The Brotherhood and Iran: An Islamic alliance against strife?

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Former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (C) attends a meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after the opening of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo February 6, 2013.(Photo: Reuters/Egyptian Presidency/Handout)

By: Sami Kleib

Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When the first swallows of the Arab Spring began singing in Tunisia and Egypt, Iran described the revolutions as an Islamic awakening. "The Arab revolutions are inspired by the spirit and model of the Islamic revolution in Iran and they are thus a continuation thereof," Iran's spiritual leader Ali Khamenei said in a sermon in February 2011. The Iranian leader was not unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) since he was the first to translate the books of Sayyid Qutb into Farsi and encouraged their reading.

At the time, Iran expected the MB would return the praise with similar enthusiasm. However, Egyptian president Mohammed Mursi's first visit to Iran was a disappointment. The MB president used the podium of the Non-Aligned Nations summit to deliver a sectarian speech, which contradicted the Iranian hospitality. He finished his term by breaking relations with Iran's ally, Syria.

Three years into the revolutions and uprisings, the MB cannot be envied for their situation. The US and Western countries failed them after a period of flirtation. Washington pretended to cut off a portion of its aid to Egypt. But in the backrooms, it was telling the new Egyptian leadership, "do not worry. This is merely talk and nothing will change."

Most Gulf countries went on the offensive against the Brotherhood. The Saudis put them on their terrorist list. Hamas and Turkey became a cause for accusation in Egypt and Syria.

If the swallow that sang above Tunisia and Egypt was still alive, it would have been shocked how quickly the situation changed. One revolution devoured its children. The other veered towards partitioning and regionalism. The third became divided. The fourth sank in a wave of terrorism and takfirism, and the fifth forgot why it broke out in the first place.

Another picture is taking shape today. Iran and Turkey's interests call for a restoration of friendly relations. "The current brotherhood, love, and friendship between Iran and Turkey is unmatched in the last centuries," Khamenei said as he received Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I am here to visit my second country," Erdogan replied.

Throughout the Syrian crisis, the relationship between Tehran and Ankara did not falter. The reprove did not lead to a break down in their relations. Their current good relations have major strategic dimensions.

This was followed by a visit by the Qatari foreign minister to Iran, and then a Hamas delegation. Between visits, Tehran kept its reservations concerning the overthrow of Mursi in Egypt and kept its links with the MB.

Iran's long-term strategy remains the same; the Islamic world must unite. Tehran hopes to enhance Sunni-Shia relations to create a new global alliance. It knows that a major reason for sectarian strife in the region is directed towards its role and that of its allies.

In the short term, Iran believes that its utmost interests lie in rapprochement with moderate Sunni currents in the region, including the MB. This would stop the war in Syria, put an end to the sectarian strife, improve its position in the negotiations over its nuclear program, and help in confronting the Saudis.

Many still do not see a good reason for the Saudi inclusion of the MB on the same list as terrorist organizations. But, Iran could be the biggest beneficiary as Tehran becomes the destination of those harmed by the Saudi attack; from Turkey to Qatar to important actors in Yemen.

A few days ago, Ismael Haniyeh, a Hamas official and head of the Gaza government, spoke directly against Israel, calling for war and martyrdom, a few days after the rockets of Islamic Jihad had rained on Israel.

Two important visitors had been in Tehran before the threats and the rockets: head of Hamas's international relations Osama Hamdan, who said that relations with Iran were normal and fine, and the secretary general of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah.

Egypt was quick to tone down its rhetoric against Iran. Between the rockets and the threats, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy had spoken in Beirut about the importance of restoring relations with Iran. Due to the relationship with the Saudis and international pressures prior to the elections, making the issue public might not be appropriate. However, Egypt's openness to Iran and Russia seems to be more than necessary at the time being.

What changed?

In the past three years, Iran was busy looking for a way to forge serious and strong relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, the MB seems to be the one who needs this convergence. In the past, such relations would have made the West angry. But today Iran itself is negotiating with the West.

Israel is worried and watching closely, attempting to up the stakes. It deliberately leaked information that Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas politburo, is ready to visit Iran, with Qatari mediation. Hamas was forced to deny this.

Without a doubt, the Saudi decision against the MB is creating a commotion, even in the Gulf. Kuwait's branch of the MB are part of a complex combination, which cannot be fought. In Bahrain, the MB are in a sensitive situation, as the country tries to paint its internal problem as a conflict between the Shia and the [Sunni] authority.

The Bahraini foreign minister was compelled to deny that he said the MB in the country are not a terrorist group. He retracted saying his country stands by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their enemy is Bahrain's enemy.

The distress spread to the MB in Syria and Palestine. In Yemen, the Brotherhood found itself too weak to face the Houthis as the Saudis shut the door in the face of their leadership, the al-Ahmar clan.

Iran could see this as an opportunity to revive its idea of a real Islamic revival. In particular, it would be based on the Shia and Sunni blocs approaching each other in the Islamic Republic.

The Arabs, on the other hand, are fighting over each others’ lands. They are wondering whether to give Syria's seat in the Arab League to the opposition, which does not represent much on the ground anymore. Are they waiting for better days? The swallows died before the spring could bloom.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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