Egypt - The Egyptian/Regional Perspective.
The MB was born in Egypt in 1928. From then on, it was planted deeply in various parts of Egypt. Radicalised in the 1950s and 1960s by extremist ideologue Sayed Qutb, the MB now has several fighting affiliates under different names occasionally attacking the EAF and the police in Sinai and other parts of Egypt. But the movement itself now is based in London, the seat of its international division. The latter is still active through chapters in several countries - although the movement itself is deeply split and in disarray. Whether or not it still is a challenge to Sissi's regime remains to be seen.
Strongly backing Sissi's regime are the rich members of the GCC, led by Saudi Arabia and including the UAE and Kuwait - Qatar still maintains links to the MB, though it no longer harbours leading MB members, with Oman being neutral. Bahrain backs Sissi but its financial contributions to Egypt are negligible. The bulk of the financial aid to Egypt comes from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.
Together with Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, Saudi Arabia has put its weight behind the EAF command which ousted Mursi and has since got an interim government to prepare for the elections. There was first a referendum on a new constitution, followed by a presidential election, and legislative polls were held in late 2015.
The MB has repeatedly vowed but failed to disrupt the entire process. But the infrastructure of the MB has been destroyed and most of its leaders including Mursi and MB's Chief Guide Muhammad Badei' are in prison facing charges of high treason. This is despite MB's tactical alliance with Iran's Shi'ite theocracy and Sunni/Neo-Salafi groups affiliated with al-Qaeda aimed at controlling the Arabian Peninsula.
President Sissi has made defence of the Arabian Peninsula a top priority. Repeatedly threatening to "sever the hand that tries to tough this region", Sissi has drawn much criticism from Iran. He has pledged to be a key player in the Saudi-led Sunni Front in the Muslim world. Such a role also remains to be seen.
Saudi Arabia, heading the 57-state Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) charged with a Muslim world of about 1.6bn people in which Iran's theocracy is the only Shi'ite member, now is the largest source of financial and political support to Egypt. Saudi Arabia and fellow GCC members the UAE and Kuwait have given Egypt over $20bn in grants, loans and petroleum supplies. They are investing a great deal in Egyptian development projects as well. Most of the GCC crude oil and refined products have been sent to Egypt as gifts or at a big discount.
The Arab-Persian Conflict: For several decades leading the Cairo-Based Arab League, Egypt is the biggest country. It occupies a unique strategic corner between the Mediterranean, the Arab north-east and Africa. Its 2016 population is estimated to exceed 87.3m. Effectively, however, the Arab region politically is led by Saudi Arabia which sets the trend. Now there is an Arab-Persian conflict pre-dating Islam.
Riyadh is strongly opposed to Tehran's claim of speaking for the Shi'ite world. Iran is constitutionally defined as belonging to the Safawi ideology. Safawism is primarily Persian, as explained on several occasions by the theocracy's top officials.
One of these is Ali Younessi, a theologian and former minister of intelligence who now is a special aide to President Hassan Rowhani on Iran's ethnic minorities and religious movements. In 2015 he said the Iranian empire extended to the Mediterranean and its capital was Baghdad. He was referring to Sassanid Persia, an empire defeated in the seventh century by the Arabs and converted to Islam subsequently.
Safawism emerged in 1501 with Shah Isma'il-I who got Persia converted from Sunnim to Shi'ite Islam for two reasons: Born a Turkoman, he was regarded as a rebel by the Sunni Caliphate which then was in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Secondly, his Persian subjects refused to be part of that empire. The alternative was to help him form the first theocracy in the history of Ja'fari (Twelver) Shi'ism.
The Qizilbash (in Turkish meaning red-heads after their red head-gear), the most feared warriors, formed the back-bone of his movement. They called Isma'il divine. Now the same is true in the case of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who call Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei "God's representative on Earth", but in reality his is their "hostage" as was the case with Isma'ill (see sbme5SafawismNov25-13).
The most ardent defenders of the Safawi movement, the IRGC now control Iraq, Lebanon (via their unit Hizbullah), trying to preserve what they can in Syria with the help of Russia, and their Zaidi Shi'ite allies of the Houthi clan are on their way to losing a devastating war in Yemen to a Saudi-led Arab/GCC coalition.
