Intense political discussion and speculation have followed the recent agreement between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which China brokered. While some are in favour of the implementation of the agreement, others remain sceptical.
From a geopolitical standpoint, it is imperative to address the ongoing concerns surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The potential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions cannot be ignored, particularly in relation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, and the global community at large. Recent revelations regarding Iran’s subterranean nuclear facility have underscored the nation’s commitment to advancing its nuclear capabilities, while also raising concerns about the potential limitations of US airstrikes in effectively neutralizing this threat.
Henceforth, the escalation of regional and global concerns regarding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear armament will only become more of a pressing geopolitical issue. In one recent example of this phenomenon, the Chief of Israel’s Armed Forces has raised the potential for a military intervention in light of Iran’s recent establishment of an underground nuclear facility.
It is imperative that any potential military intervention against Iran be conducted with the utmost political coordination between Israel and the Arab states. Failure to do so may result in unprecedented regional confrontations, particularly in light of recent support from China and Russia towards Iran. Conversely, advocates of the Saudi-Iranian deal posit numerous pivotal advantages to said agreement. It is imperative that we prioritize the establishment of peaceful relations between two opposing powers in the region. This will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the de-escalation of the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Furthermore, it will enable the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to efficiently allocate its resources towards the achievement of its economic development and Vision 2030 goals, which are heavily reliant on regional security and stability.
Moreover, the triumph of the agreement will unquestionably augment KSA’s burgeoning diplomatic clout and sway in the vicinity. This can be seen in the recent developments in the Arab League which have been politically significant, particularly with the readmission of Syria, a country that enjoys strong support from Russia and Iran, after a decade-long suspension. Additionally, the officialreception of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Jeddah during the Saudi-hosted summit has been a noteworthy event.
The recent rapprochement between Egypt and Iran seems to be just one aspect of a broader set of calculated and geopolitically orchestrated manoeuvres spearheaded by KSA. Regarding this matter, during an interview with Fada-Hossein Maleki, a member of Iran’s parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, Maleki affirmed that discussions aimed at strengthening the relationship between Egypt and Iran are being conducted on a “regular” basis in Iraq. Maleki’s recent statement aligns with the political stance of Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who previously expressed Iran’s eagerness to enhance diplomatic ties with Cairo.
Regarding this matter, it has been reported that diplomatic and intelligence officials from Egypt and Iran convened in Baghdad, Iraq, during the early days of March to deliberate on the prospect of normalizing relations and exploring the feasibility of a summit between the leaders of both nations. The diplomatic negotiations seem to be making headway, as recent reports suggest that Egypt and Iran will soon establish ambassadorial relations within the coming months. In addition, the pronouncements made by the spokesperson of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, emphasizing that “the Middle East needs Iran and Egypt,” serve as a testament to Iran’s aspiration for establishing amicable ties with Arab countries that extend beyond a mere accord with KSA.
Throughout the last thirty years following the Islamic revolution in Iran, diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran have been minimal, with little to no communication between the two nations. This has been attributed to various factors. Primarily, and of utmost significance, the divergent geopolitical posture and international strategies of each nation constituted the primary cause for the strained diplomatic ties between the two countries. Iran has been consistently accused of supporting terrorist activities and proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
Additionally, Iran has been aggressively attempting to expand its influence throughout the Middle East, with a particular focus on undermining the stability and influence of KSA. This is a matter that Egypt cannot and will not tolerate. Furthermore, the geopolitical tensions between Iran and Egypt have been exacerbated in part by their divergent religious beliefs. Iran is predominantly composed of Shia Muslims, while Egypt, along with most of the Arab nations, is predominantly composed of Sunni Muslims. This has led to conflicts over the interpretation of Islamic doctrine and the role of religious leadership by KSA where the two Holy Mosques are located and Egypt where it’s the home for Al-Azhar.
Iran, as a Shia-dominated country, has never fully recognized Egypt’s Sunni religious leadership, and therefore resulting in Iran’s reluctance to fully acknowledge Egypt’s religious legitimacy. The political and ideological disparities between Egypt and Iran have also created additional tension. Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, which established a theocratic government, raised concerns for Egypt’s leadership and Egypt’s ties with the United States. Furthermore, the Egyptian government has condemned Iran’s actions in propagating anti-Israeli sentiments and providing aid to extremist organizations that have perpetrated assaults against Israel, which Egypt has maintained a peaceful relationship since 1979.
Amidst the complex geopolitical landscape, the pressing inquiry of the impediments that hinder Egypt from establishing cordial relations with Iran arises, despite the notable differences between the two nations. From a political standpoint, it can be observed that Egypt has chosen to maintain a certain level of distance from Iran, primarily due to the latter’s perceived aggressive stance towards the GCC. Given KSA’s current leadership in the peace and normalization efforts with Iran, it is reasonable to anticipate that Egypt, being a crucial ally to KSA, will also pursue the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iran in pursuit of its own strategic objectives.
