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Archive for February 2013

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Bahrain on Edge

Bahrain Bans Import of Protest Masks

February 28th 2013

Hackers

The Kingdom of Bahrain has taken the unusual step of banning the importation of stylized Guy Fawkes masks, which were made popular in the 2005 movie V for Vendetta. In the movie, the main character, who seeks to overthrow the British government, wears the mask.

Bahrain’s minister of industry and commerce, Hassan Fakhro, announced the ban saying anyone who is caught importing the mask faces arrest.

The masks have become a global symbol of protest, and the de facto symbols of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement and the Anonymous online activist group. The mask also was frequently seen in many protests during the so-called Arab Spring as well as in the London riots of 2011.

Abbas Al Omran, a member of the British-based Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said he didn't think the ban would have much effect, as there are already many of the masks already in Bahrain, and the masks can still be sneaked in or even made at home. Read more ..


Broken Borders

US Border Activists Urge Humane Immigration Reform

February 28th 2013

Border Patrol

Valentin Tachiquin banged nine times on a metal podium outside the U.S. Capitol Building, the number of times his daughter was shot to death by a border patrol agent last year.

“I’m not a politician, I’m a hurting dad,” Tachiquin, a Hispanic U.S. citizen who works as a corrections officer at the California Institution for Women, said Wednesday. “I would die for this country, but don’t kill my family just because you have a badge.”

Border activists traveled across the country to Washington to put a human face on immigration reform, February 27, 2013. Tachiquin is part of a group of civil and human rights activists, local politicians, business and faith leaders who traveled to Washington from communities along the Mexican and Canadian borders this week. They're urging members of Congress to take a more humane approach to border security in an upcoming immigration reform bill. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Gulf Exploration Deal with Mexico Headed to Congress

February 28th 2013

Gulf oil spill

The Obama administration will shortly be asking Congress to approve last year's deal with Mexico for oil exploration in the Gulf, the State Department said.

The so-called Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Felipe Calderón on the margins of last year's G-20 summit in Los Cabos, establishes a legal framework for joint U.S.-Mexican exploration. The agreement also lifts the moratorium on oil exploration and production in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

“Let me assure you that this will be coming in front of Congress,” Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, said Thursday at a House hearing on U.S. interests in the region. “I hope we can count on everyone's support. We hope to do that as expeditiously as possible.” Read more ..


Obama Using Illegal Immigrants Against Americans

February 28th 2013
Americans for Legal Immigration PAC's spokesman is accusing the Obama administration of engaging in a form of threats by unlawfully releasing 10,000 illegal immigrants from detention centers, threatening to facilitate a new mass influx of illegal aliens, while at the same time demanding more money and power and amnesty for illegals. The White House is making the spurious claim that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released the illegal immigrant prisoners without authorization from the President. This tactic is the same the White House used as a defense in the Fast and Furious gun walking scandal. The fact that US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham just emerged smiling from a closed door meeting with Obama regarding immigration reform amnesty on the backdrop of these threats shows an agenda in motion. McCain and Graham are thumbing their noses at a new Reuters poll showing 70% of Republicans, and a majority of all Americans, want illegal immigrants deported instead of being allowed to stay in America. The Obama administration is telling Congress and the American public that if we do not give them more money, power, and amnesty for illegals that they will release more illegal immigrants upon our communities and signal more to enter the US through our undefended borders. Since his words and deeds will clearly lead to loss of American lives, property, jobs, and security, his administration is engaging in a form of terroristic threats. If Americans and Congress back down to these kinds of threats and abuses this time, they will get worse and more damaging in the future.

Broken Borders

Immigration Revisted

February 28th 2013

Armstrong_Williams

You know why immigration brings people to a boiling point, separates races, and creates classes in our society? It’s simple, really: OWNERSHIP. Hard line Mexican and Latin Americans coming across the border to Texas and California believe the states belong to them. Because of the United States’ contentious history with its southern neighbors, these extremist Mexican immigrant groups coming across the border couldn’t care less about assimilating with American society, and in fact prefer not to. For they believe that it’s their land and that Americans better leave or get used to their presence.

The great irony that is overlooked in the immigration debate is that the typical political players in this fight are absent. Where are the unions and their leaders who pounce at every opportunity to protect wages and worker rights? Why aren’t they railing against the notion of unskilled, cheap labor flooding into this country? Where are the liberals who cry against "big business" at any chance they get? How come they aren’t deriding corporations for supporting amnesty to continue the cheap labor pool? Why do liberals support the immigrants and their “we just want a job to provide for our families” story, yet rally against tax relief and the minimum wage? The simple fact is that in this case business is seen as an ally, so unions, leftists, and an entire political party are hopping on board because its suits their agenda. This is another example of the Obama White house and Democratic Party moving forward with no clear agenda, no real leadership, and no real stance. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Real Meaning of the Argentina-Iran Agreement

February 28th 2013

Iran centrifuges

There is a new deal brewing between Argentina and Iran in order to improve relations between the two counties which have been on shaky ground ever since the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Jewish community headquarters (AMIA) in 1994. Though Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, was widely believed to have perpetrated these two attacks no individual has ever been brought to justice. However, Argentina issued arrest warrants and orders of extradition for several high officers in the Iranian government given their involvement in the attacks.

In January 2013, Argentina reversed course and signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran that deals directly with the terrorist attack on the Jewish headquarters but omits the attack on the Israeli Embassy. Read more ..


Edge of the Cliff

Sequestration's Devastating Effects Will Be Felt at Home and Abroad

February 28th 2013

Tank

Unless Congress and President Obama agree to change the current law, $42 billion in mandatory cuts to the U.S. defense budget will go into effect immediately. On March 27, an additional $6 billion in defense cuts from the Administration’s budget request will also go into effect. These reductions, which will be applied retroactively to this year's defense budget, do not apply to military personnel and overseas operations; therefore, they are to be taken out of only a portion of the defense budget including readiness funding and equipment acquisition. This will have devastating effects on current military operations. These cuts come in addition to the unprecedented $487 billion in defense cuts to be carried out over the next ten years as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called this budget sequestration, a "meat ax" approach to budget cutting that will force the Administration to reexamine its entire national defense strategy, announced only one year ago. Not only would the half a trillion dollars in cuts over the next decade "hollow out the force," it would reduce the United States to a "second-rate power," Panetta said. Read more ..


