi promised to preserve his people from in the march toward a different future.