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Talking to Iran

Monday, April 18 2011 @ 06:16 PM CDT

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By Salama A Salama

A few months ago, the Ministry of Civil Aviation signed an agreement with the Iranian government that would have allowed Egyptian passenger planes to use Iranian airports and vice versa. As soon as the agreement was announced, the US protested against the move and asked Egypt to rescind it, arguing that it violated US sanctions on Iran. Egypt, acting against its own interests, stepped back.

The deterioration in relations with Iran coincided with a clampdown by the Egyptian police on Shias. Several Shias were arrested for alleged proselytising, a ridiculous charge since Al-Azhar considers Shiism a valid doctrine of Islam.

Israel wants to widen the gap between Egypt and Iran. This is one of the ways it hopes to pay the Iranians back for their support of the Palestinians in Gaza. Following the Israeli assaults on Gaza and during the subsequent siege, Tehran offered considerable backing, both financial and material to the Palestinian resistance. This happened at a time when Cairo, siding with Europe and America, tightened the siege on Gaza, claiming all the time that Iran was encouraging Hamas to establish a religious state on Egypt's eastern borders.

Israel is worried by the Iranian nuclear dossier. Their main concern is to remain the only nuclear power in the region. The Israelis have been trying to turn America and the West against Iran. And the Americans have failed so far to find a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear debacle.

Egypt is currently overhauling its foreign policies, and one is to expect some mending of fences to take place, especially with countries we've antagonised just to please the Americans.

Iran is a case in point. Despite the historical, religious and cultural bonds we have with this country, we've been estranged from it for 30 years. We don't even have diplomatic relations with Tehran. This may soon change.

Following the revolution, Egypt has a chance of restructuring its foreign policy in a way that would restore its leading role in the region. We need to have normal relations with countries that share our region, history and culture.

The first sign of change came when the prime minister went, accompanied by a delegation of ministers and experts, to Sudan. Sharaf visited both Khartoum and Juba, a sign that Egypt is willing to see things from a fresh angle.

I expect more visits by our top officials to Arab countries, especially in the Gulf. Some Gulf countries have already voiced concern over a possible Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement. Their concern is unjustified, because what Egypt is doing is likely to be for the common good of the entire region.

Egypt is putting its house in order, and its foreign policy will have to change as a result. We are not going to compromise our relations with the Gulf countries. And, as Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi said, our actions must be inspired by regional needs for security and stability.

Our foreign policy can no longer be based on what Israel wants. Our foreign policy should be guided by the spirit of the revolution. We need to create fruitful and productive relations between Arab and non-Arab countries in the region. And we need to keep the region free from all axes and pacts with outsiders. We need to recognise the rights and interests of other nations, and encourage reciprocity.

Just as the EU hopes to promote security and peace within its borders, we should do the same.


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