The Edge of Security

Fire: The Overlooked Threat

February 28th 2013

Carmel Fire Winter 2010

People sometimes obsess over the potential threat posed by terrorist attacks that use things such as chemical weapons, electromagnetic pulses or dirty bombs. Yet they tend to discount the less exciting but very real threat posed by fire, even though fire kills thousands of people every year. The World Health Organization estimates that 195,000 people die each year from fire, while according to the Global Terrorism Database an average of 7,258 people die annually from terrorism, and that includes deaths in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are also instances in which fire is used as a weapon in a terrorist attack. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and embassy communications officer Sean Smith, the two diplomats killed in the attack on the U.S. office in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, did not die from gunfire or even rocket-propelled grenade strikes but from smoke inhalation. This fact was not lost on the U.S. Department of State Accountability Review Board that investigated the Benghazi attack. In an interview published by Reuters on Feb. 24, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the head of the Accountability Review Board, said more attention should be paid to the threat fire poses to diplomatic posts.  Read more ..


The New Egypt

Cairo Court Rejects Request to Nullify Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

February 28th 2013

Egypt-Israel Border

The Cairo Administrative Court ruled Tuesday that it has no jurisdiction over a lawsuit demanding the cancellation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. According to the Egypt Independent, the court said the issue involves state sovereignty, which is under the president’s purview.

The plaintiffs had argued that Egypt should void its peace deal over alleged ongoing destruction of Islamic holy sites and the country’s refusal to stop settlement building in disputed territories, which they said is a violation of United Nations conventions and the treaty itself. The court handed out the same ruling in a similar case last October.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed in 1979 between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was maintained during President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, but since the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood it has been repeatedly called into question. Read more ..


Edge of the Fiscal Cliff

No Halt to Budget Sequestration in Sight

February 28th 2013

Click to select Image

The sequester is here to stay — at least for a while. Lawmakers and aides say they do not expect Congress to turn off budget sequestration before April and that negotiations to freeze the automatic spending cuts could drag into May or beyond. Over the last few weeks, there has been increased speculation that the sequester would go into effect Friday but be addressed in a March deal to keep the government funded.

Don’t bet on it.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the Finance Committee, predicted sequestration would last through the end of the year. “Are we going to roll back the size of the cuts? No. I can promise you that,” said Burr.

President Obama has invited congressional leaders to meet at the White House on Friday, the same day $85 billion in automatic cuts are due to begin. However, congressional sources do not anticipate a deal at that gathering or any time soon. “It’s going to be one last attempt at trying to convince Republicans of the need for a balanced approach to sequester before the deadline,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. Read more ..


Inside Judaism

The Pope is not the Only Cleric to Watch: Pay Attention to the Rabbinate, for it is the Heart of Israel’s Existence

February 27th 2013

Dovid Stav
Chief Rabbi Candidate Dovid Stav

Anyone following politics in Israel over the past few months, and especially the campaigns for Knesset mandates, saw the true face of Israel’s complicated internal predicament. To those outside of Israel’s daily life, its story is one of existentialism because of an ever-looming threat from seemingly trigger-happy neighbors. And not just Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north. There also is the nuclear threat posed by Iran, and whether Syria will launch attacks on Israel as a way of giving its rebellious citizens a different outlet for their anger.

If we accept the current world view of events, Israel is a country mired in a muck of its own making: an unwillingness to come to a peaceful coexistence with the hundreds of millions Arabs living alongside and within missile-shot of the small state. This is an absurd view, of course, but that is for another column to address. Read more ..


Russia and America

Lawyer For Family Says Bruises On Adopted Russian Child 'Self-Inflicted'

February 27th 2013

Adopted Russian Child

The lawyer for the parents of Max Shatto, the Russian adoptee whose death last month in the U.S. state of Texas provoked outrage in Moscow, says bruises found on the child's body were "self-inflicted." "It's complicated. The child himself was subject to self-inflicted bruising," criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown stated.

"There is a very long story with respect to bruising which does not fit in [the Russians'] little formula. When they go and find the bruising on the child, they immediately say, 'Well, the parent caused it,' [but] there's a lengthy story with respect to the entire Russian adoption process and the child himself." Asked if he was suggesting that an emotional disturbance was behind the child's alleged actions, Brown said, "Yes." He did not elaborate. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Shell Pauses Arctic Drilling Effort

February 27th 2013

Alaska oil drilling

Royal Dutch Shell said Wednesday that it will not seek to drill in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast in 2013, an announcement that follows several mishaps last year for the controversial development effort.

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said Marvin Odum, who heads the oil giant’s U.S. operations, in a statement. “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012,” added Odum.

Shell has spent years — and billions of dollars — seeking to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s northern coast, which are thought to contain massive oil deposits. Shell, in announcing the decision to “pause” the drilling, said it plans to return to the Arctic eventually, noting “Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future.” Read more ..


Inside Catholicism

Pope Gives Final Audience

February 27th 2013

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict XVI bid his public farewell in front of tens of thousands of people on St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, the day before his resignation takes effect. The first pope to resign in nearly 600 years said goodbye.

The faithful and the curious pressed forward for a look and a wave, as the 85-year-old pope rode through the square in his open vehicle for the final time. Later, he told the crowd, and a worldwide television audience, he has been through some “not easy” moments.

Apparently referring to his decision to resign, Pope Benedict said “to love the Church also means having the courage to take difficult decisions.” He urged all Catholics to always put the good of the Church before their own desires. The pope has struggled to deal with the scandal of sexual abuse by priests, the leak of thousands of embarrassing documents and a decline of the faith in Europe - all issues his successor will have to address.

​​One person at the audience with a particular interest in the Church's future was Rev. Thomas Rosica, the director of a Catholic television network in Canada. "Pope John Paul II taught us the profound lesson of his papacy, especially in the final years, about suffering and dying. Pope Benedict has taught us another lesson. He's taught us about surrender. We don't cling to power and authority and office and privilege, when our energies are no longer there," said Rosica.

Other Catholics in the large crowd also were sympathetic to the pope's decision, and were joining the speculation about whether his successor might for the first time come from outside Europe. Rosica said the cardinals who will elect the next pope are aware of all that, but are not as focused on the headlines as many observers are. Read more ..


Broken Economy

The Jobs Crisis is Much More Than Unemployment

February 27th 2013

Emplyment Application

President Obama has positioned himself as champion of the middle class. In his State of the Union speech, he declared that it was "our generation's task" to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth-a rising, thriving middle class." Repeatedly, he has appealed to the middle class as a means of justifying tax increases, rolling back the sequester, or expanding government programs. But how have middle class workers fared since the start of the recession in 2007?

