Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

A letter from Iran

A letter to President Mohamed Morsi from Iranian academics has led to uproar in Egypt, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

A letter addressed to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and signed by 17 prominent Iranian scientists and academicians sparked considerable indignation in Egyptian political circles recently, especially among ultra-conservative Islamists opposed to the resumption of Egyptian relations with Tehran.
Citing news of the letter in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, a state-owned newspaper reported that the letter urges Morsi to draw on the experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to apply the principle of vilayet-e faqih (rule by clergy) that Iran instituted following its Islamic Revolution in 1979.
The “reference-of-references” for the government of human societies is God, his prophet and the descendants of the prophet, wrote the authors, who advised Morsi “not to worry about international pressures and the so-called enlightenment movement that is influenced by the notion of the separation of religion from politics, culture and economy.”
Politicians from across the political spectrum decried what they regarded as an attempt to intervene in Egyptian domestic affairs in the wake of the letter’s publication. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said that Iran must “cease contesting the beliefs of Sunni Muslims and its insulting and hurtful approach”.
From the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Vice Chairman Essam Al-Erian wrote on his Facebook page that “Egypt will not become Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan. It will not be like any other country in its political system of social evolution... Egypt will remain the free, united, independent and tolerant Egypt, with its ancient Al-Azhar — the oldest institutionalised university in history, the faithful guardian of the language of the Quran and the religious sciences, and the beacon for the dissemination of the divine calling throughout the world — and with its national Church which is independent of all other churches in the world and safeguards the law of the Orthodox faith as it had been preserved by the founding fathers of the Church.”
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, head of the Iranian interests office in Egypt Mojtaba Amani criticised the Egyptian media’s coverage of the letter as “misleading”. The letter was not signed by Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei, nor did it make any reference to the principle of vilayet-e faqih, he said.
“Iran and Egypt have different experiences. Each country has different realities, circumstances and political natures which are shaped by history and the ways they evolved,” he said. Amani added that he suspected “some group” was trying “to booby-trap the course of the development of the relationship between the two countries in view of the current keenness to resume relations on the basis of mutual interests, while avoiding anything that might trouble either side.”
Amani described the manner in which the letter was reported by the state-owned newspaper as “stupid”. He said that he had contacted the editor-in-chief of the newspaper in order to reproach him for having published the article without having read the text of the letter. He also cautioned that if the newspaper did not amend its mistake, the Iranian interests office would take legal action.
As for the letter itself, it was signed by academicians and scientists, Amani said. Although Ali Akbar Velayati was one of the signatories, this was purely in his capacity as an intellectual, not as a politician or foreign policy affairs advisor to the supreme guide or Iran.
Amani stressed that it was solely in their capacities as intellectuals that the authors had sent the letter to Morsi on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.
Their point was to describe how Iran, “had become one of the most advanced nations in the world in a number of scientific, technological and economic fields,” he said.
However, Amani stressed that while the Iranian intellectuals had explained their views on how to build a modern nation and how Iran had addressed the challenges it faced following its revolution, they had made no mention of the notion of vilayet-e faqih.
Their main purpose in writing the letter was to offer advice and suggestions to President Morsi on how to build a successful and modern Islamic nation, motivated by their belief that Egypt would benefit from Iran’s rich experience, he said.
During his recent visit to Egypt, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a press conference with a delegation of Egyptian journalists. In answer to a question posed by the Weekly on Egyptian-Iranian relations, Ahmadinejad said that his talks with Morsi had focussed on what the two sides had to gain from a closer relationship, especially in the economic and technological domains.
