The most immediate divergence between the nations is their view of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which Iran supports and Egypt condemns. In his visit to Tehran last summer, Morsi said in a speech that the Syrian uprising was a “revolution against an oppressive regime."
Still, some observers say Egypt is looking to maintain at least cordial ties with the Islamic republic, which it recognizes as a major regional player and worthwhile economic partner.
“We have two Islamic axes today: One led by Saudi Arabia with the blessing of the United States, and one led by Iran, which has its supporters — Hamas” and the Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah, said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a member of parliament who was one of the few Egyptians who visited Iran as part of a pan-Arab delegation sponsored by Jordan a decade ago.
“These two are both fighting for influence in Egypt,” she said, and the Morsi government has been careful to manage relations with both.
But other analysts say Morsi’s basic calculations on Iran will be driven by economic considerations. Egypt, whose wobbling economy relies heavily on U.S. and Saudi support, is not in a position to risk losing access to that aid.
“Once people started to put together the cost Egypt would incur for cozying up to Iran, I don’t think there would be much support for a close relationship,” said Joshua Stacher, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who specializes in Egypt.
Washington should not be too worried about Egypt and other Arab nations moving closer to Iran, Stacher said.
“It’s okay for these countries to converse and try to establish ties,” he said. “But they’re starting from zero, so there isn’t going to be an alliance overnight.”
Hauslohner reported from Cairo.