A typical measure of middle class labor market health is the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 7.8 percent. But even for those who are fortunate enough to have jobs, the labor market has exacted a toll on their standards of living. Since 2007, the real median income of American families has dropped by over $5,000 per family, while the BLS reports that the average employed person spends 8.3 hours per day working, up from 7.6 hours per day in 2007. In other words, American employees are working more and earning less. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Swine Cells Could Power Artificial Liver

February 27th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Chronic or acute, liver failure can be deadly. Toxins take over, the skin turns yellow and higher brain function slows.

"There is no effective therapy at the moment to deal with the toxins that build up in your body," said Neil Talbot, a Research Animal Scientist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. "Their only option now is to transplant a liver."

Talbot thinks a line of special liver cells could change that. In an interview with the American Society of Animal Science, he discussed how a line of pig liver cells called PICM-19 could perform many of the same functions as a human liver.

In 1991, Talbot created PICM-19 from the cells of an 8-day-old pig embryo. The cell line is significant because it is "immortal," meaning the cells can divide an infinite number of times. Many immortal cells lines continue dividing because they are derived from cancer cells; however, PICM-19 cells are derived from epiblast cells, the embryonic stem cells that form in the early stages of embryo development. Read more ..


The Way We Are

MasterChef Israel Cooks Up International Interest

February 27th 2013

MasterChef-Israel

The finale earned the highest ratings for a single TV episode in Israeli history, capturing hearts and stomachs in Israel and abroad.

The televised cooking contest, MasterChef, is popular around the world and has been remade for 35 countries. But the third season of MasterChef Israel turned the international media glare on Tel Aviv – and on the contestants’ beef wellington, apple ravioli, Moroccan spicy fish, Quarkbaellchen, burghul maklouba, kadaif and awama drenched in lemon and sugar.

Hundreds of people auditioned for the show. Fourteen were chosen to fulfill tasks in the kitchen according to parameters set by the judges. The winner was awarded the title “MasterChef of Israel” and NIS 200,000 (more than $54,000). Read more ..


Russia and America

U.S. Policy on Russia for Obama’s Second Term

February 27th 2013

Putin

Since Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration as Russian president last May, U.S.–Russian relations have deteriorated sharply. Officials on both sides have moved past the “reset” honeymoon as disagreements over geopolitics and human rights abound.

Spanning two continents and with a veto on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Russia is uniquely positioned to play a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy. However, the United States needs a new course of action for the next four years to prevent Russia from negatively affecting U.S. interests across the globe.

Anti-Americanism
The current Russian ruling elite has not overcome the anti-Americanism imbued in their Soviet upbringing. State-controlled media and government officials openly perpetuate it. Russian politicians have sought a ban on American English “foreign words” in the media, have forbidden Russian nongovernmental organizations from taking U.S. donations, and banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Anti-Americanism is part of a concerted effort to secure the regime against dissent, counter Western influence, and undermine already brittle U.S.–Russian relations.

Strategic Disagreements
Differences over Syria and Iran continue to prevent strategic action on two of the world’s most pressing issues. Russia has not wavered in its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, vetoing any meaningful sanctions at the UNSC. While Russian officials do not support an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, their selective commitment to the principle of noninterference in internal affairs of state causes resistance to potent sanctions and opposition to the potential use of force. High-level talks have not solved these issues, and as each one moves to a breaking point, Russia only hardens its resolve. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Russian Meteor Fireball Largest Ever Detected

February 27th 2013

Meteor Russia

Infrasonic waves from the meteor that broke up over Russia’s Ural mountains last week were the largest ever recorded by the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System. Infrasound is low frequency sound with a range of less than 10 Hz. The blast was detected by 17 infrasound stations in the CTBTO’s network, which tracks atomic blasts across the planet.  The furthest station to record the sub-audible sound was 15,000km away in Antarctica.

The origin of the low frequency sound waves from the blast was estimated at 03:22 GMT on 15 February 2013.  People cannot hear the low frequency waves that were emitted but they were recorded by the CTBTO’s network of sensors as they travelled across continents. “We saw straight away that the event would be huge, in the same order as the Sulawesi event from 2009. The observations are some of the largest that CTBTO’s infrasound stations have detected,” CTBTO acoustic scientist, Pierrick Mialle said. Read more ..


Edge of the Universe

A Journey to the Edge of Space Time

February 27th 2013

protoplanetary disk

Voracious absences at the center of galaxies, black holes shape the growth and death of the stars around them through their powerful gravitational pull and explosive ejections of energy.

"Over its lifetime, a black hole can release more energy than all the stars in a galaxy combined," said Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. "Black holes have a major impact on the formation of galaxies and the environmental growth and evolution of those galaxies."

Gravitational forces grow so strong close to a black hole that even light cannot escape from within, hence the difficulty in observing them directly. Scientists infer facts about black holes by their influence on the astronomical objects around them: the orbit of stars and clumps of detectable energy. With this information in hand, scientists create computer models to understand the data and to make predictions about the physics of distant regions of space. However, models are only as good as their assumptions. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Why Bulgaria? Why Now?

February 27th 2013

Hezbollah

The announcement by Bulgaria that the airport bus bombing there last July was likely the handiwork of Hezbollah operatives now has European officials scrambling to decide what, if anything, to do about the fact that the group has now resumed executing attacks on European soil.

In the 1980s, Hezbollah carried out attacks across the continent, and since then it has used Europe as a near-abroad where it could conveniently raise money, procure weapons and provide logistical support for attacks to be carried out elsewhere. But the Bulgarian investigation raises as many questions as it answers. In particular, why would Hezbollah specifically choose to carry out an attack there? And why now?

While it kept up its relentless campaign of military and terrorist activities targeting Israel, and despite unabated tensions with the West, Hezbollah had not carried out a successful spectacular attack targeting Western interests beyond Israel since the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran’s Attempted Rapprochement with Egypt: Implications for Sunni-Shiite Relations

February 27th 2013

Ahmadinejad triumphant

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

ranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough.

Moreover, during the visit the Iranian president was publicly humiliated both during the press conference he held with senior Al-Azhar officials (in which Iran was called on to put a stop to Shiite subversion in Arab countries) and by the throwing of a shoe at him (an act of debasement in Arab culture). At home, too, the visit was sharply criticized; it was claimed, among other things, that Iran had again been humiliated by Egypt, its policy of flattering Cairo exposed as futile. Moreover, no representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei showed up at the airport before Ahmadinejad embarked, and on that day one of the president’s associates was detained (and later released).

The failure of Ahmadinejad’s attempt to depict the visit as a success, as part of the emergence of a new Islamic axis in the context of the “Islamic Awakening” (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), has to do with the many residues in the two states’ relations since they were severed at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981. Those residues continue to diminish the possibility of any substantial improvement of relations in the foreseeable future.

