17/04/2009

Egyptian concerns

Egypt has recently decided to make public the arrest of members of a Hezbollah cell in mission in Egypt. According to the Egyptian authorities, their aim was to carry out terrorist actions against Israeli tourists in Sinai while they just wanted to help Palestinian militias according to Hassan Nasrallah. However, these arrests have taken place four months ago. For the press, this delay has allowed Egypt to keep in its hands a means of pressure on Hezbollah and Iran. Why does it use it today? It seems that Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, is concerned about the growing position of Iran in the region and the interest of the new American president for the latest. For his « tour of Muslim countries, » B. Obama had chosen Turkey as a starting point. In his speech, Iran occupies an important place, especially since the announcement of a resumption of direct negotiations between the United States and Iran. Some of the countries that were far ahead of American concerns may feel left aside. This is what Egypt seems to experience, once again drawing attention on an Iran it will now have to take into account in the Middle East.

Indeed, new balances seem to be created in the region. First, one of these shifts concerns the involvement of the United States. If yesterday, Egypt and the oil producers of the Gulf were seen as key partners of the American diplomacy in the Middle East, B. Obama now seems to review the weight of such alliances. Washington turned first to a state whose influence and recent developments have been much discussed: Turkey, which is an undeniable economic but also diplomatic power that B. Obama would see as a bridge between the West and the East, through its accession to the European Union. Second, the American relation with Iran may witness a turning point. If this diplomatic warming occurred, it would put an end to the « Iranian threat » that pushes the United States to support those who feel under duress of Tehran. Egypt may therefore be right to fear to be no longer a privileged partner of America.

Another shift in the region is the changing balance between Shiites and Sunnis since the American invasion in Iraq in 2003. For a long time assimilated to Iran, Shiites seem now to recover a growing role in the region. Being the majority in Iraq, they are now, thanks to the new political regime imposed by the United States, able to run the country. Moreover, the aura gained by Hezbollah in 2006 following the conflict in Lebanon goes now beyond the supporters of the movement and Shiites and is spread throughout the Arab world.

Without going so far as to speak of a « Shiite crescent », a term that is often used in the media fearing a polarization of the Muslim world between Shiites and Sunnis, we cannot deny a certain strengthening of the Shiite influence even if they remain a small minority. Some regimes already denounced Shiites as agents of Tehran: relevant fear or new means of diverting people from the failure of the national political life?

The beginning of this century witnessed a profound and lasting remodeling of prevailing equilibriums in the region that the new choices of the Obama administration merely highlight. We must now take into account those new balances and among them the new position of Shiites in the Middle East.

Luce Ricard