Iran, the strongest supporter of the Syrian regime, is on a search for the right price to drop its support to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to Bashir Abdel Fattah, editor-in-chief of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram magazine and a prominent Egyptian political analyst.
“Sooner or later, Assad will fall and Iranians know this reality very well, but they are still on a hunt for a price,” said Fattah.
In an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman at the Al-Ahram Center in Cairo, Fattah said that Syria was an instrument in the hands of Iran which serves to promote Iranian influence in the Middle East, adding that Iran was in search of a bargain with international actors over its support for Assad. “If we stop supporting Assad, what will you give us in return? This is the question posed by Iranians. But so far, Iran has not gotten the price it expected from the international actors,” said the prominent analyst.
Although countries like Turkey and Egypt are some of the staunchest supporters of the Syrian opposition that is trying to topple Assad, Iran stands by its ally, Syria, despite growing international pressure on the Syrian president. Iran was attacked at the UN Security Council recently for its continuous backing of the Syrian regime.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi also warned Iran to end its support for Assad in order to prevent any chance of Western intervention in Syria, during the Non-Aligned Movement’s meeting last month in Tehran.
Touching on Morsi’s statements, which delivered a strong message to the Iranian side, Fattah stated that Morsi aimed to play both to internal politics as well as foreign politics. “Morsi wanted to assure Egypt’s Syria policy. He wanted to send a message to Iran that if you want to normalize your relations with Egypt, you have to reconsider your stance in the Syrian crisis and stop supporting Assad,” said Fattah.
‘US and Russia key actors in Syrian crisis’
The revolt in Syria has dragged on far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising, in part because of Assad’s unwillingness to meet the demands of the Syrian people, but also because of rifts among the world powers.
Fattah maintained that the US and Russia were the key actors to finding a solution for the 18-month-long crisis, adding that Turkey and Egypt together cannot find an end to the crisis alone. “In the Syrian crisis, Egypt cannot play a vital role because Egypt is still suffering from local problems. So, Egypt doesn’t have the power to exert influence in the Syrian crisis. Turkey as well cannot find a military solution for the Syrian crisis,” said Fattah, claiming that Turkey was preparing itself for new scenarios in the post-Assad era.
Egypt proposed an initiative to bring together three supporters of the Syrian opposition -- Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- with the Syrian regime’s top regional ally, Iran, in order to find a common solution for the crisis.
When asked about Turkish-Egyptian relations, Fattah replied that Turkey needs to create new partnerships, adding that Egypt was that partner to serve as a gate to Africa. “There are Iranian as well as Israeli ambitions, which are supported by Americans, in the region. Turkey has good relations with the West but there is mistrust on both sides. So Turkey searches for other strategic alternatives and partners,” said Fattah.
Turkey and Egypt, the two most populous states in the Middle East with significant political leverage, have deep-rooted historical, cultural and diplomatic ties.
Fattah maintained that the relations between Turkey and Egypt were not promising in the era of former President Hosni Mubarak due to jealousy between the two countries. “As the regional role of Turkey was rising, the regional role of Egypt was decreasing because Mubarak did not have any vision in foreign policy. The regional role needs awareness and leadership. Mubarak didn’t have the ability to play this role, whereas Turkish leaders did,” said Fattah.
When asked whether Egypt’s traditional foreign policy will change with Morsi as president, Fattah replied that there would be no change in the basic principles and goals of the foreign policy. “Morsi will try to maintain stability and autonomy in the foreign policy. He will try to free Egypt’s foreign policy from US and Israeli interference by establishing new partnerships with other Arab countries, Turkey and Iran,” said Fattah, adding that Morsi takes Turkey as an example in its balancing role between the West and the Arab world.
Since Mubarak’s 2011 ousting, tensions between Israel and Egypt have grown; in particular, concerns have risen over the fate of the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
Fattah maintained that the principles of the relations with Israel would not change. “Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] are supported by the Americans and this support is based on the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Morsi knows that the US support to Egypt will depend on the maintenance of the peace treaty with Israel,” said Fattah.
Although, he did not believe in enormous change in Egyptian-Israeli relations, Fattah said, Morsi will try to create some balance in the relations, which during the Mubarak era were in Israel’s favor.
‘Egyptian revolution not over yet’
The Egyptian revolution, which resulted in the fall of Mubarak, took place following a popular uprising that began in January 2011. The uprising was mainly a campaign of non-violent civil resistance, which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience and labor strikes.
Describing the post-revolution era as the second republic of Egypt, Fattah said Egypt was experiencing a civilian state with a civilian president. “This era is the beginning of a new republic and new foreign policy,” said Fattah.
The grievances of the Egyptian protesters were focused on legal and political issues, including police brutality, state of emergency laws and the lack of free elections and freedom of speech.
When asked whether the revolution had come to an end in Egypt, Fattah said it hadn’t, adding that revolutions cannot end within weeks or months. “Revolutions might take years. It depends on how strong the revolution is and how far the people can achieve their goals. So in Egypt the revolution is still going on. It is not finished,” said Fattah, adding that every revolution had economic, political and security costs.
Fattah said the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood did not have the same advantages as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “There are some differences in Egypt’s MB and the ones in other Arab countries. Egypt’s MB was established in 1928. In Egypt, the MB is politicized, pragmatic and deeply rooted within the society. The MB in Egypt somehow joined politics, but the one in Syria was prohibited from joining politics,” said Fattah, adding that in the post-Assad era, the Syrian MB would not be the sole power but may share power with other political parties. “The Islamic movements in Turkey were also influenced by the MB in Egypt,” added Fattah.
Fattah also responded to claims stating that Al-Ahram sides with the government. “Al-Ahram was always under the control of the government. But in the new era, Al-Ahram is trying to establish new relations with the government. We are seeking for more autonomy. After the revolution, we have much more freedom to criticize the government than before,” said Al-Ahram’s senior figure.