Egypt’s “Primal Sin” in Iranian Eyes

Iran continues to view Egypt as the party that paved the way to the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world, and indeed committed treason against the Arab/Muslim world. From the standpoint of revolutionary Iran, until the revolution that led to the ouster of Mubarak (the “Western ruler),” Egypt was preparing the ground for other Arab states to recognize Israel. Tehran, for its part, severed diplomatic relations with Cairo after it signed the peace treaty with Israel and gave political asylum to the deposed Iranian ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Certain developments in recent years have given the impression that Egyptian-Iranian relations were on the verge of a breakthrough. In each case, conservative circles in Iran have made certain to raise the factors that soured those relations – the murder of Anwar Sadat and the glorification of his assassin, Khalid Islambouli, for whom a street was named in Tehran – while emphasizing “Egypt’s betrayal of the Muslims and the Arabs.” In 1982, Iran also issued a stamp to commemorate the assassin.

Shiite Subversion in Egypt

Furthermore, Iran carried out subversive activity in Egypt itself in an attempt to export the Shiite revolutionary model1 to the country. It used Lebanese Hizbullah to coordinate both this activity and its military and financial assistance to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Mubarak’s Egypt monitored these activities and harshly cracked down on them (also preventing Iran’s participation in the Cairo International Book Fair out of fear of Shiite propaganda). In 2009, a network of Hizbullah operatives was arrested who were planning terrorist attacks and the spread of Shiism in Egypt, and constraints were imposed on the activity of the Shiites in the country.

Previously, in 2008, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, had warned against the “Shiite wave” in the Sunni Arab world, and against Shiite attempts to “infiltrate the Sunni community,” which, he said, lacked “cultural immunity” to protect it from the campaign. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat at the end of September 2008, Qaradawi said that “in the Egypt that I have known well for twenty years there was not a single Shiite since the days of Saladin; today the Shiites have managed to infiltrate Egypt….Today they have people who write in the newspapers…write books.”2

Qaradawi’s warning reverberated during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt – as in the scathing words that the sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Ahmed al-Tayyib, and other Egyptian elements (the Salafis were even harsher in condemning Ahmadinejad and Iran) hurled at Ahmadinejad. The difference between Egypt in 2008 and Egypt since the revolution is that Al-Azhar is now stronger in status and more independent in decision-making than it was under the secular Egyptian government in the Mubarak period. It has no sense of inferiority toward the Iranian Shiite religious establishment, acts out of a sense of political-religious power, does not intend to let the Iranian “Shiite wave” gain any significant foothold in Egypt or in Arab countries in general, and, of course, does not “buy” Iran’s efforts and sweet talk about bringing the two states closer.

That stance emerged in no uncertain terms during Ahmadinejad’s meetings with the heads of Al-Azhar (who, in the past, took a more cautious position toward Shiite efforts in Iran). After the pleasantries and Ahmadinejad’s emphasis on what was common between Iran and Egypt (culture, history, aid to the Palestinians, the need to fight Israel), al-Tayyib sternly told his guest that Iran should not try to influence the believers in the Sunni countries, including Egypt and its youth, or interfere in the affairs of its neighboring countries in an attempt to infuse them with the Shiite faith. It should not interfere in the Gulf States, and particularly not in Bahrain’s affairs. Al-Tayyib also demanded that Ahmadinejad respect the Sunnis and the Arab minority in the Iranian region of Ahvaz, where in recent months Iran had taken severe measures and even executed some members of the Arab minority.3

“You Are Slaughtering Our People”

The state-run Iranian media portrayed the visit in a positive light. It described the “warm reception” Ahmadinejad received, his meetings with the president, the religious establishment, and the editors of the Egyptian media, as well as his visit to the Shiite Al-Hussain Mosque in Cairo (which the Salafis opposed).4 As Ahmadinejad was leaving the Shiite mosque, a shoe was thrown at him – an act expressing profound contempt in Arab culture – by an opponent of the Syrian regime who called out, “You are slaughtering our people.” The shoe missed Ahmadinejad, who looked a bit frightened, and hit one of his bodyguards. The attacker was arrested.5

Egypt Still Undecided

While Ahmadinejad was trying to emphasize what the two countries have in common, what actually stood out were their deep-seated political and religious disputes, particularly regarding Iran’s strong backing for Syria and its subversion in Bahrain. Indeed, within Iran, Ahmadinejad and his government are becoming a punching bag, and his stance is not necessarily in line with the basic revolutionary foreign policy. From Iran’s standpoint, post-Mubarak Egypt has not yet decided whether it stands in the Arab-Western camp or in the revolutionary Islamic camp. Many in Iran suspect that Egypt, even having undergone its revolution, has not changed its policy, that its statements against the West and Israel are mere lip service, and that it is still oriented to the West and the moderate Arab states with their “Western Islam.”

No Stamp of Approval

The Egyptians have by no means given Ahmadinejad or Iran a stamp of approval for their policy in the Arab world – let alone for their ongoing support for Syrian president Bashar Assad who continues to slaughter his people. Instea the Egyptians have highlighted the regional conflicts in the whole Muslim world, presenting Iran as an isolated actor, particularly in its continued backing of the Syrian regime. Egyptian president Morsi conveyed a similar message when he visited Tehran to take part in the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), during which he handed over the movement’s presidency to Iran. Thus, the Egyptians, despite the rise of their new government, continue to obstruct Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran, for its part, is trying to exploit the Arab world’s instability, economic crises, and growing Islamic orientation, along with the West’s confusion in the face of these developments, to leverage its status – so far with only partial success.

Unity within Division

The conduct of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, and the media coverage of it in the Arab world and in Iran itself, provided a glimpse into the reemergence and institutionalization of the camps and alliances in the Arab and Islamic world. For now there is no significant movement between the different camps, and the “resistance camp,” which Iran presumes to lead, remains limited to its components – Syria and Hizbullah – with Hamas lukewarm since its senior officials left Damascus after Assad began cracking down and Hamas did not want to be perceived as cooperating with him. Despite the “Islamic awakening,” then, no new members have joined the camp.

Indeed, Arab states – some of which are still undergoing change while others (especially the Gulf states) are waging a fierce struggle to maintain their stability – have taken a uniform stance toward Iran’s attempts to further undermine the old Arab order and, amid the regional turmoil, create a new Iranian order in its stead. This trend has further highlighted the widening gap between Sunnis and Shiites (despite ostensible calls to bridge it during the OIC conference). The vigor and boldness of Iran’s attempts to export the Shiite revolutionary model, reflecting its growing confidence since the Arab Spring broke out and the progress in its nuclear program despite Western pressures, have further stoked fears in the Sunni Arab camp.

