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Iran election: The view from Cairo

When you’ve had the same president for almost 28 years, politics typically don’t get you riled up. That’s the case in Egypt these days as Egyptians watch the unrest that continues to smolder in Iran.

Egypt has long had frosty relations with Iran. Egypt’s relationship with the U.S. and its peace with Israel have historically been points of contention. The relationship deteriorated further when the Arab states sided with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war that raged in the 1980s. Recently, fears that Iran’s influence in Iraq and south Lebanon might grow have made most Arab countries, Egypt included, wary of the Shiite state.

Ordinary Egyptians have expressed hope that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, will win out in the standoff. This has less to do with love of Mousavi and more to do with deep skepticism over Ahmadinejad’s belligerent stance towards moderate Muslim states.

At the government level, officials seem most concerned about the issue of nuclear weapons.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Sunday that Iran must abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, though he demurred on weighing in specifically about the elections, saying it was too soon to pass judgment.

Egypt has stated, though, that Iran does have the right to pursue nuclear energy — a stance it has taken in light of its own fledgling nuclear energy program.

Iran and Egypt took part in something of a diplomatic dance between 2005 and 2007 as part of an effort to repair relations. The effort, Aboul Gheit said, was a failure.

A handful of Egyptians, both in the press and in the government, have cynically argued that Israel supported an Ahmadinejad victory because it bolstered its intentions to launch a preemptive strike on Iran.

In all, interest in the Iranian election controversy is less intense here than you might imagine. President Barack Obama’s speech two weeks ago got people talking. The Iranian issue hasn’t done the same thing. Egyptians, either due to cynicism or apathy, view Iran warily and are skeptical that a Mousavi victory would mean much change in the relationship between Iran and the Arab world.

There’s no doubt, though, that few here would shed tears if Ahmadinejad were to lose his grip on power.

See here for an overview of local reaction around the world.