x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Morsi's visit to Iran could reshape the region

Mohammed Morsi's visit to Iran could reverse decades of estrangement, an Arabic-language writer notes. Other topics today are a town in Syria and a city in Lebanon.

Morsi's visit to Iran could signal rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, after decades of strain

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi visits Iran this week to attend the Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) meetings. This historic visit goes beyond its announced goals, Aisha Al Marri opined in the UAE-based Al Ittihad.

Diplomatic ties between Iran and Egypt have been broken for more than 30 years, since the Iranian revolution established the Islamic republic in 1979.

After the revolution Egypt's Anwar Sadat gave asylum to the deposed Shah of Iran; in response to this move, and Sadat's peace treaty with Israel, Iran named a street in Tehran after Khaled Islambouli, Sadat's assassin.

But recently Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has announced Iran's agreement to change the street's name to Al Shuhada Avenue (Martyrs' Avenue), in honour of Egypt's January 25 revolution.

Iranian-Egyptian relations were strained throughout the 1980s. Cairo explicitly backed Iraq in its eight-year long war with Iran, providing military, political and media support.

But Egyptian forces took part in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, and Egypt came back into the regional landscape to compete with the policies of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

While Cairo was outside the regional arena, Tehran was accused of promoting Shiism in Egypt, backing extremists, seeking regional expansion, and pulling the strings in different hot spots in the region.

"Tehran has always been pragmatic when it comes to foreign policy," the writer said. "Whenever ideology and interests conflict, Iran would opt for interests."

Egypt's January 25 revolution that unseated Hosni Mubarak created a political opportunity for Iran, especially with the Muslim Brotherhood taking power.

Egypt's foreign minister stated that the new Egypt would seek to open a new page with every country, including Iran. And last April Tehran invited Egypt, to accept an Iranian ambassador.

Relations with Egypt bear strategic importance for Iran, which has been striving to break the isolation created by its nuclear plans and its regional policies.

Reinstating ties with Cairo would help reduce the pressure on Iran. And the coming of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and other Arab countries, could serve to increase the odds of further rapprochement between Iran and these countries, the writer explained.

Foretelling the future relationship between Iran and Egypt is no easy task, she observed. The two countries have been locked in complicated relations on several fronts.

The thaw might translate into diplomatic relations, and economic interests might spur further rapprochement, but competition over regional leadership will be the main determinant of progress of the Egyptian-Iranian relations, the author concluded.


Jaramana is typical of many a Syrian town

Jaramana is a small town on the south-eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus. And what Jaramana has seen during the 18 months of revolt sums up in a way what has happened in every other Syrian village, town, or city, columnist Fayez Sara wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat yesterday.

Jaramana expanded considerably in recent decades as a result of demographic growth in the capital and regions further afield, such as Latakia and Hama, the writer said. "That was before large numbers of Iraqis started calling it home, from 2003 onwards, giving the town a unique demographic make-up."

Besides its native Druze Muslims, the town now includes Assyrians, Kurds, Christians, Alawites and Ismailis.

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Jaramana has seen a notable street movement, especially among youth. "They held sit-ins and rallies calling for liberty and dignity," the writer said. These were soon countered by a security crackdown.

Having seen how government forces try to quell the revolt, the Jaramana community opened it doors to their brethren from other towns where shelling by the Syrian army had displaced people. Jaramana citizens did not care for the consequences.

In its brave show of solidarity, Jaramana is not alone. Braving death, Syrians have been doing the same throughout the country.


Lebanon can't be safe from Syrian turmoil

Depending on the time of day, Beirut's fears about the possibility of the Syrian civil war spilling across Lebanon's vulnerable northern border increase or decrease. But what remains certain is that the menace is there, columnist Mazen Hammad said in yesterday's edition of the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

In the northern city of Tripoli, a brittle truce between the anti-Al Assad Sunnis and the pro-Al Assad Alawites has been regularly broken, auguring ill for hopes that Lebanon will come out of the Syrian uprising unscathed.

There is a strong feeling in Beirut right now that the same sectarianism that motivated the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 is driving today's turmoil in the north of Lebanon, which might at any moment spread to the rest of the country, the columnist said.

"The people of Tripoli feel that the skirmishes between Alawites and Sunnis will not stop on their own, and that Tripoli has indeed become a microcosmic replica of what is happening in many Syrian cities, especially Homs, to the east, where many natives have family ties with the people of Tripoli," the columnist went on to say.

One thing is sure, the writer said in conclusion: as long as the civil war continues in Syria, Lebanon will not be safe.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk