x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Egyptian lawyers take on Iran

Two Egyptian lawyers have taken to target Iran by legal means, moves that seem likely to cause relations between the two countries to deteriorate further.

The Shah and empress Farah arrive in Egypt in 1979.
The Shah and empress Farah arrive in Egypt in 1979.

CAIRO // Two Egyptian lawyers have taken action targetting Iran, moves seen as raising the political tension between the two countries.

One lawyer, Mamdouh Ismail, filed a complaint with Egypt's prosecutor general last week seeking to stop Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, from attending a summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this month.

Another lawyer has filed a lawsuit requesting the closure of an Iranian satellite channel's bureau and blocking transmission.

"Ahmadinejad has crossed all red lines," Mr Ismail said in an interview. "During his election campaign last month he insulted two companions of The Prophet, which revealed how much he doesn't care about provoking or angering us Sunnis. For me, this is insulting and amounts to blasphemy.

"Ahmadinejad's visit to the Sinai is a threat to national security and he has to be barred from entering the country, and if he does, he has to be arrested," said Mr Ismail, 46, who has been a lawyer for Islamic militants for more than 20 years.

Mr Ismail acknowledged that Mr Ahmadinejad's visit was a sovereignty issue, but said he was "trying through legal and popular means to influence the political decision".

The prosecutor general has not acted on the complaint.

Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said last month that Mr Ahmadinejad had been invited to the Non-Aligned Movement conference by Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

Iran is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which Gamal Abdel-Nasser, a former Egyptian president, helped found along with five others 48 years ago. The international organisation was created to represent countries that were not aligned to either of the superpowers at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Egypt, which currently holds the movement's presidency, will pass the presidency on to Iran at the conference.

It was not clear yesterday whether Mr Ahmadinejad will attend the summit, July 15-16, though in his first speech after the June 12 election he said he would. If he does he will be the first Iranian president to visit Egypt in 30 years.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after Egypt provided shelter to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi following his deposition as shah in 1979. Ties were cut altogether when Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Nasser as president, signed a peace agreement with Israel that year.

The shah is buried in Egypt and there is a street named after him in the Cairo suburb of Dokki. Egyptian officials have said that having a street in Tehran named after Khaled Islambouli, the army officer who killed Sadat at a military parade in 1981, as well as a large mural of him, are among obstacles to restoring diplomatic ties.

History aside, Shiite Iran is competing with Sunni Egypt over a leadership in regional politics. Since the US-led war against Iraq began in 2003, Iran's influence has increased in Iraq, Syria and in southern Lebanon. Iran also supports Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"Iran is an undeniable geopolitical fact in the region; that can't be ignored and has to be addressed by Egypt, which has to acknowledge that its regional role is retreating while that of Iran is ascending," said Mustafa elLabbad, director of Al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"Unfortunately, the level of dispute falls sometimes into the ethnic Shiite-Sunni trap, which should never be the case or the game," Mr elLabbad said. "Egypt is not playing the cards it has well, and Iran are scoring goals."

Egypt announced in April that it had uncovered a plot by 49 men with alleged links to Hizbollah in Lebanon to destabilise the country by carrying out attacks on Egyptian institutions and Israeli tourists.

Hizbollah and its supporter, Iran, denied the accusations.

In May, an Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabri, filed a lawsuit demanding the closing of Al Alam, an Iranian satellite channel that broadcasts in Arabic, and halting its transmission in Egypt for "attacking, inciting and making fun of Egypt's symbols", according to a copy of the lawsuit that was faxed to The National.

"I was really enraged by the attacks of the channel against our prosecutor general, which accused him of fabricating the case against the Hizbollah cell in Egypt to please the Egyptian regime," Mr Sabri said. "When their criticism reached our judicial symbols, I decided to fight back in court," he added.