Egypt's Mursi wants better ties with Iran

Fireworks explode as supporters of Muslim Brotherhood's president-elect Mohammed Mursi celebrate his victory at the election at Tahrir Square in Cairo 24 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Asmaa Waguih)

Published Monday, June 25, 2012

Egypt's President-elect Mohammed Mursi said in an interview with Iran's Fars news agency on Monday that he was looking to expand ties with Tehran to create a strategic "balance" in the region.

Fars quoted him as saying he was interested in better relations with Tehran. "This will create a balance of pressure in the region, and this is part of my program."

Fars said he was speaking a few hours before the results of the Egyptian election were announced on Sunday.

No diplomatic relations existed between the two states during the 30-year reign of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, a key US and Israeli ally in the region.

But Egypt's foreign minister said last year that Cairo was ready to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, while Tehran openly supported the revolution that toppled Mubarak in 2011, and has shown a willingness to develop ties with the new Egypt.

Mursi's victory over former general Ahmed Shafik in Egypt's first free presidential election was subsequently hailed by Iran as a "splendid vision of democracy" that marked the final phase of an "Islamic awakening."

Egypt is the most populous Arab state, and serves as a possible counter to regional power and Iranian arch rival Saudi Arabia for influence in the Arab world.

Israel itself appeared worried on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he was hopeful of future cooperation with Mursi.

"We expect to work together with the new administration on the basis of our peace treaty," Netanyahu told reporters after a meeting with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I believe that peace is important to Israel. I believe that peace is important to Egypt. I believe that peace is a vital interest for both countries and I believe that peace is the foundation of stability in our region," Netanyahu said, echoing a written statement issued by his office a day earlier.

Since the fall of Mubarak, anti-Israeli sentiment in Egyptian society has grown, with the Israeli embassy in Cairo being attacked by protesters last September.

Mursi gets to work

Mursi, a 60-year old engineer who studied in California and was jailed for his politics by Mubarak's secret police, wasted no time trying to heal rifts with the military and skeptical factions.

"I am today a president for all Egyptians," he said in an address after what he called "this historic moment, this luminous moment."

He repeated his respect for international treaties – a gesture to Israel, which has fretted about its 1979 peace deal, and to Egypt's army, whose big US subsidy depends on it.

The bearded Mursi, smiling occasionally, echoed that in his televised speech, saying he would work with others to see the democratic revolution through: "There is no room now for the language of confrontation," he said.

But challenges remain ahead for Mursi, who has to deal with an increasingly anxious ruling military that snatched much of the country's power before the final round of the presidential elections took place.

The Muslim Brotherhood's impressive gains in the parliamentary elections and the potential for presidency proved too much for Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

With the help of a Mubarak-era judiciary, SCAF dissolved parliament on the eve of the presidential election and then gave itself legislative powers, adding also a potential role in forming a panel to write the constitution.

It also revived some powers for martial law. Critics called it a "soft coup."

Senior Brotherhood officials say they have been negotiating in the past week to change some of that. Though both sides deny that any deal was struck over the result of the presidential vote itself, Mursi's election now sets a key reference point around which a power-sharing compromise can be built while the process of constructing a constitutional democracy goes on.

"President Mursi and his team have been in talks with the military council to bring back the democratically elected parliament and other issues," Essam Haddad, a senior Brotherhood official, told Reuters on Monday.

Brotherhood sources told Reuters they hoped the army might allow a partial recall of parliament and other concessions in return for Mursi exercising his powers to name a government and presidential administration without army objections.

Military officials have confirmed discussions in the past few days but had no immediate comment on the latest talks.

The Brotherhood has, movement officials said, approached secular reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN diplomat and Nobel peace laureate, to take a senior post, possibly as prime minister. ElBaradei has not commented.

Brotherhood officials have said they will press on with street protests to pressure the army but this, along with a number of other contentious issues including to whom and where Mursi swears his oath of office, could be settled soon.

The army wants Mursi sworn in on June 30, meeting a deadline it set itself for handing over Egypt to "civilian rule."

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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