The confrontation between Iranian nationalism and Arabian nationalism in 1960s was a turning point in the relations between Iran and Egypt. It first emerged after Gamal Abdel Nasser assumed presidency in 1955 Egypt. Later he began to use the fabricated title "Arabian Gulf" instead of Persian Gulf. His move caused Iranian monarchial regime to back Israel in the Six-Day War against Egypt and other Arabian countries in 1967.
The term, Nasserism refers to an Arab nationalist political ideology combined with socialism based on the ideas of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The concept hugely influenced pan-Arab politics in 1950s and 1960s and continues to have significant resonance throughout the Arab World by now.
A top political expert, Mr. Hermidas Bavand received a PhD in international relations from American University, Washington, D.C. in 1963. He is currently the faculty member of Law and Political Science School of Tehran University. In the following interview, Mr. Hermidas Bavand elaborates on the contexts and consequences of Iranian and Arabian nationalism in the history of diplomatic ties between Iran and Egypt.
Apparently Gamal Abdel Nasser was the most important politician who called Persian Gulf as "Arabian Gulf". What was the reason behind taking such stance?
Those years Iran was among the countries which backed the West world and had built a de facto political tie with Israel. As the leader of a radical movement, Abdel Nasser from one hand had taken a non-aligned position toward both Western and Eastern blocs, and from the other he was seeking to lead African continent, the Arab world and generally Islamic world.
As a result several countries including those in the Middle East had come to a strategic conflict. Some were attempting to change the status quo and the others were interested in maintaining the status quo. At that situation Egypt as a central country in the Arab world and Iran as a key power in the region confronted each other.
You mean Iran was interested in maintaining the status quo of the Middle East?
Yes, Iran as well as Saudi Arabia and Morocco were among those countries which defended the status quo of the Middle East. Even the establishment of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Iran was indeed an alignment against Nasserism.
At first Nasser was using the title Persian Gulf but gradually he began to apply the fabricated term Arabian Gulf instead of Persian Gulf. He knew that Iranians are sensitive to applying the title Arabian Gulf and was obviously trying to make the adverse party furious.
Wasn't that aimed to heighten the issue of confrontation between Iranian and Arabs which could consequently cause the Arab allies of the Iranian king Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to split from him?
It's true, but at that time the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Egypt was more than what such measures could be helpful for Nasser. I give you an example: when Nasser dispatched his military forces to Yemen, Saudi Arabia backed the Imam of Yemen who was a Shiite and did not have religious affinity with Saudis.
Regardless of political row between Iran and Egypt, to what extent raising the issue of Persian Gulf by Nasser was related to the Arabian nationalism which had emerged in Egypt during his presidency?
It was absolutely related to Arabian nationalism. Nasser was making efforts to employ whatever thing which could strengthen Arabian nationalism and the use of the faked title "Arabian Gulf" was one of his pretexts.
You mean at that moment a conflict existed between Arabian and Iranian nationalism?
Just then, I mean by 1967 as a dynamic nationalism, Arabian nationalism was in force. Iranian nationalism which from the view of Iranian King was a positive leverage [against the truly nationalist movement of the Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh which was overthrown in a coup d'état organized by CIA] actually proved to be a passive nationalism. At that point the dynamism of Arabian Nationalism was at zenith. But after the defeat of Egypt and Nasserism during the Six-Day War against Israel, Iran enjoyed a higher status in the Middle East region and Egyptian nationalism fell into passivity.
What stance did Iran take in the Ramadan war of 1973 surprisingly waged by Arabian countries against Israel to retrieve their occupied lands, did it help Egypt or Israel?
Iranian government allowed Russia to begin its airlift to Syria. It means that Russian planes passed Iranian sky to supply Syria with weapons and equipments. Moreover, through providing considerable quantity of oil, Iran helped Egypt and donated almost 2 billion dollars to aid Egyptian government to reconstruct Isma'iliyah and other regions in their country.
Some say that Iran supported Israel in the war of 1973.
It's completely baseless. Even Iranian aids to Egypt caused the United States and Israel to protest. In their own turn, Iranian statesmen made a scapegoat of Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Mir Fenderesky, who was the acting Foreign Minister and former Iran's ambassador to Moscow. They announced that during the Ramadan War of 1973 he had personally permitted Soviet airplanes to fly over Iranian land and reach Syria without being authorized by Mohammad Reza Shah. The Iranian administration pensioned off Mir Fenderesky in an attempt to appease Washington and Tel Aviv.
Why did Iranian position develop remarkably during Arabs and Israel wars in 1967 to 1973?
It was exactly the direct result of Nasserism decline in Egypt. The defeat of Nasserism had benefited Iran in the region. At the beginning of 1970s after the rise of crude oil price in the international markets, in a bid to strengthen its position in the region, Iran gave huge financial aids to Arabian countries of the Middle East. At that time Iran donated 400 million dollars to Syria, 2 billion dollars to Egypt, 90 million dollars to Sudan and even gave an unannounced oil support to Yasser Arafat. Iran was even planned to expand ties with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and held negotiations to materialize the plan.
Was the good relation between Shah and Anwar Sadat instrumental in changing the Iranian position during Arabian countries war against Israel in 1973?
Yes, just then Shah and Sadat had established a very good relation. Even after Egypt was defeated in 1967 war against Israel, Nasser made efforts to repair ties with Iran. As a matter of fact, the development and restoration of Egypt-Iran relations had been set at the agenda of the both countries during the last years of Nasser's presidency (1967-1970).
Seemingly the establishment of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference is a landmark in the contemporary history of the ties between the two countries.
Yes, Iran and Egypt were among the founders of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in the late 1960s but Saudi Arabia has always played the pivotal role in that entity.
At the end if any point is left on the history of Iran-Egypt relations please tell us.
Finally I must refer to the fact that the influence of Muslim Brotherhood Society [as the oldest Islamic political group] founded by Hasan al-Banna in Egypt was instrumental in the formation of Fada'iyan-e Islam (Devotees of Islam) in Iran. It's a key point which must be considered in reviewing the history of relations between Iran and Egypt during the last century.
Translated by Ali Ameri
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