The stabilization of an Egyptian regime that is in fact run by the Muslim Brotherhood adds a Sunni, religious-ideological element to the familiar Egyptian quest for hegemony in the Arab world (while Saudi Arabia continues, as in the past, to keep a low profile and, behind the scenes, focus its activities both on the Arab world and the United States). This situation only amplifies the differences between Egypt and Iran. Moreover, these developments bring home the fact that the historical Sunni-Shiite struggle is very much alive, further heating up all the arenas of confrontation between Iran and the Sunni Arab world: Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and, of course, Egypt. In some of these arenas a struggle is being waged, sometimes covert and sometimes overt, between Iranian subversion (Bahrain) and the Sunni Arab protective mantle, and in some Iran continues to act clandestinely (eastern Saudi Arabia with its large Shiite minority, Egypt, Morocco, and others). Should Iran choose to ramp up its subversive efforts and activate secret cells in different Arab countries, possibly in response to the pressures on Iran, the covert power struggles could escalate into open conflicts.

The Arab Spring Reinforced the Conflict with Iran

The bottom line is that it is precisely the series of upheavals in the Arab world in the context of the Arab Spring, which Iran continues to see as an opportunity to promote its Islamic hegemonic aims, that has widened the gaps between Iran and the Arab states. This is mainly due to Iran’s unequivocal backing of Syria, where Assad keeps trying to crush the opposition, and Iran’s support for the Shiite opposition in Bahrain.

Beyond the heightened tensions between Iran and the Sunni Arab world, Ahmadinejad’s visit also revealed the problems he is having at home as his status erodes toward the end of his eight-year tenure. Even while still in the airport in Iran, his visit began with discordant notes. As noted, no representative of Khamenei showed up (as normally occurs when the president travels abroad), and a short time before his flight took off, his crony Saeed Mortazavi was briefly arrested (as the main suspect in the deaths of prisoners after the protests sparked by the June 2009 presidential elections). Moreover, during Ahmadinejad’s sojourn and meetings in Egypt, the conservative Iranian media along with opposition papers and websites harshly criticized him for what they saw as Iran’s humiliation in Egypt. The visit to Egypt in January by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was also criticized in the Iranian media, mainly on the grounds that Iran’s eagerness to renew relations contrasted with the passivity displayed by Cairo.

A Needless Humiliation

The website Asr-e Iran, known for its criticism of the government, wrote that, whereas the senior Iranian officials who took part in the visit went out of their way to renew ties with Egypt, the Egyptians showed indifference – and not for the first time – and called on Iran to change its policy toward Syria and the Arab world, thereby humiliating the Iranians. Strong criticism was also leveled at Ahmadinejad’s meeting with the sheikh of Al-Azhar “because despite the smiles the meeting was difficult. The messages that were conveyed [the Shiite subversion] were voiced in the past to the Iranian foreign minister and there was no need for a meeting with the president to voice them again….It did not add to the president’s honor.” Moreover, at the end of the meeting with the sheikh, the president was again humiliated when the former only sent his adviser to the subsequent press conference with Ahmadinejad, a clear violation of all the rules of protocol and diplomacy. “There is no doubt that this meeting totally violated the three pillars of foreign policy (honor, insight, and interests) as defined by the Supreme Leader, and that may be why the president’s website decided to publish photos of the press conference with the sheikh’s adviser under the headline ‘Press Conference with the Sheikh of Al-Azhar!’”6

Regarding the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Egypt, an editorial of the Mehr News Agency asked “How Much Longer Will Diplomacy Demonstrate Carelessness: Relations with Egypt at What Price?” The article claimed that, despite Egypt’s centrality in the Arab and Islamic world, Iran could not afford to pay a heavy price for renewing relations with a state that was still economically dependent on the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. At the same time, Egypt was still displaying suspicion toward Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar were urging Morsi not to warm ties with Tehran. Moreover, during the foreign minister’s visit Egypt hosted an “anti-Iranian” conference where support was expressed for the rights of the Arab minority in Iran’s Khuzestan province, with official Egyptian representatives participating.

The article went on to call the Egyptian position on Syria “illogical,” and criticized Egypt’s support for the United Arab Emirates’ stance regarding the islands in dispute with Iran, as well as Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given the “lack of clarity” in Egyptian foreign policy, the editorial called on senior Iranian officials to show restraint, not enthusiasm, when it came to renewing ties with Egypt; otherwise Iran’s national interests stood to be harmed. “If the Egyptian politicians have to go to the gates of Washington, Doha, and Riyadh to get into Iran, Iranian diplomacy has to redefine and carefully consider the approach to any future relations with Egypt.” The article’s author recommends curtailing the overt diplomatic activity and focusing on the cultural-media level in order to prepare the ground for any diplomatic activity in the future. The implication is that subversive activity should be stepped up, thereby influencing the population and creating a better basis for diplomatic activity. The article ends by accusing a lobby in Iran of working for relations with Egypt “at any price” (a hint at the president and his delegation) while ignoring Iran’s interests and national pride.7

The Baztab website, for its part, criticized a proposal by Iranian foreign minister Salehi before Ahmadinejad’s visit that the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 countries be held in Egypt. It asked why, amid the tensions with Turkey over the crisis in Syria, with Ankara moving away from a mediatory role in these talks, the talks should be held precisely in Egypt when its position was similar to, indeed more emphatic than, Turkey’s. The site wondered whether the Iranian leaders were really trying to solve the nuclear problem, which poses numerous problems for Iran, or if it was just a public relations exercise aimed at promoting ties with Egypt.8

Morsi in Mubarak’s Footsteps?

The conservative paper Jomhouri-e Eslami, which is associated with former president Rafsanjani and consistently takes a critical line on Iranian-Egyptian relations and on Cairo’s role in the struggle with Israel and the West, pilloried Morsi for his conduct after being elected president and particularly the extensive powers he arrogated to himself, for his mediatory role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian outbreak of hostilities (Operation Pillar of Defense), and for the praises lavished on him by former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Jomhouri-e Eslami assessed in November 2012 that it was still too early to judge whether Morsi would follow in Mubarak’s footsteps and become a sort of pharaoh; but the blood of the demonstrators already spilled under his rule could indicate that he was moving in that direction.9

A Growing Space for Shiite-Sunni Friction

In sum, Iranian-Egyptian relations have remained tense. Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt in the OIC framework not only did not contribute to reconciling positions and renewing ties between the two states, it revealed the wide gap between the Shiite-Iranian and Sunni Arab camps, as the latter is undergoing a process of consolidation. This closing of ranks in the Arab world, in the wake of the Arab Spring, along Sunni Islamic and less Arab-nationalist lines further augments the conflicts between the Arab states and Iran, which center on Iran’s interventions in their internal affairs with the aim of fomenting further instability and Islamic revolutions.

