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Egyptian complicity exposes deep fear of Iran

By Antoun Issa - posted Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The Egyptian leadership has taken a hiding from the Arab street for its inaction over Israel's assault on the Palestinians. Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran have removed all gloves by publicly accusing Egypt's leadership of complicity in Israel's war on Gaza.

Arabs are aware, albeit repressed, that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (the Arab trio) form a pro-American axis of oppressive dictators whose primary interest is containing Iran's growing presence in the region.

Iran, on the other hand, has enlisted the backing of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, and enjoys vast public support from the Sunni Arab world because its primary concern is much aligned with the sentiments of the Arab street ... upholding the Palestinian cause and combating American presence in the region.


The ability of Hezbollah to draw tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets of Arab capitals, including Cairo, speaks more of Egypt's misconstrued fears than Hezbollah's popularity. The fear of Iran is partly motivated by sectarianism, but mostly by political survival.

Indeed, Iran's Shia proselytising has triggered a sense of urgency among Sunni Arab leaders, particularly in Saudi Arabia where strict Sunni doctrine (Wahhabism) is the norm and a strong self-belief as the custodian of the Islamic faith exists. The Sunni Arab leaders would have you believe that Iran's rise poses a threat to 1,400 years of Sunni domination in the Islamic world, and therefore demands greater attention than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran has actively sought to hijack the Palestinian cause from the Arab world. After decades of squabbling and inaction among Arab states, the Iranians have barged through the gates, swept all aside, and have boldly declared the Palestinian cause under new management.

The Arab street - equally frustrated at watching Israel and the US strangle their world while their governments play to the tune - were impressed. Iran didn't simply engage in empty rhetoric, as most Arab states did, but poured its energy into a deep conviction to combat Israeli reign in the Middle East.

It built the successful Hezbollah while Lebanon was on its knees in the 1980s. It offered Syria support when the US was bent on toppling the Assad regime. It threw its weight in Iraq to thwart American rule. And, most crucially given recent days, it gave to the Palestinians unconditionally, and supported Hamas when the Arab world abandoned it.

Support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria's beleaguered regime and opposition to the US occupation in Iraq echoes the core sentiments of the Arab street, and inflames its anger towards their passive Arab dictators. Such popular sentiments can be easily transformed into a mobilised opposition that could overthrow current regimes.


Iran has actively fought on behalf - whether directly or indirectly - of millions of Arabs who regard Israel and wider American-British “imperialism” of their region as the main cause for their woes.

Fear of Iran has been present since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. However, little attention to Tehran was needed as Saddam Hussein played the important role of Arab gatekeeper and contained Iranian expansion. The removal of Saddam gave way to Iran's rise, and quickly drew the immediate focus of the Arab trio.

Efforts to thwart Iran's advance became frantic and ill-conceived.

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About the Author

Antoun Issa is an Australian-based freelance political writer, Global Voices Online author, and commentator on international affairs, with a specific interest in Middle Eastern issues.

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