The economic and trade relations between the two countries were far below their potential, he said. “I believe that in Egypt there is the capacity [to increase] the volume as there is in Iran. Our relations with the UAE are in the neighbourhood of $16 billion, and the volume of trade with Turkey has reached $30 billion, and with other countries it has reached $40 billion. I doubt that the capacities for Egyptian-Iranian relations would be less than $20-30 billion.”
“True, we would not be able to attain such figures overnight, but we would in three stages over 10 years. We have huge capacities in the fields of science and tourism, and we are ready to offer them to Egypt. I have already proposed this, and I believe that it is possible. We have agreed to hold intensive meetings in order to follow through on it. For example, there are eight million Iranians who leave Iran as tourists every year. Egypt is one of the best countries they could go to as a tourist destination,” Ahmadinejad said.
On the possibility of Egypt-Iranian cooperation in technology, the Iranian president said that “we have no restrictions in cooperating in technology with Egypt. In fact, I believe that Egypt is the country that can best benefit from our expertise. In this context, we are exploring developing relations and opening and exchanging diplomatic missions, and soon we will unilaterally eliminate visa requirements [for Egyptians].  I am optimistic about the future of this relationship.”
Ahmadinejad dismissed the idea that there was any dispute between him and Al-Azhar, as had been rumoured in the press during his visit. He said that in his meetings with Al-Azhar officials they had discussed subjects regarding Al-Azhar and important issues at the international level.
“Obviously, there are some issues raised by narrow-minded people, but I believe that there are higher aims that we can focus on, such as justice, peace and brotherhood, rather than the narrow-minded notions that stir differences.”
He added that “the real devils are those who try to distract the attention of the faithful with marginal issues, whereas in fact we have much in common. There are disputes in the same family, and no two people share the same ideas. This is perfectly natural in human behaviour. But differences can still furnish a climate for cooperation, as long as there is an extensive territory for common ground, rather than dispute, which we should reject.”
“On this common ground are the human commonalities [for the guidance of which] God sent us His Prophet whose path we must pursue so that we do not fall prey to the hands of enemies.”
Speaking to the Weekly by phone from Tehran, Iranian political analyst Amir Musavi said that considerable confusion had arisen over the letter to Morsi. It was important to realise that its authors were the heads of major universities in Tehran and top scientists and engineers in the fields of nuclear technology, nanotechnology, energy, road and bridge construction, dams, and other fields, he said.
“[These academicians and scientists] wanted to say that Islam holds out solutions, and they wanted to communicate with a president who has an Islamist outlook and is also an academic. But the idea that they suggested the notion of the vilayet-e faqih is wrong.”
“The [Iranian] supreme guide is mentioned in the context of his rejection of subordination to the West, his defiance of US-Zionist schemes, and his support for the Palestinian cause.”
For this reason, the analyst believed that the Egyptian reactions, such as that of the president’s spokesman, were excessive and inappropriate. “His response to a letter of greeting should have been to return the greeting and say that he would study the matter,” Musavi said, adding that the problem lay in the sectarian strains being stirred up by some in Egypt.
He said that the authors of the letter had written a response objecting to this attitude and stressing that they had written the letter in their capacity as intellectuals with a sense of responsibility.
Musavi said “I do not think that Iran is begging for relations with Egypt. But I do think that it sees that Egypt has a historical and civilisational role and that it is keen to see Egypt in the context of exercising its historical, humanitarian and political role.”
Former Egyptian ambassador to Tehran Mahmoud Farag told the Weekly that in his opinion the statements coming out of Iran with respect to Egypt should be seen in the framework of the distribution of roles. He also stated that at the present time, the political will to resume bilateral relations did not exist on both sides, all of which makes the question of the letter complicated.
“The authors of the letter are academics, true. But they are also members of the Hawza, or seminary, where Shia clerics are trained and which is directly subordinate to the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. Therefore, the responses to the reactions to the letter on the part of the ambassador or Iranian analysts are diplomatic attempts to overcome the hurdle of the letter at a time when the domestic circumstances in Egypt do not welcome its academic context and nor do circumstances in Iran with respect to the academic class.”
“However, the role of Ali Akbar Velayati is clear in this, because he is an advisor to the supreme guide, which refutes the letter’s claim to political neutrality.”
 

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