The rift between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab camp is particularly evident along the seam lines, the sensitive and problematic meeting points of Sunni and Shia in a Middle East that is in a process of change. The hottest and most problematic locus of all is Syria, where Iran (with Hizbullah) is indeed confronting the entire Sunni Arab camp (as well as Turkey, whose relations with Iran have greatly deteriorated) and the Western states by backing Assad, which includes assisting him with weapons, manpower (including Hizbullah fighters), and an international hinterland (Russia and China). Another point of active confrontation is Bahrain, where Iran is supporting (through subversion and propaganda) the Shiite opposition as it continues its struggle against the Bahraini royal house – to which Egypt, and particularly Saudi Arabia, give their backing. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are anchors that continue to bind Egypt to the Arab camp, ensuring that it does not move into Iran’s embrace. 

In Iran, which is awaiting elections that will determine its future course, the still undecided debate over the future of relations with Egypt continues. Those favoring enhanced ties – Ahmadinejad and his government – are trying to take steps in that direction but are encountering fierce domestic criticism. The difficult and tense history of relations between these two states keeps hindering the possibility of improved relations, a possibility that remains as distant as ever.

Iran is realizing that, even though Egypt is undergoing a still-unfinished revolution and has assumed a more Islamic coloration, it is still under the influence of the “moderate” Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – and is sustaining its relations with both the United States and Israel. It was in that context, Iran believes, that a supportive visit to Gaza by an Iranian delegation was blocked by Egypt during the November 2012 fighting. Moreover, Egypt has openly exposed Iran’s subversive activity in Egypt and other Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, and its efforts for the Shiazation of Sunni populations as a means of implanting the revolutionary Shiite Islamic model.

No breakthrough in Iranian-Egyptian relations, then, appears likely in the near future, despite Morsi’s visit to Tehran and Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Cairo. Both visits were unofficial and conducted in the context of participation in broader forums (NAM, OIC). They do not indicate any significant change in the basic Iranian hostility toward Egypt, which it still regards as part of the Western camp along with its Arab partners in the region, or in the Egyptian distrust of the real intentions of revolutionary Iran.

Iran’s progress in its nuclear program is intensifying fears among the Arab states. In their view, Iran’s nuclearization would create greater space for its political subversion, terror, and the export of its radical brand of Shiite revolution. These perceptions are likely to enhance the unity of the Arab camp – even if it assumes a more Islamic and less Arab-nationalist character – in its confrontation with Iran.

- See more at: http://jcpa.org/article/irans-attempted-rapprochement-with-egypt-implications-for-sunni-shiite-relations/#sthash.nZMNvQ7T.dpuf

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt on February 5, 2013, was the first by an Iranian president since the Islamic Revolution. Occurring in the context of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he intended the visit as a step toward improving Iran’s relations with Egypt in the aftermath of its revolution and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the visit exposed the tensions between two countries that are vying for regional leadership and, more generally, the deepening rift along Sunni-Shiite lines.

Ahmadinejad’s visit was not an official one in the context of Iranian-Egyptian bilateral relations. It resulted from Iran’s membership in the OIC, with similar invitations having been sent to other Islamic leaders. The meetings that Ahmadinejad, along with his accompanying senior delegation, held with the Egyptian political and religious leadership (including the sheikh of Al-Azhar University) were part of this protocol and did not indicate any warming of ties between the two states. The efforts by the Iranian president and his staff, along with the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to portray the visit as an achievement and a step toward enhancing bilateral relations did not succeed; the visit itself did not bring about a breakthrough. Read more ..


Our Darkest Edge

Murder and Beheading of Coptic Orthodox in New Jersey Remains Mysterious

February 27th 2013

A bizarre and gruesome murder case in New Jersey has law officers in the Garden State scratching their heads. Yusuf Ibrahim, a 27-year-old residing in Jersey City , is charged with the murder of two other men from Jersey City on Feb. 5, possibly over a disputed Mercedes Benz automobile. It was on Feb. 7, after responding to a report of suspicious activity in Buena Vista Township, that police uncovered the bodies buried in a shallow grave while their severed hands and heads were nearby. It was on Feb. 11 that New Jersey State Police announced Ibrahim’s arrest. (See video here.)

Police identified one the victims, Hanny F. Tawadros, 25, after notifying his next of kin. A local newspaper identified the second victim as Amgad A. Konds, 27. Both were foreign nationals. The alleged murderer is a native of Indiana. Read more ..


Juvenile Justice

Report Reveals Dramatic Decline In Youth Incarceration

February 27th 2013

Kid behind bars

The United States still leads the industrialized world in incarcerating young people, and ethnic-minority kids are still locked up more than whites.

But there is good news: Since 1995, the rate at which states confine young people has been steadily dropping for all ethnic groups, reaching the lowest rate in 35 years in 2010, according to a report released Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 1975, the child welfare and research group found, the number of youth aged 20 or younger placed in lockup began climbing, reaching a peak in 1995 of 381 kids locked up for every 100,000 nationwide.   That same year, though, the rate began declining, dropping by an impressive 41 percent between 1995 and 2010 to 225 per 100,000.

Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Graphene Viable Alternative Material For Light-Based Energy Harvesting Technologies

February 27th 2013

graphene

Researchers at the Institute of Photonic Science (ICFO) have demonstrated that graphene is able to convert a single photon that it absorbs into multiple electrons that can drive electric current to make graphene an alternative material for light harvesting technologies.


"In most materials, one absorbed photon generates one electron, but in the case of graphene, we have seen that one absorbed photon is able to produce many excited electrons, and therefore a greater electrical current" explained Frank Koppens, group leader at ICFO. This feature makes graphene an ideal building block for any device that relies on converting light into electricity. In particular, it enables efficient solar cells that can harvest light energy from the full solar spectrum with low loss. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Europe: Ignoring a Disappearing La Dolce Vita

February 27th 2013

Euro Symbol

Europeans seem determined to ignore the depth of an approaching economic and political crisis which will end its longest period of prosperity and peace in history and threatens the very foundations of post-World War II democratic progression. In the fleshpots of Vienna and Zurich I have just visited, for example, even seemingly well-informed journalists and academics are determined to reject the obvious: the European economy is grinding down, with the growing double digit unemployment of youth and the unfunded deficits of southern Europe only the first signs of what is to come.

