This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 31/05/2011
Amidst the debate about the feasibility of restoring Iranian-Egyptian relations, Cairo announced the arrest of an Iranian diplomat accused of spying, only to then release him, demanding that he leave the country within 48 hours. Is this the whole story? Of course not!
Egypt today, after the fall of the Mubarak regime, is passing through a phase of which no one knows the outcome, regardless of what has been said. Egypt today is a combination of aspirations and dreams, as well as a mix of difficulties and challenges, of which we have not seen the last of, both externally and internally. Egypt today is full of different individuals and groups voicing their opinions on the political scene. Therefore, although we must not treat every matter in Egypt with heightened sensitivity, we must not ignore them at the same time. The Egyptian constitution should be the reference point.
With regards to Egypt today, it is important to protect the country from infiltration, from Iran in particular and others in general, whether they are radicals, or those who simply want to find a foothold there to exploit the current internal situation. The best way to guard against such infiltration is by monitoring funds, and this must be done in a very strict manner. We can recall when the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, asked the Lebanese not to fear because he had secured what he called "pure money", meaning Iranian funding. However, it has become clear that this is funding the basis of the scourge in our region, whether in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq or Syria, and even in Yemen with the Houthis. The last thing the Egyptians want is for Iranian finance to wreak its havoc, under any pretense. The Arab states, and their security apparatuses, have learned that Iranian funds seep into our region in different forms, including voluntary contributions, or "Husseiniyat" [semi-religious Shiite gatherings and activities sponsored by the Iranian government], which we have witnessed most clearly in Bahrain. Iranian funds also infiltrate through commercial interfaces, whether individuals or institutions, and this is what security and economic authorities in Egypt must be alert to.
The advice offered during the Watergate scandal in the days of U.S. President Nixon was simple, but golden: "follow the money". The duty of the Egyptians today is to follow the money with regards to all its forms, sources and beneficiaries, especially with the upcoming election campaigns, whether presidential or parliamentary. This applies to individuals, political parties, and even their media institutions. This is an important matter to ensure the sanctity of Egypt from Iranian finance, which only wreaks havoc when it infiltrates an Arab state. It does not matter whether an Iranian spy has been discovered in Egypt, this is inevitable. Tehran's espionage operations in Arab countries are in full swing, as witnessed most recently in Kuwait. What is more important, and indeed most important, is to address the issue of funding, and specifically Iranian funding. With Egypt's economic situation today, it is easy to accrue debts, and for false institutions to be created, with the aim of penetrating society and causing it to disintegrate. This would be highly dangerous in the case of Egypt, given the circumstances recently experienced by the country.
Accordingly, the Egyptians should not focus on the issue of Iranian espionage, because that is inevitable. Rather, it is the duty of Egyptian security and Egyptian institutions to monitor the flow of Iranian money, whether from Tehran or through its Arab interfaces, of which there are many unfortunately!