Via The Times:
Egypt’s Islamist Government has enlisted covert help from Iran to strengthen its grip on power, dealing another blow to Cairo’s fragile relationship with the West.
Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s spy chief, visited the Egyptian capital just after Christmas for two days of talks with senior officials close to President Mohamed Morsi, The Times has learnt.
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 President Morsi, and officials from the Muslim Brotherhood, to advise the Government on building its own security and intelligence apparatus, independent of the national intelligence services, which are controlled by Egypt’s military.
The move will confirm fears among opposition groups that the Muslim Brotherhood plans to enslave the country under a theocracy, while the prospect of Iran gaining influence in Cairo will make Egypt’s neighbours and allies fearful.
Two members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, the Maktab al-Ershad, confirmed details of Mr Suleimani’s visit. “The Government requested a high-level meeting with Iranian officials. Iran sent Suleimani,” said one official. “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.”
A recipient of $1.3 billion of American military aid each year, Egypt is one of Washington’s closest allies in the region. But the relationship has deteriorated since President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood won power during the summer elections, culminating in the storming of the US Embassy in Cairo during September’s protests against a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Mr Morsi and his Islamist backers initially fanned the protests before a stiff rebuke from Washington.
Iran has pushed for an opening in Cairo ever since Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the Arab Spring two years ago. Sending Mr Suleimani underlines how seriously Tehran takes this opportunity. Commander of the Quds Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, his power is arguably surpassed only by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.
President Morsi and his Islamist backers have grown frustrated that Egypt’s intelligence services, still run by military old-timers from the Mubarak era, have refused to share information with the Government or allow the Brotherhood access to their surveillance apparatus. That frustration has opened the door to Tehran. In exchange for its assistance, Iran sought concessions on Syria, sources in Cairo said.
In Israel there are growing jitters about the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions after a series of inflammatory comments by officials close to Mr Morsi. Although the new Government has said it would abide by Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with its northern neighbour, a senior Brotherhood official declared last week that Israel would cease to exist within a decade.