It's worth recalling that it was just that sort of phenomena which nurtured authoritarian and totalitarian governments in the 1920s and 1930s and the onset of World War II.
But for those who can afford it, the exaggerated vulgarity of conspicuous consumption continues, whether a shop in Zurich's fashionable Bellevue selling outrageous young men's shirt designs or deliberately worn denims or an equally outrageously overpriced American-style steakhouse with frozen meat, lumpy purée des pommes de terre [mashed potatoes to you] and over salted lobster bisque. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Denies Death of Nasrallah as Rumors Spread He is in Iran for Cancer Treatment

February 27th 2013

hassan nasrallah - hezbollah

Lebanon-based Shiite terror organization Hezbollah denied the death of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, Tuesday amid reports that he had been flown to Tehran to undergo cancer treatment.

The rumor of his death spread quickly on social media site Twitter, where purported screen shots of the Hezbollah-affiliated website Al Manar announcing Nasrallah’s death were posted. Hezbollah said the photos had been doctored, with the organization calling them a “cheap forgery.”

Monday a report emerged from Lebanese radio station the Voice of Lebanon that Nasrallah had been flown to Tehran for emergency medical treatment for severe cancer-related complications.

A different report from Lebanon claimed that Nasrallah had been flown to Iran after he was wounded in an attack by Syrian rebels during a meeting he was attending. The reports were attributed to “senior Hezbollah officials,” but there were no official confirmation of the reports from any other source. Read more ..


Book Review

Kill Anything That Moves: American Crimes in Vietnam

February 26th 2013

Kill anything that moves

Kill Anything That Moves. Nick Turse. Metropolitan Books. 2013. 384 pp.

On the same day in March 1968 that Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division, massacred 500 women and children in the village of My Lai on orders to “kill everything that moves,” a different U.S. Army unit, Bravo Company, entered the nearby hamlet of My Khe.

Although they met no resistance and found only women and children in the village, Bravo Company’s commander, Lieutenant Thomas Willingham, gave orders to destroy it. One soldier shot a Vietnamese baby in the head point blank with a .45 caliber pistol. Others gunned down women and children, “like being in a shooting gallery.” When their work was done, 155 Vietnamese villagers were dead. Even though a U.S. Army investigation found “no reliable evidence to support the claim that the persons killed were VC [Viet Cong],” nobody was punished for these murders at My Khe. (141-42)

As Nick Turse explains in his depressingly important new book, Kill Anything That Moves, the Pentagon’s public relations strategy for dealing with the issue of U.S. atrocities in South Vietnam “centered on portraying My Lai as a one-off aberration, rather than part of a consistent pattern of criminality resulting from policies set at the top” of the U.S. military command. So when reporters later asked about this second massacre at My Khe, Pentagon briefers, not wanting to admit that two different U.S. Army units had slaughtered civilians in two separate villages on the same day, simply lied and blamed My Khe on South Vietnamese troops. The Pentagon then buried the evidence about the My Khe massacre by classifying the documentation as “top secret.” (230) Read more ..


The Neural Edge

Blue Print for an Artificial Brain

February 26th 2013

neurons brain

Scientists have long been dreaming about building a computer that would work like a brain. This is because a brain is far more energy-saving than a computer, it can learn by itself, and it doesn’t need any programming. Privatdozent [senior lecturer] Dr. Andy Thomas from Bielefeld University’s Faculty of Physics is experimenting with memristors – electronic microcomponents that imitate natural nerves. Thomas and his colleagues proved that they could do this a year ago. They constructed a memristor that is capable of learning. Andy Thomas is now using his memristors as key components in a blueprint for an artificial brain. He will be presenting his results at the beginning of March in the print edition of the prestigious Journal of Physics published by the Institute of Physics in London.

A nanocomponent that is capable of learning: The Bielefeld memristor built into a chip here is 600 times thinner than a human hair. Memristors are made of fine nanolayers and can be used to connect electric circuits. For several years now, the memristor has been considered to be the electronic equivalent of the synapse. Synapses are, so to speak, the bridges across which nerve cells (neurons) contact each other. Their connections increase in strength the more often they are used. Usually, one nerve cell is connected to other nerve cells across thousands of synapses.

Like synapses, memristors learn from earlier impulses. In their case, these are electrical impulses that (as yet) do not come from nerve cells but from the electric circuits to which they are connected. The amount of current a memristor allows to pass depends on how strong the current was that flowed through it in the past and how long it was exposed to it. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Bracing for Sequester, US Frees Illegal Immigrants

February 26th 2013

Latino immigration rally

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) says it has released hundreds of detained immigrants in an effort to save money ahead of potential government budget cuts.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Tuesday the agency ordered field officers to examine the number of immigrants in detention facilities to make sure it’s in line with available funding.

"Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” she said. “All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.” Read more ..


Broken Government

A Bad Sequester Is Worlds Better Than No Budget Deal At All

February 26th 2013

US Capital Day

Barring an unexpected breakthrough agreement between the Democratic Senate and the Republican House, the federal budget will be subjected to a sequester which will reduce discretionary spending by about $86 billion in calendar 2013.

That $86 billion is only a bit more than 10 percent of the “fiscal cliff” that faced the country at the end of the year. It’s a painful cliff, but not a large one. The American Taxpayer Relief Act resolved most the cliff problem, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the sequester will reduce short-term growth in an already slow economy. On the other hand, no sequester at all would mean an even greater reduction in long-term growth. 

The worst feature of the sequester is that it is the wrong way to reduce spending. The cuts are mandated across-the-board in most discretionary spending areas. The good programs will be cut along with the bad. The most hard-hit casualty will be the Defense Department (DOD). It can stand cuts, but they need to be carefully selected. The sequester does not select. The sequester meat-axe slices muscle along with the fat. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hizbullah and the Assassination of the Iranian General in Syria

February 26th 2013

Hezbollah rally

Amid growing distress in both its domestic and foreign spheres, in mid-February 2003, Hizbullah marked the fifth anniversary of the death of its former military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, as part of “Martyrs Day,” which is devoted to memory of the movement’s fighters who were killed in battle with Israel. This year the event was crowned with the slogan: “On the way to Palestine.” The emphasis was on Hizbullah’s, and particularly Mughniyeh’s, contribution to boosting the military capabilities of the Palestinian resistance, and on Palestinian achievements in the struggle against Israel. This year, too, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered the main address from his hiding place, which was broadcast on television. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Israel's Border Fences Go Hi-Tech

February 26th 2013

Border Fence

The Israeli website I-HLS.COM reports that fifteen soldiers have joined the ranks of the technicians maintaining the advanced fences that protect Israel, following the conclusion of the most recent cycle of the 'Border Alert Systems' training course. These technicians are responsible for hundreds of kilometers of fencing fitted with touch and motion sensors, which protect Israel from threats in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Lebanon and Sinai.

