Providing more evidence of the warming ties between Iran and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the Times of London reports that the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, made a secret two-day visit to Egypt just after Christmas to meet with officials close to President Mohammed Morsi.
The Times describes the visit as “another blow to Cairo’s fragile relationship with the West,” and quotes an Egyptian official saying it was meant to “send a message to America.”
The Times of London reports:
Mr Suleimani, who oversees Iran’s proxy militias across the region, including Hezbollah and Hamas, travelled at the invitation of Mr Morsi’s Government and his powerful backers in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The spy chief met Essam al-Haddad, foreign affairs adviser to Mr Morsi, and officials from the Brotherhood to advise the government on building its security and intelligence apparatus independent of the national intelligence services, which are controlled by Egypt's military.
The paper says its report was confirmed by two members of Maktab al-Irshad, the Muslim Brotherhood’s guidance office. One unnamed official said, "The government requested a high-level meeting with Iranian officials. Iran sent Suleimani."
"The meeting was intended to send a message to America, which is putting pressure on the Egyptian government, that we should be allowed to have other alliances with anyone we please," the official added.
The Quds Force which Suleimani commands is an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is tasked with exporting the Islamic revolution outside Iran. It is credited with helping set up Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s, targeting U.S. troops in Iraq and providing arms and training for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The U.S. also accused it in 2011 of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and planning to bomb Israel’s embassy in Washington.
The Times explains that sending such a senior official is a reflection of how seriously the Ayatollah regime takes this forging relationship.
President Morsi visited Iran in August, the first visit by an Egyptian president since the Iranian revolution more than thirty years ago. Another high-profile meeting is scheduled for this week. Iran’s Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will visit Cairo Thursday where he plans to discuss Egyptian-Iranian relations and the Syrian crisis. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman says Salehi will discuss avenues for expanding Egyptian-Iranian ties.
In September, Morsi met with the Iranian foreign minister in Cairo, at which time he emphasized the importance of strong ties between the two countries. Fars News quoted Morsi as saying: "When the followers of unrighteousness are united in their unrighteous path, why should not we go united in our right position when dealing with global challenges."
While in Cairo, Salehi also plans to meet with top Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Tayyeb who serves as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and as president of Al-Azhar University.