Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be surprised at the stern warnings he had to listen to on Tuesday at his joint press conference with Al Azhar chief Shaikh Ahmad Al Tayyeb. He should have seen it coming.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Egypt, rightly described as ‘historic’ as it comes after three decades of broken diplomatic relations between the two countries, is obviously aimed at opening a new chapter in ties following the January 25 revolution in Egypt, which overthrew the Hosni Mubarak regime and led to the ascendance of power of the Iran-friendly Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The visit may lead to better relations between the two countries and ease tension regionally in the face of rising turbulences in the Middle East. But the Iranian leader certainly realises that Egypt, irrespective of who is leading it, cannot resign its role as the largest Arab country that is always at the forefront of the Arab joint action.
The statement by the chief of Al Azhar that Iran must end its interference in Arab countries’ affairs should have sounded familiar to Ahmadinejad. It has been said and repeated by many Arab leaders and included in almost every communiqué of regional conferences. Tehran better listen to these advice and start acting as a constructive player in our region. The Islamic republic could very well start addressing the issues of contentions with its Arab neighbours such as the occupation of the three UAE islands and the prevailing perception that it is meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs.
Iran must also take into account the Arab worries of its rising influence in Iraq and Lebanon and stop all meddling in the internal conflict in Yemen.
Syria is another front where Iran is seen by many Arabs as an instigator of confrontation rather than part of the solution to the two-year-old conflict.
Finally, there is the overwhelming fear regionally that Iran is harbouring a concealed nuclear programme. Tehran should come clean on this issue. Iran is an important neighbour, but its policies make it very hard to accept it as a good neighbour.