Saddam Hussein lost all his wars, though Iran shared his defeat in one of them. But he, despite this, won one war which was probably one of the most important he ever fought, namely poisoning the political climate in the region.
It was he who evoked terms like the “Persians,” the “Safavids,” and the “Magi” in a derogatory context – before he was met on the other side with a religious-sectarian revolution in Iran, and religious-sectarian jihad in Afghanistan.
Thus, since the late seventies, a world began to form on bases summoned from the time before the nation-states. The past third century did nothing more since, than to perpetuate and enshrine this kind of discourse.
It is to this poisoned climate that the two political ideologies that produced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohamed Mursi, the current presidents of Iran and Egypt, have contributed with much alacrity.
While they are trying their hands at rapprochement today, according to the many analyses and commentaries on the sidelines of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo to attend conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), what these hands have done remains the biggest obstacle to the said rapprochement.
The fact of the matter is that much of the talk being heard in Cairo, during the visit, suggests that Iranian-Egyptian relations are not between two countries, as much as they are between two religious sects that do not conceal their respective fear of and objection to the other.
This overwhelming feeling was reinforced with certain nationalist sentiments and differences over the two countries’ respective alignment in the regional and international order, making a positive breakthrough closer to being impossible.
Yet the fact remains that Saddam’s legacy, which flourished throughout the entire region where many major regional powers and parties did not shy away from adopting it even in bigger measure, is the biggest obstacle to any rapprochement between Cairo and Tehran. This, unfortunately, is an issue that has a bigger impact than the divergence over the Syrian revolution, the situation in the Gulf or other important issues that preoccupy states.
Someone might say that Iran is in dire need of Egypt in order to break its isolation, and that Egypt is in dire need of Iran to balance other relations in the Middle East and the Gulf. But what was possible between the Shah of Iran and Anwar Sadat in the seventies, that is to say, between Iran and Egypt as two states with interests, is no longer possible today.
This is because the state has become subservient to religion and sect, fighting the battle of defending them as the primary component of its sovereignty.
It may also be said, and this is true theoretically, that the weakness of the two presidents and their regimes is enough reason for their rapprochement.
To be sure, Ahmadinejad is engaged in a struggle inside the same power structure, as evident most recently from his spat in parliament with the Chairman of the Shura Council, Ali Larijani, which provided a vivid image of how things have become in Tehran. This is not to mention the dire situation of the Iranian economy and the leadership’s failure to address it.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Morsi symbolizes how quick the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to rule Egypt has unraveled. This is without even adducing the assassination of Tunisian political leader Chokri Belaid, as an argument against the rule of the Brotherhood everywhere.
But here, too, Saddam’s legacy is manifested most starkly, with the sick joke of Ahmadinejad offering to the Egyptians a loan to help them overcome their dismal economic situation. This is a joke that Mursi must have agreed with many Egyptians, who agree on little these days, on laughing at.
This article was first published on Feb. 9, 2013
Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war. Twitter: @HazemSaghieh