Iran’s relationship with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood comes under renewed scrutiny

The Muslim Brotherhood may not be the only extremist Sunni group in Egypt supported by IRGC.
Sunday 12/01/2020
A file photo shows an Egyptian man walking past graffiti denouncing police violence, adorned with the Muslim Brotherhood's logo, in Cairo, in 2013. (Reuters)
A file photo shows an Egyptian man walking past graffiti denouncing police violence, adorned with the Muslim Brotherhood's logo, in Cairo, in 2013. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Although the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s al-Quds Force, in a US drone attack in Iraq, caused increased tensions between the United States, Iran, Iraq and maybe the Arab Gulf region, it was an opportunity to reopen the man’s black box.

Al Arabiya published a report January 4 — the day after he was killed — on Soleimani’s infiltration into Egypt in 2013 and quoted an unnamed security source saying Soleimani pretended being an Iranian tourist who planned to visit holy places in Egypt.

The information was confirmed by Mohsen el-Fahham, a former assistant minister of Interior for State Security Service at Egyptian airports.

He said Soleimani met with Khairat el-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy supreme leader, to discuss establishing an Egyptian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), subordinated directly by Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi to be responsible for protecting him and the Muslim Brotherhood’s facilities and headquarters and confronting police and armed forces when a conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood occurred.

Information about Soleimani’s relationship with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, despite being a Sunni organisation, gained credibility following revelations in recent years.

In April 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior issued a statement about seizing weapons inscribed with the Persian language at the hideout of a terrorist cell affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Questions emerged about the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Soleimani after the Egyptian judiciary accused Iran’s IRGC of storming Egyptian prisons to free members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah during the January 2011 protests.

It is the same case in which Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, and other Brotherhood officials, including Morsi, were convicted in a primary court ruling in 2015. Morsi died last June; a final court ruling, including sentences of life in prison, was handed down against his co-defendants in September.

The Muslim Brotherhood may not be the only extremist Sunni group in Egypt supported by IRGC. In April 2017, accounts belonging to Sinai Province, the Islamic State (ISIS) branch in Egypt, posted a video clip showing militants firing at Egyptian soldiers with Iranian AM50 rifles.

The relationship between the IRGC and Sunni groups in Egypt highlights important points of Iran’s agenda for the Middle East concerning the support of militant groups, regardless of their doctrines, as the main pillar of Iranian policy.

Iran’s relations with militants started by supporting Shia organisations in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union invasion (1979-89) by funds and arms, as an alternative to sending the Iranian Army, which was weak after the Islamic Revolution, which resulted in the shah’s generals imprisoned.

Despite the significant development of its armed forces, the Iranian regime expanded support for militants in the Middle East, especially after increased US and European sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme in 2006, sanctions that prevented Tehran from developing legal military cooperation with many countries.

Tarek Aboul-Saad, a researcher specialising in Islamic movements, said the Shias’ weakness or absence in some countries in which Iran seeks to create permanent influence, such as Egypt, the Palestinian territories or Algeria, pushed Tehran, pragmatically beyond its Shia ideology, to support Sunni organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza and the Salvation Front in Algeria.

Aboul-Saad did not rule out that Iran provided support to both Sunni and Shia organisations in some countries at the same time. He argues that the apparent state of hostility between some of these organisations helped Iran achieve major benefits.

The Sunni extremists, ISIS and al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, operations in Syria, were a pretext for the IRGC, under the supervision of Soleimani, to intervene under the excuse of protecting the Shia Alawite regime of Bashar Assad and ensure its presence in the Mediterranean region, despite that Iranian foreign military ambitions until 2009 were limited to a naval base in Eritrea.

Relations with militants and Islamist groups have shielded Iran from reckless attacks.

In May 2014, an audio tape of Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, an ISIS spokesman, was posted on social media in which he said ISIS had complied with demands by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri not to target Iran in exchange for Iranian supply lines to militants through the Iran-Afghanistan border.

Also, relations with the Muslim Brotherhood created solid ground for Iran to ally with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who mourned Soleimani in an official statement January 4.

Soleimani was assassinated after an alleged Iranian escalation. The United States and Israel accused him and the IRGC of being behind missiles attacks in December against US military and civilian sites in Iraq and an attempt to storm the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The Turkey-Iran-Brotherhood alliance raises questions about the synchronisation between Iranian escalation in Iraq and Erdogan’s attempts to escalate the situation in Libya by sending Turkish forces to support the Libyan Government of National Accord, affiliated with the Brotherhood, against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Have Turkey, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood planned to escalate in Libya and Iraq at the same time to disrupt the Egyptian Army as the strongest supporter of LNA and Gulf countries as well, while the Gulf is expected to be a target for Iran after Soleimani’s assassination, especially with the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia?