Shifting of alliances in the Mideast?

Sinem Cengiz

HARDLY a day passes without a development in ME and extraordinary complexity of developments in region creates a serious paradox. The already complicated picture in the region has even become more complex with the recent moves of Egypt. Last week, there were reports circulated in the media stating that Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek El Molla was on his way to Tehran to strike new oil deals following the halt of Saudi shipments of oil products expected under a $23b aid deal to Cairo.
As it is known, during a visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Cairo in April, Riyadh agreed to provide Egypt with 700,000 tons of refined oil products per month for five years. Saudi Aramco reportedly informed Egypt’s state oil company that it would halt the supplies of oil products to the country due to technical problems. Needless to say, diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran have been strained since the mid-1970s following Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and receiving Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who fled Iran after the revolution in the same year.
However, in international relations there are no permanent allies or enemies, but there are permanent interests that are shaped according to the political conjuncture and shifting of balances. So, regarding the recent rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, one may ask “Are the old enemies becoming friends?” That is the reason why the news of the alleged visit draws great attention. It even becomes more interesting when taking into consideration the recent political atmosphere between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a staunch supporter of the Cairo administration both politically and economically. A known fact, Saudi Arabia is not on good terms with neither Iran’s mullah regime nor with the govt in Baghdad.
Upon this, last month Cairo and Baghdad inked a memorandum of understanding to pave the way for Egypt to import oil from Iraq, while both countries vowed to further strengthen their ties. Egypt, Middle East’s most populous Arab country, also throws its full support behind Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi’s government in its ongoing battle for Mosul. Another attention-grabbing move was when Tehran wanted Egypt to attend the key Syria talks in Lausanne. Iran agreed to attend the talks only if Cairo and Baghdad had seats at the table. Iraq could be understandable as Iranian influence in the country is not a secret, while also Baghdad does not hide its support for Iranian moves in the region. But, what about Egypt?
However, the pro-Iran front should not expect more than business and good relationship with Egypt. Indeed, Cairo and Riyadh disagree on some issues; but interpreting the relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia as “crisis” would be nothing more than an exaggeration. Additionally, describing Egyptian move as “a shift from Sunni axis toward Shiite axis” would also be a wrong reading as Cairo is playing its cards and acting pragmatic at the moment in order to realize its gains, which are not mainly associated with money, but a temporary alignment with “yesterday’s enemy” for common goals. What is obvious from Shiite bloc is that it is trying to take advantage of weakness of Egypt, which is politically and economically exhausted.
The writer is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly on issues regarding Turkey’s relations with ME. — Courtesy: Arab News

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