Persian Files ISSN 2975-0598 Volume 19 Issue 4
Author: Silvia Boltuc
The recent telephonic exchange between Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi marks a significant moment that underscores the potential emergence of a new chapter in the relations between Iran and Egypt.
This development occurs against the backdrop of the ongoing rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, a significant regional shift. Moreover, the Middle East is grappling with a profound crisis stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exacerbated by Tel Aviv’s military operations in the Gaza Strip.
The leaders’ conversation indicates a strategic reassessment of relations in the face of these challenging circumstances, hinting at the possibility of collaborative efforts to address shared regional concerns and fostering stability in the volatile Middle East.
- Recent communication between Iranian and Egyptian leaders signifies a potential thaw in bilateral relations.
- Iran’s interest in the unconditional opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt for Gaza Strip residents introduces a critical dimension to the dialogue.
- Regional stability, following the re-establishment of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia, may prompt Egypt and Jordan to consider similar rapprochement with Iran.
Relations between Iran and Egypt have been largely dormant since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, resuming only at the chargé d’affaires level 11 years later. Despite initial optimism during Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership, differences emerged over Iran’s support for Bashar Al-Assad.
On December 23th, 2023, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi had a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, extending congratulations on his recent re-election. Discussions encompassed not only bilateral matters but also the sensitive situation in the Gaza Strip, reflecting evolving geopolitical dynamics in the region
Middle East, Iran and Egypt: Analysis
The unexpected potential for a diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and Egypt is rooted in shifting regional dynamics, particularly in Egypt’s revised approach to Syria under President Al-Sisi and the broader reconciliation trend between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Although the two nations lack ideological alignment, shared regional interests are emerging as a driving force for the prospect of improved relations.
Amidst these developments, the focal point in the Middle East is the situation in the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s military operation aims to eradicate Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad following attacks orchestrated by the Islamic Resistance Movement on October 7th, 2023. Given Iran’s historical support for the Palestinian cause and recent security concerns in the region, the potential collision between Tehran and Tel Aviv poses a significant threat to Middle East stability.
The security implications extend beyond the immediate actors, with Egypt positioned at the nexus of potential consequences. Sharing borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip, Egypt would be directly affected by any escalation of conflict between Iran and Israel. The renovation of relations between Tehran and Cairo thus acquires a strategic dimension, potentially acting as a deterrent to further Israeli military operations against Iranian forces in the Middle East.
Conversely, improved Iranian-Egyptian relations have the potential to contribute to regional stabilization, fostering cooperation within the Arab-Muslim world. The evolving dynamics in this complex geopolitical landscape underscore the interconnectedness of Middle Eastern nations and the delicate balance required to navigate regional stability.
The potential reopening of the Rafah crossing presents a multifaceted challenge for Egypt, entailing risks associated with the intricate regional dynamics and President Al-Sisi’s nuanced position between Western allies and the Arab League.
The apprehension regarding the infiltration of Hamas militants among Palestinian refugees adds a layer of complexity, given the historical ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, an entity that faced opposition during Al-Sisi’s ascent to power. Striking a delicate balance between regional obligations and internal security concerns, Egypt must carefully navigate the potential consequences of easing access to the Gaza Strip.
The envisaged rapprochement between Iran and Egypt introduces an additional dimension, raising the spectre of heightened tensions with Israel. In response to perceived threats to its interests, Tel Aviv may formulate an offensive strategy targeting both Iranian military presence in the Middle East and Egyptian influence in Palestine.
A collision between Tel Aviv and Cairo, stemming from increased cooperation between Iran and Egypt, could escalate regional geopolitical risks, with far-reaching consequences for local logistics and transportation. Such developments may have a ripple effect, influencing the broader Eurasian region and necessitating a nuanced approach to mitigate potential fallout.
- Optimistic Scenario. Diplomatic efforts and regional mediation bear fruit, paving the way for a gradual improvement in Iran-Egypt relations. This positive trajectory could contribute significantly to enhanced stability in the Middle East. Cairo, positioned strategically between Tehran and Tel Aviv, might assume a role as a mediator, fostering dialogue and preventing further deterioration in the region. A successful alignment of diplomatic interests could not only defuse existing tensions but also establish a framework for cooperation that has the potential to positively impact broader regional dynamics.
- Stagnation Scenario. Despite initial diplomatic exchanges, substantive progress in Iran-Egypt relations proves elusive, with both countries maintaining cautious approaches. The lack of tangible improvement may result from persistent differences, ongoing regional complexities, or an unwillingness to compromise on key issues. This scenario implies a continuation of the status quo, with limited prospects for significant breakthroughs in bilateral relations, leaving the region in a state of uncertainty.
- Negative Scenario. Escalation of regional tensions, primarily fuelled by unresolved issues such as the contentious Rafah crossing. This escalation not only hampers any prospects for improved relations between Iran and Egypt but also leads to increased instability in the Middle East. The repercussions of such instability could extend beyond the immediate actors, potentially plunging the entire geopolitical context within the Middle East into chaos. This, in turn, may create a conducive environment for the rise of terrorist groups and private military companies, exacerbating security challenges across the region.
In conclusion, the potential reopening of the Rafah crossing poses a complex challenge for Egypt, navigating the delicate balance between regional dynamics and internal security concerns. The historical ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood add layers of complexity, requiring careful consideration in easing access to the Gaza Strip. The envisaged rapprochement between Iran and Egypt introduces an additional dimension, potentially escalating tensions with Israel. To mitigate these risks, continuous monitoring of the evolving geopolitical landscape is imperative to adapt and respond effectively to unfolding events.
From a broader perspective, two sensitive trends have recently emerged in the Middle East: a shift in the Arab League’s stance towards Syria and Iran. The Arab bloc is now pursuing a realpolitik approach driven by pragmatism and economic interests. Overcoming the friction between certain Arab states and Iran is imperative for regional stability and development.
As for Tehran, this new scenario aligns perfectly with the Raisi government’s strategy of ‘good neighbourliness’. This strategy is based on intense diplomatic efforts to establish crucial connections and enhance bilateral relations with countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
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