It is important to acknowledge that, despite their contrasting political ideologies, Egypt and Iran have both extended their support to the Syrian government led by President al-Assad throughout the last decade. This occurred during a period when the majority of the GCC nations were in opposition to the al-Assad regime. Hence, this provides Egypt with a strategic advantage to expedite the process of reconciling with Iran; especially now that Syria was readmitted back to the Arab league and President al-Assad was warmly welcomed last week in Jeddah.
The diplomatic negotiations between Egypt and Iran regarding normalization seem to be indicative of a larger, coordinated effort between Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The recent visit of Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq to Cairo has sparked speculation that Oman is potentially playing a crucial mediating role between Cairo and Tehran. While the official announcement of the visit to Cairo was centred on bolstering bilateral economic relations between Egypt and Oman, it is widely speculated that a significant portion of the discussions revolved around regional developments concerning Iran. Moreover, the visit holds significance as it took place just days after the Arab League summit in Jeddah, which saw the attendance of most Arab leaders.
The geopolitical implications are heightened by Oman’s official announcement that Sultan Haitham is scheduled to embark on a diplomatic mission to Iran in the near future. Oman’s political strategy of employing discreet diplomacy and adeptly navigating regional conflicts has garnered widespread acclaim. The political implications of Oman’s mediation efforts between the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and the KSA have been highly significant.
The geopolitical manoeuvre of Egypt’s rapprochement with Iran is a calculated move that is likely in coordination with the KSA and the GCC for the sake of collective strategic interests. However, this reconciliation also holds significant strategic advantages for Egypt. First and foremost, it is widely acknowledged that Iran exerts significant political and military sway over various armed factions operating within the Gaza Strip, most notably Hamas. Given that Gaza’s primary borders are shared with Egypt and Israel, it is imperative that Egypt assume a pivotal role in facilitating conflict resolution between Hamas and Israel. From a political standpoint, fostering stronger ties with Iran could potentially grant Egypt greater leverage and authority over various militant factions operating within Gaza, thereby bolstering Egypt’s strategic objectives on multiple fronts.
On the geopolitical front, it is imperative to consider Egypt’s pivotal role in shaping the prospects of peace between Israel and Palestine. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Egypt’s national security in the Northern Sinai region demands urgent attention, given the alleged collaboration between terrorist factions in Sinai and armed groups hailing from Gaza over the past decade. Furthermore, the process of reconciling with Iran will enable Egypt to strategically realign its regional foreign policy in closer accordance with KSA, thereby facilitating the constructive formation of a unified political front between KSA and Egypt.
Thirdly, forging robust diplomatic relations with Iran could potentially endow Egypt with unparalleled political leverage and diplomatic clout on the world stage. At present, there exists a significant degree of scepticism among Western nations regarding the intentions of Iran. However, fostering a more collaborative partnership between Egypt and Iran could serve as a means of assuaging these concerns. This, in turn, would enable Egypt to assume a pivotal role in facilitating a resolution between Iran and the international community on outstanding issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and its backing of regional proxy militias.
The establishment of a robust diplomatic relationship with Iran would not only strengthen political ties between both countries but also foster closer alliances with other nations seeking a dependable Middle Eastern partner, such as Egypt, which possesses the strategic acumen to navigate the intricate geopolitical terrain of the region. In light of China’s recent diplomatic efforts to broker an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is possible that Egypt’s decision to normalize relations with Iran is part of a larger strategy aimed at expanding China’s political influence in the Middle East. This move may also serve as an economic incentive for other nations to engage with China. It is imperative to note that Egypt, a nation grappling with economic hurdles, has taken a significant step by officially becoming a member of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDP) alongside the UAE. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Egypt has recently joinedthe Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has significant geopolitical implications.
While acknowledging the potential economic and geopolitical benefits that a reconciliation between Egypt and Iran may yield, it is imperative to recognize that this matter poses a significant challenge for Egypt due to various factors. Regarding this matter, it is imperative to address Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile development capabilities, as they pose a significant threat to the security of Arab nations. It is crucial to obtain assurances from Iran to ensure the safety and stability of the region.
Despite ongoing reconciliation talks between Iran and various Arab nations, reports indicate that Iran has conducted a successful test launch of a ballistic missile with a potential range of up to 2000 km, therefore possessing the capability to extend its influence throughout the Middle East, including Israel. One of the most pressing issues at hand is the potential strain on the strategic alliance between the United States and Egypt, as the development of a strong rapport with Iran could potentially create geopolitical tensions.
It is important to consider the longstanding partnership between Egypt and the US when navigating this complex political landscape. In relation to the latter, Egypt has maintained a longstanding peace agreement with Israel since 1979 and has fostered robust diplomatic and security relations with Israel in the intervening years. The longstanding animosity between Israel and Iran has been fuelled by the latter’s development of ballistic missiles and nuclear capabilities, leading Israel to view Iran as its primary adversary over the last ten years. Henceforth, Egypt is faced with the geopolitical dilemma of devising a strategy to establish a balance between preserving its strategic relations with Israel and fostering amicable ties with Iran. As the impending US elections draw near, the impact of a potential shift in US policy towards Iran under a new administration on the prospects of reconciliation between Iran and Arab nations remains to be determined.