Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi shakes hands with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, Aug. 30, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout)

Parsing Morsi's Speech in Iran: A Tightrope Walk for US' Sake?

Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted September 9, 2012

The enthusiasm that was born in the "square" has fizzed among political movements. It is hiding behind a flood of concerns regarding the "great revolutions" that Arabs have recently witnessed in a variety of countries, each promising a better tomorrow. These concerns come following a dark period of tyranny in which these countries have been systematically looted of their wealth and become subject to the will of "foreign powers." This foreign influence has been camouflaged, motivated at times by a need for aid and expertise. While at other times they have been bullied into alliances to save them from "Brotherhood enemies," under the pretext of a need for protection.

SummaryPrint Morsi’s speech during his recent visit to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Iran revealed a potential willingness to cooperate with the Islamic Republic, but he made sure he didn't upset Egypt’s US patrons. Talal Salman writes that this visit left him in a precarious position, and asks if a visit to Washington might make up some lost political capital.
Author Talal Salman Posted September 9, 2012
Translator(s)Tyler Huffman

Following the recent decisions of the Egyptian president — which many viewed as beginning in a "new era" — fear has increased in the domestic and Arab spheres. The majority feel that these decisions are far removed from the slogans and goals of the revolution, whose supporters expected would usher in a new dawn of democracy and national strength. Thus, Egypt has returned to its leadership role, which no other Arab state was able to assume during its absence. This absence pleased those who feared the revolutions in their own countries. These people called for foreign protection and fully supported international influence — including that of the US administration and of course Israel — under the pretext that the Arab-Israeli conflict had come to an end. In their view, the era of revolutions was a thing of the past and it is now time to enjoy life under the Pax Americana. The "new Middle East" has finally arrived!

Arabs outside of Egypt met these changes — which affected the central authorities and those around them — with surprise that quickly turned into total shock. Particularly given that these recent changes, on the whole, carried all the hallmarks of the Muslim Brotherhood — confirming the partisan nature of the presidency. President Mohammed Morsi won the elections, not the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. In fact, Morsi failed to gain the necessary votes in the first round of the election as a result of his partisan slogans. Yet during the second round, there was an assumption that the "popular front" had gained the support of adversaries of the "old regime," with the understanding that they would restructure central power in a populist manner. It was assumed that various opposition parties — carrying slogans against the oppression of the past — would all be represented in the new government.

The turmoil that came to characterize revolutionary powers has certainly grown, and has become a source of concern threatening the dream of democratic change and Egypt's return to a leadership role in the Arab world. In particular, appointments to leadership positions have all been given to those outside of this assumed "national front." If we focus on the distribution of positions in the presidential palace — as well as those close to the president, the prime minister and military leadership — we see that the majority of these figures are those influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood or its politics.

The Brotherhood's control of the Ministry of Information and "national newspapers" — as well as their "veiling" of state-owned television — all suggest the prevailing Brotherhood influence on all aspects of political power. There is a widespread fear that the government is adopting a policy of "one-party rule," or a single political orientation, across the entire country.

What has raised even more concern is the presidency's approach on the wider Arab level, primarily related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the future of the Palestinian people regarding their rights to land and their own state. There are also concerns regarding Egypt's relations with other Arab countries. Egypt is a main player in general Arab affairs, not merely a external party.

The Egyptian presidency has also demonstrated clear irresponsibility when it come to "understandings" with the US administration. They have abided by the almost exact same policies of the old regime when it comes to Arab affairs, including their stance on the peace treaty with the Israeli enemy. There have been reports of direct communication between the "new regime" and Israeli leadership, reassuring them that Egypt will continue to supply fuel and gas —something they receive for less than half of the standard price. Furthermore, a new ambassador has been sent to Israel, so that Israel is not offended by an "absence" in their embassy in Tel Aviv.

Moreover, many observers were surprised by Morsi's eagerness to choose Saudi Arabia for his first official visit, especially given the fact that his trip ended without any calls for the "gilded kingdom" to provide aid to the Egyptian economy. The economy is suffering from the legacy of an era of tyranny, including squandering, bribes to influence groups of agents and looters, and those who exploit their ties to former President Hosni Mubarak's family, his advisers and his associates. These exploiters are only efficient when it comes theft and inventing fictitious projects, as well as seizing state-owned land to build tourist resorts that generate wealth.

Morsi's visit to Tehran to hand over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement to Iran caused much concern regarding the political orientation of the new regime.

Morsi intended to make this a very short visit, and it had been announced previously that he would stay in Tehran no more than five hours. He was stopping in Tehran on the way back from an official visit to China, accompanied by a number of businessmen who were big figures in the former regime.

Furthermore, Morsi purposefully avoided meeting with the guide of the Iranian Revolution [Ali Khamenei], who is the supreme authority in Iran. The content of Morsi's speech presented Egypt as a state in confrontation with Iran — in terms of religious doctrine — and he acted as though he were a leader in the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood standing up to "extremist Shiism." He tried to embarrass Iran by exploiting their claims that they are working for the unity of all Muslims.

