This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 21/02/2011
A race has reached its peak in Iran, between plots hatched by the Iranian regime to form a regional alliance under its leadership, and the ability of the Iranian opposition - with its various divisions – to destroy such plans and expose the Iranian regime.
Before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, two counties publicly and officially welcomed what was happening in Tahrir Square. In Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, together with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, considered what was happening in Egypt to be a continuation of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. In Syria, immediately after Mubarak was overthrown, President Bashar al-Assad said "the Egypt of Camp David has gone"(although the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem stated last Monday that "the Egyptian military leadership's decision to continue adhering to its international and regional treaties is a purely Egyptian decision").
Anyone observing the Iran's way of thinking would realize that Iran is insistent on implementing its expansionist plots, even if it is forced to resort to violence against its own people. The change that has occurred in Egypt will strengthen Iran's conviction that it is now on the verge of success. In January 2010, Iran and Syria had initiated a plan of coordination between them, relating to Egypt in the "post-Mubarak era". The two countries began to take early steps to influence the election of a successor to Mubarak, after they became convinced that he would step down due to ill health.
After the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, Syria considered its own state of affairs to be stable, and predicted that Mubarak's regime would inevitably fall, expecting other Arab countries to follow it. Thus, this was an opportunity for Syria and Iran to exploit, in order to strengthen their radical alliance.
Therefore, senior Syrian officials from Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a report to their top political representatives, detailing the situation in Egypt as well in other Arab states. They proposed to accelerate the implementation of the Iranian-Syrian agreement, aiming to pressure Egypt to join their anti-American alliance. The report also highlighted the need for senior officials from both countries to discuss the state of affairs in other Arab countries.
The report emphasized that there was no current danger to stability in Syria, whilst recommending that several secret precautions be taken. If precautions were taken overtly, they might be misinterpreted, giving the impression that the regime was greatly concerned, and this would prompt the opposition in Syria to provoke the regime. In the end, access to Facebook and Youtube was permitted, as the internet is not widespread in Syria.
The report's authors believe that what happened in Tunisia has no precedent in modern Arab history, although the Arab region is accustomed to military coups or foreign interventions, when regimes are overthrown. Yet they alluded to the possibility of repeated cases of collapse regarding Arab regimes, "especially in Egypt." The report's authors used Iranian intelligence regarding the decline of the Egyptian regime's ability to deter [civil unrest], in the face of educated young people who suffer from poverty, unemployment, deplorable living conditions, and a political regime beset by corruption. Hence, it was impossible for the Egyptian regime to neutralize the popular uprising, because it did not have solutions to the economic problems inherent in Egypt, and was cautious about resorting to violence to confront the demonstrations, because of [the presence of] Arab satellite channels, especially "al-Jazeera". The report indicated that a study is currently being conducted to gauge this channel's policy towards Syria, and to try to reach an agreement with it, as Iran did during the demonstrations that erupted after the 2009 elections, when Ahmadinejad was declared victorious.
Analysts from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded that the incidents in Egypt do not concern Iran greatly, because it has been successful in the past 18 months in establishing a considerable deterrent force against Iranian opposition. Those opposition members who suffered at the hands of the regime will not contemplate challenging it again. In addition, following the demonstrations that marred Ahmadinejad's electoral victory, Iran carefully studied the modus operandi of the opposition, and is now capable of besieging all opposition movements and preventing future demonstrations.
Regarding the likely implications of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions - which according to the report would become realities – it was claimed that both revolutions further confirmed the weakness of the US, Britain and France in the region, and that what happened would tarnish the image of the West, which used to support such regimes, yet failed to stand up for them when they encountered crises. The report regarded this as a significant development, and urged Syria to establish its position in the Arab world and the region, building on the victories it achieved recently in Lebanon.
The Syrian analysts who drew up the report believe that although the Islamists were not behind what happened in Tunisia or Egypt, Islamist movements will soon be in control of both countries, and will act to bring them closer to Iran and Syria. Accordingly, both Syria and Iran should accelerate their implementation of what was previously agreed between the two countries, with regards to "the post-Mubarak era". Most importantly, the report stressed the need to establish permanent relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, so as to ensure a common strategy with the aim of controlling the [Egyptian] regime.
Iran was the primary advocate of this idea, as expressed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad on the 25th February 2010, when he visited Damascus. He emphasized the need for Iranian-Syrian intervention in Egypt, at a time when the country was preparing to elect a president to replace Mubarak. This was such a rare opportunity to influence Egypt, and bring it towards the radical camp. Ahmadinejad added that Iran and Syria must not waste time; for fear that Gamal Mubarak would be elected in the absence of any internal factors impeding his election.
Iranian opinion was settled on invoking the Muslim Brotherhood as a means to cause internal unrest in Egypt, in the period both before and after the presidential election. According to a reliable, informed source regarding this Iranian-Syrian plot, the Iranian proposal to involve the Brotherhood led to a disagreement between Tehran and Damascus, as the latter is known for its hostility towards the "Brotherhood", and their plans. The Iranians had initially proposed to hold meetings between them and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on Syrian soil, yet they were only successful in obtaining Syrian approval once they declared that the negotiations would instead be held in Egypt.
Subsequently, the Syrians approved the proposal and the plot began to take shape. Security meetings between the two countries were held to monitor Mubarak's health condition, as well as Egypt's weakening influence in Africa and the Arab region.
Iran encouraged Syria to embrace Mubarak's likely successor - who would enjoy a prestigious status and influence in the region - so that Syria could later have the upper hand in Egyptian-Syrian relations, thus gearing them towards the radical alliance's interests.
It is worth noting that the Iranians highly commended Mohamed ElBaradei, and sought to find a way to help him attain the presidency. He was once the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nobel Peace Laureate, and holds many significant relations with the West.
In Egypt, the Mubarak regime has been overthrown and the army has assumed responsibility for civil protection, until a new political leadership emerges. Everyone cherishes the Egyptians' joy, but what happened in Egypt was not a complete revolution, but rather a semi-revolution. This means that the country's future is the center of attention for many regional and international players.
Iran has been preparing for this moment for a year. If the Arab countries could only see what lies ahead for Egypt in the near future, then they would be able to change its course, for the benefit of Egypt firstly, and for a better future altogether.