However, anti-Safawi activism covers all of Iraq, including many of its Shi'ite Arabs. In Iran, there are over 10m Sunnis of different ethnic communities oppressed by Safawism since the 1,500s. The Arabs of Iran's petroleum- and water-rich Arabistan (Khuzestan) accuse the theocracy of racial discrimination and of diverting their Karun River - which they call the source of great civilisations - to Isfahan. These are apart from tens of millions of Iran's Shi'ites opposed to Safawi rule - Wilayat ul-Faqih (WuF), a concept partly rejected in Twelver Shi'ism, Iran's sect.
Safawism, which the Arabs and Western powers regard as the most dangerous source of terrorism, is more about Persian supremacism than Islam. And the theocracy is accused of excessive corruption and lawlessness, with its Supreme Guide Khamenei reported to control a $95bn business empire in Iran, despite the fact that about 25m of the 75m Iranians are said to live in poverty - including those below the poverty line.
Activists in Arabistan, annexed to Persia in April 1925, want to secede and join the GCC. A high-level delegation from Ahwaz has recently been in Riyadh to renew their request to join the GCC, pledging to take part in the Saudi-led Yemen war and other battle-fields in which the IRGC is involved. They describe the IRGC as being far more dangerous than ISIS, noting that the seeds of ISIS were first sown in Iran in late 2001 (see ood6OpecIsis29Jun15).
Draining its resources, Iran has costly geo-political goals in the GME and the African continent. In Africa, the IRGC has bases along the Red Sea. There it is rivalling Israel, which has strategic interests and commercial alliances from Egypt down to Kenya, and from that continent's Atlantic coast to the Red Sea.
Israel has close links with big minorities such as the Kurds in the GME and the Kurdish community's diaspora. Israel's African assets include a stake on that continent's biggest dam project in Ethiopia and a military base on the most strategic isle in Eritrea's Dahlak Archipelago, as well as an advanced surveillance station run by Mossad in mountains near the border with South Sudan. In early 2013, South Sudan's government signed deals with Israeli oil firms (see sbme4IsrAfricaOct28-13).
There is the same kind of rivalry in Latin America, where the Mossad has various types of networks which, according to a Brazilian expert, have totally exposed all the IRGC/Hizbullah assets and activities, including IRGC's and Hizbullah's links with revolutionary movements, drug cartels, prostitution houses, gambling networks, crime gangs, etc. Rivalries cover the same things in Europe, Asia, Oceania, as well as North Africa - where the Mossad's main "citadel" is located.
The Safawis from 1,501 to 1729 controlled all of modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and most of Iraq, Turkey, Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus, as well as parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and India. Safawi Iran was one of the Islamic "gun-powder powers", along with its neighbouring Ottoman and Mughal empires which were Sunni.
The Safawis originated from Shaikh Safiuddin of the Safawiya Sufi order in the Azeri town of Ardabil. It was of mixed ancestry (Turkoman, Persian, Azeri & Kurdish) including inter-marriages with members of Georgian and Pontic Greek nobility. From Ardabil, they set forth to control Greater Iran and revived the Persian identity, thus becoming the first native dynasty since the Sasanid Empire to set up a unified state. Despite their demise in 1722 and 1736, the legacy they left behind was a revival of Persia as an economic strong-hold between East and West, with an efficient state based on checks and balances, architectural innovations and patronage for the fine arts.
The Safawi kings claimed to be Sayyeds, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. But many cast doubt on that. Pre-1501 Safawi manuscripts trace the lineage to Kurdish lord Firuz Shah Zarin-Kulah. Yet from the evidence available at present, Safawis were of indigenous Persian stock, and not of Turkish or Kurdish ancestry as it is sometimes claimed.
When the Safawi empire was established, however, members of the dynasty were Turkicised and some of the shahs (kings) composed poems in Turkish, though later they supported Persian literature and art projects including the grand Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp-I. The first Safawi "King of Kings", Isma'il-I, based the legitimacy of his theocracy on being direct male descendant of Imam Ali ibn Abi-Taleb, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. This has always been highly debatable, however.
The sadr - as a title originally after the Sufi Sadruddin Musa (1252-1334) - became the top religious authority in Twelver Shi'ism acting between the king and his subjects. (Centuries later, this was assumed as a name for a prominent Twelver family in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. But the original sect of Sadruddin's ruling families was Shafe'i Sunnism). The sadrs enjoyed tremendous power among the faithful as they were their bridges to the Safawi kings. Most non-ruling ayatullahs now are "sadrs".