However, the pleasant surprise contained in Morsi's carefully written speech was that he dared to mention the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. This was the first time he has mentioned Nasser since assuming the presidency, and he praised Nasser's role in founding the Non-Aligned Movement, which played a historic role in a crucial period for international relations. In contrast, immediately after he was elected president, Morsi went to Tahrir Square —which was not affiliated with the Brotherhood during the revolution — to announce the Muslim Brotherhood's victory over Nasser, who departed from this world 42 years ago. Morsi noted: "You have no idea how difficult the '60s were" [referring to the government's persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood]. Furthermore, the 1960s saw a rise in the Non-Aligned Movement's role in international politics, and Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Jozip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia) and Nasser — all now deceased — were the three leaders able to make an actual impact on international politics. 

Yet given this, it was only a few weeks later that Morsi accepted an invitation from the Saudi King, Abudllah bin Abdul Aziz, to attend a conference focused on dialogue between various Islamic sects. The dialogue was aimed at confronting "radical Sunni Islam," which has spread alongside a growth in fundamentalist movements. Although al-Qaeda is the most prominent of these groups, they are not the only one. Furthermore, the dialogue was also meant to challenge "extremist Shiism" wherever it exists.

Morsi was blistering in his attack on the Syrian regime, whose mistakes no reasonable person can deny. These mistakes have transformed the opposition — which originally criticized the authorities' negligence to reform and accused them of going against popular will — into an uprising calling for the downfall of the regime.

Yet Morsi, who has announced an initiative in partnership with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, to try to save Syria from the risk of slipping into a devastating civil war, has benefited from his pulpit in Tehran. He used this position to launch an Egyptian attack on the Syria regime which hurts Iran first and foremost, and does not advance his own initiative as a viable [option] to address the public tragedy facing the Syrian people and state.

Needless to say, many Arab and international powers strive to employ the same logic as Morsi to transform the confrontation between the regime and the public into a war under the slogan of "the Shiite Crescent." This is a phrase that was first uttered by the Jordanian King, Abdullah II bin al-Hussein, in a declaration calling on the "Sunni states" of the region to take a stance against this heretical "crescent," paving the way for a devastating sectarian war between Muslims of varying countries. This is particularly worrying given that the war could extend across the entire Levant.

It is obvious that Morsi carefully considered each word of his speech in Tehran, for he knows that there are those in Washington — in addition to Tel Aviv and the Gulf countries, headed by the Saudis — who could hold him responsible for what he says. Perhaps he chose to speak out about the explosive situation in Syria as a means of embarrassing his Iranian hosts. By revealing the wide gap between Iranian and Egyptian policies, it would prevent the two countries from re-establishing normal relations. However, when Egypt offered to cooperate with the "Islamic Republic," it demonstrated Cairo's constant eagerness [to maintain good relations]. This proved that there was no animosity between the two states that would prevent them from renewing friendly relations; relations that would not only benefit Iran and Egypt, but would also benefit other Arabs and Muslims.

Official statements — or rather statements implicitly linked to the the Egyptian presidency — revealed that when Morsi was speaking in Tehran he was mindful of the Gulf nations, Washington and the central authorities in these countries. He wanted to make sure that he received sufficient reassurance that he had passed this "difficult test." His speech will ruin chances for improved future relations between these two poles of the Islamic world. [However, perhaps Morsi is taking the approach that] "God forgives those who are good."

The actions of the Egyptian president in Iran confirm his commitment not to upset Washington or to raise concern in Israel. They also demonstrate his desire to gain the "sympathy" of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, something that "excuses" him for mentioning Nasser. The latter was a primary political enemy of the Iranian shah and his policies, which were linked to the interests of Washington’s leadership and culminated in multiple treaties to confront various liberation movements, with Nasser being one of these movements’ most prominent leaders.

Because of these statements in Iran, Morsi has been praised for his "good behavior" by Washington, Israeli leaders and Gulf officials. Perhaps he is hoping to take advantage of this praise during his planned visit this month to Washington. During this visit he is planning to stop in New York to participate in meetings held by the UN General Assembly.

The price he will pay for visiting Iran — albeit for legitimate reasons — is high.

Will a visit to Washington make up for the lost profit that he could have achieved from his "Iranian transit," had he taken the position many assumed that he would? They expected him to liberate "revolutionary Egypt" from various forms of American political dependence, including — or rather led by  the preservation of Sadat's policies regarding the Israeli enemy.

Let us hope that these practices will become "necessary" components of the transitional phase, before Egyptian institutions are built on a democratic basis. Some day this process will be completed, and Egypt will be reunited with its revolutionary spirit that ignited the "square" and imposed change. Egyptians cannot let this change die out, they cannot let the current changes go against the will of those who went down to the "square" to demand change.
 

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/08/from-mecca-to-washington-through.html

Published Beirut, Lebanon Established 1974
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