This article was first published by Al-Monitor on March 19, 2013 

 

Assertions and opinions in this publication are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy

 

Since the establishment of Egypt’s first republic in 1952, the country’s foreign policy has never been clearly sectarian, with neither a Sunni nor Shiite identity taking precedence. Following the election of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2012, however, the administration has appeared to preach sectarian ideology.

Prior to the uprising, former President Hosni Mubarak angered the Shiites in 2006, remarking that “Shias [in Iraq] and across the Middle East are more loyal to Iran than to their own countries.” His comments were later dismissed by the Egyptian foreign ministry, reaffirming Egypt’s nonsectarian policy.

Article 2 of Egypt’s newly approved constitution identifies Islam as the religion of the state. This is hardly a new development in the recent history of Egyptian legislation. Yet another article, 219, takes the status of Egyptian Islam a step further by highlighting the country’s Sunni identity: “The principles of Islamic shariah include general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community.” While Article 219 is meant to diminish contention within the domestic political scene by specifying the role of Sunni doctrines, it simultaneously solidifies Sunni dominance within the country as a whole and sends an important message to Sunnis and Shiites across the Islamic world.

Morsi’s decision to attend the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was hosted by Iran in August 2012, was touted as a revolutionary revamping of Egyptian foreign policy. The move was interpreted as a positive step toward normalizing relations with the Islamic Republic, which have been strained these last 30 years.

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