The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force met with officials close to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a secret two-day visit to Egypt just after Christmas. The Times of London calls it "another blow to Cairo's fragile relationship with the West."
Gen. Qassem Soleimani's "meeting was intended to send a message to America, which is putting pressure on the Egyptian government, that we be allowed to have other alliances we please," a source told the Times.
The U.S. State Department designated Soleimeini as a terrorist, and the Quds Force serves as Iran's primary unit for training and equipping foreign Islamic revolutionary movements. The Quds Force was responsible for setting up Hizballah in the 1980s and has been involved in training Hamas, the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
The Iranian paramilitary leader met with Essam al-Haddad, one of Morsi's foreign affairs advisers, and Muslim Brotherhood officials, to advise them on building a security and intelligence apparatus independent from the national intelligence services that are controlled by the Egyptian military.
A report in The Australian suggests that the Egyptians invited Soleimani to meet.
"When the Iranian revolutionaries took control they didn't trust the military, so they setup a parallel system independent of Iran's army that has been quite successful," Heritage Foundation Middle East expert James Phillips told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Consequently, the Brotherhood likely sees the IRGC/Quds Force as a successful model to copy, Phillips said.
Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din was forced out of the government after he objected to the meeting, Al-Arabiyah reported Thursday.
In addition, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Cairo Wednesday for talks that Iran hopes could lead to expanded ties with Egypt. The two countries have not had diplomatic ties since Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1970 and granted asylum to the shah after he was overthrown.
Relations between Iran and Egypt have steadily improved since Morsi, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood figure, was inaugurated in July. Morsi also met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his late August visit to Tehran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit.
Syria will be high on the agenda during Salehi's visit, according to Iran's Fars News Agency.
Iran and Egypt have competing interests in Syria, with the Iranians backing the Assad regime and the Egyptians supporting their Muslim Brotherhood brethren in their rebellion.
The meetings between the Brotherhood and Iran send the message that Egypt will move closer to Iran if the United States and other Western nations cut off aid, an unnamed Egyptian official told the Times.
"It is another sign that the Muslim Brotherhood is distancing itself from the U.S.," he said. "It is wishful thinking the State Department, the CIA and other agencies that they can count on the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally against the more extremist Islamists."