During the three-week training course, which took place at the Tzrifin training base, the participants learned to recognize every detail of the fences. According to the IDF, before being accepted to the training course, each of the new technicians was evaluated and given a sufficiently high physical profile to serve as a combat soldier who can respond if attacked on the border during a maintenance mission. The training course includes a broad range of content, but the emphasis is on the practical aspect. For that purpose, a fence of several meters was built at the instructional base for participants to practice locating and repairing malfunctions. Read more ..


China and Japan

China Tests Japanese and U.S. Patience

February 26th 2013

Soldiers

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned Beijing that Tokyo is losing patience with China's assertive maritime behavior in the East and South China seas, suggesting China consider the economic and military consequences of its actions. His warning followed similar statements from Washington that its patience with China is wearing thin, in this case over continued Chinese cyberespionage and the likelihood that Beijing is developing and testing cybersabotage and cyberwarfare capabilities. Together, the warnings are meant to signal to China that the thus-far relatively passive response to China's military actions may be nearing an end.

In an interview The Washington Post published just prior to Abe's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, Abe said China's actions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and its overall increasing military assertiveness have already resulted in a major increase in funding for the Japan Self-Defense Forces and coast guard. He also reiterated the centrality of the Japan-U.S. alliance for Asian security and warned that China could lose Japanese and other foreign investment if it continued to use "coercion or intimidation" toward its neighbors along the East and South China seas. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Spray Painted Solar Cells Could Cut Costs Significantly

February 26th 2013

the sun

Experts from the University of Sheffield's Department of Physics and Astronomy and the University of Cambridge have created a method of spray-coating a photovoltaic active layer by an air based process - similar to spraying regular paint from a can.

This could yield a very cheap way of mass-producing solar cells. If successful, the technology could be provided to people in developing countries and perhaps one day be used on glass in buildings or car roofs, explain the researchers.

Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield said "Spray coating is currently used to apply paint to cars and in graphic printing. We have shown that it can also be used to make solar cells using specially designed plastic semiconductors. We found that the performance of our spray coated solar cells is the same as cells made with more traditional research methods, but which are impossible to scale in manufacturing. We now do most of our research using spray coating. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy and money required to make a solar cell. This means that we need solar cell materials that have low embodied energy, but we also need manufacturing processes that are efficient, reliable and consume less energy." Read more ..


The New Egypt

Morsi's Fouls

February 26th 2013

Mohammed Morsi

Military troops are protecting factories and government offices on the fifth day of a general strike in the Suez Canal city of Port Said that has brought together two groups with working class roots that played key roles in the toppling of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak: militant, highly politicized, street-battled hardened soccer fans and the labor movement.

Operating independently both groups constituted key centers of resistance to the repression of Mr. Mubarak’s regime during the years that preceded his downfall. The fans fought police and security forces in the stadiums in a battle for control of one of the country’s most crucial public spaces while workers in industrial towns like Mahalla organized strikes against Mr. Mubarak’s economic liberalization policy and corrupt and nepotistic privatization of state-owned assets. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

The Palestinian Authority’s Responsibility for the Outbreak of the Second Intifada: Its Own Damning Testimony

February 26th 2013

Bethelem Protestors

On February 11, 2013, on Israel’s Channel 10 television program “The Source,” it was claimed that there was not even an “iota of evidence” that the Palestinian Authority leadership, and Yasser Arafat in particular, planned and initiated the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000 and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis by 2005.

Rather, it was claimed that this was a spontaneous popular uprising that ran counter to the interests of the Palestinian leadership. As a consequence, Arafat appears to be exonerated by the narrative presented. The program also reopened the old debate over whether the Second Intifada was ignited by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Yet, extensive testimony at the time and in retrospect demonstrates the Palestinian Authority’s role in initiating and managing the Second Intifada as an extensive terror onslaught, designed to impose a unilateral, unconditional withdrawal upon Israel, and improve conditions in anticipation of the battle for realizing Palestinian demands for the return of the refugees. Read more ..


China Rising

China's Currency Ambition

February 26th 2013

Soldiers

"Yuan expected to be int'l currency around 2020", read the headline of the People's Daily On-Line, the Chinese Communist Party's English publication. 

"Experts believe that the yuan will be fully eligible to be an international currency by around 2020. Experts believe that China has made significant progress in internationalizing its currency in recent years. However, these experts are quoted saying that there is still need 'to foster financial market development, and further improve corresponding supervision and regulation systems.'"

However, the internationalization of the yuan will lead to a loss of control of the value of the yuan and conflicts with China's desire to control the value of its currency. The conflict is reflected in recent statement by the Deputy Administrator of State Administration of Foreign Exchange, People's Bank of China, Wang Xiaoyi. According to him, "First, a free-floating exchange rate regime is usually applied to countries that issue reserve currency, which helps to immunize their domestic firms against exchange rate risk. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli Police and Security Forces Prepare for New Intifada

February 26th 2013

IDF Border Guard

Israel's National Police (INP) and Defense Force (IDF) this past weekend prepared for a new wave of Palestinian violence following several clashes with Palestinian activists in Jerusalem and throughout the Palestinian National Authority territory on Saturday and Sunday, according to an Israeli police counterterrorism source.

Israeli's Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz held a brainstorming session with top brass on Saturday night in order to make necessary preparations for confrontations that might ignite a third intifada, according to Levi Berens, an expert in police counterinsurgency operations.

Intifada is Arabic meaning "uprising," but a literal translation is "shaking off." The brainstorming session at Israeli IDF headquarters followed an incident in which about 20 Israeli settlers were attacked by more than 150 Palestinians near the village of Qusra, according to Yediot Ahronot. The clash was the result of a farming disagreement between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Islamists. Read more ..


Destination Galilee

Green Galilee Getaway

February 25th 2013

Galilee

Amirim is a vegetarian holiday village with great views, easy access to holy sites, and a gastronomic reputation that makes salad stylish. Amirim means “summits” in Hebrew.

Long before eco-tourism and healthy living came into fashion, a small village in the Upper Galilee region of Israel followed these principles because that’s how the families there saw fit. Today, Moshav Amirim – a vegetarian cooperative community – is considered one of the country’s best holiday getaways. The craziness of everyday life is quickly forgotten upon driving into this comfy community of bed-and-breakfasts, galleries and spas. Set in a forested area with gorgeous views of the countryside, Amirim – which means “summits” in Hebrew — is known for its relaxed ambience, nature trails and delectable vegetarian cuisine. Read more ..



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