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MENAFN - Arab News - 03/09/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) THREE observations emerged prominently from the Non-Aligned summit in Tehran last week. The first was the absence of Syria during the two speeches of Iranian religious leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The second was that Saudi Arabia, which was represented in the summit by Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, chose to focus in its speech on the Palestinian cause instead of the Syrian crisis.

The third observation was the bomb exploded by Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi when he, for the first time, had publicly stated his country's official attitude vis--vis the Syrian revolution. He called for supporting the struggle of the Syrian people against a repressive regime that had lost its legitimacy. With this announcement, Mursi put Egypt against Iran. He dashed the hopes of Iran that the summit it was hosting and at which it was receiving the first Egyptian president after a boycott of more than 30 years would be an occasion to neutralize Egypt's role regarding the ongoing incidents in Syria. Iran was hoping to use Egypt's neutrality as an additional pressure paper in favor of the Syrian regime with which it was allying and which it was supporting against the popular revolution that is close to completing its second year.

Why did Khamenei and Ahmadinejad choose not to refer to the Syrian issue in their speeches if it was the most important and most serious issue to them after the nuclear one ? The reason may be that they did not want to clash with Saudi Arabia and Egypt on this sensitive issue to avoid poisoning the atmosphere of the summit. There is another possibility. The Saudi attitude regarding Syria was known and declared more than a year ago. It exactly contradicts the Iranian stand. For this reason, Riyadh might have chosen not to mention the Syrian issue in its speech. It is a possibility that the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran not to mention the Syrian issue was a result of an understanding between them during the Islamic summit in Makkah about two weeks ago attended by President Ahmadinejad, who was accorded a warm welcome by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. It is also not a distant possibility that Riyadh opted not to mention the Syrian issue so as to appease Tehran and reassure it that the Saudi attitude regarding the Syrian regime is not against Iran. In all cases, the Iranian and Saudi stances regarding the Syrian regime remain as they were without any change.

We can say that the Egyptian stance regarding the Syrian revolution since Mursi had won the elections about two months ago was inherently known but not officially announced. Maybe Khamenei and Ahmadinejad did not want to anticipate things and preferred to wait to listen to what Mursi would say in his speech and how he would determine Egypt's attitude regarding the issue at the summit. Had Khamenei and Ahmadinejad expected that Mursi would not mention Syria out of consideration for Iran, which was hosting the summit? Had they expected that Mursi would read the signal from their speeches and respond to it by not mentioning the Syrian revolution or at least present a lower-tone stance that would be more inclined to identify with the Iranian attitude? This is also not a far cry. After Mursi said what he had said, both the Iranian religious leader and the president were exasperated by the fact that the summit was the forum from which Egypt announced its official stance in solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against a regime, "which had lost its legitimacy", as President Mursi said. This attitude is in flagrant contrast to the Iranian attitude. The Iranian exasperation showed itself explicitly in the deliberate distortion of the interpretation of Mursi's speech by the translator of the official Iranian TV.

In fact, I did not believe this when I first heard about it, because it was a kind of forgery close to madness. However, it was ascertained to me when I listened to a documented report by Al-Jazeera TV channel on which I am depending here. The report made it clear that the interpreter had deliberately distorted Mursi's speech. Syria in Mursi's speech became Bahrain. When Mursi said, "The Palestinian and the Syrian people are struggling for freedom, justice and dignity", the Iranians heard this on their official TV as "The Palestinian and the Bahraini people are struggling for freedom". When Mursi recalled the Arab revolutions in chronological order from Tunisia to Egypt passing through Yemen, Libya and then Syria, the translator substituted Syria with Bahrain. The distortion reached the point of madness when Mursi's statement, "We are in solidarity with the Syrian people against injustice and oppression" was heard by the Iranian TV viewers as, "We are in solidarity with the Syrian people in the conspiracy against their country". When the Egyptian president confirmed that, "The unity of the Syrian opposition is a necessity", the Iranian interpreter, instead, said, "The existence of the Syrian regime, which is enjoying a large public support." I do not think that the Syrian media, despite all its weaknesses, would reach this limit of vulgar effrontery.

Why had Mursi chosen to explode his bomb in this way? The fact of the matter is that the political steps Mursi has adopted since he became president reveal, at least until now, a coherent, balanced and daring political line. The basic pillar of this line is the openness of Egypt after the revolution to all in a manner that would best preserve Egypt's numerous interests as a big country while at the same time ensure the independence of its political decisions. This openness will also provide Egypt with a large space for taking the initiatives in more than one direction. Mursi's foreign visits clearly unveil Egypt's new political attitudes. Why did Mursi opt to make Saudi Arabia the first leg of his foreign visits? It is not at all because of Egypt's need for economic assistance from Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries, as the Egyptian media said. The reason is rather that Saudi Arabia is the only big Arab country neighboring Egypt that enjoys deep-rooted political stability.

It is in the interest of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, at this turbulent stage, to coordinate between themselves as the two biggest Arab countries to control the political and social consequences of this phase. Egypt considers the Arab Gulf region, with its location and vast energy storage, a vital area for its security and stability. Since the time of President Gamal Abdel Nasser to Hosni Mubarak in the first republic, Egypt was suffering from Iraq's attempts - an Arab country - to impose its hegemony on the region. As Abdel Nasser had sent his forces to Kuwait in 1963 to repel the forces of Abdul Karim Qasim, Hosni Mubarak sent his forces in 1990 to Saudi Arabia to confront Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.

Currently, Egypt's second republic, like Saudi Arabia, is facing the challenge of Iran's influence, which moved to Iraq after the departure of the US forces. Iraq is the gate to the Gulf and also extends to the Levant region, which is bordering Egypt from the northeast.
For this reason, Mursi went to Tehran after visiting Riyadh and Beijing. He will travel to Washington next month. These are moves in all directions by a president who wants to relocate his country on the regional and international map, putting Egypt's Arab and Islamic interests first and its African and Asian interests second. Out of this consideration, the Egyptian president had no other option but to say what he has said at the Non-Aligned summit.

Egypt cannot, after the revolution, regain its central role in the region without supporting the Syrian people. Any attitude less than this will put it in line with the Iranian attitude. Mursi believes that betting on the Syrian regime, especially on President Bashar Assad, will be a complete loss at the end of the day. This regime has, as Mursi said, by its bloody and brutal treatment of its people, lost its domestic, regional and international legitimacy. In fact, Egypt's direct collision with Iran on the Syrian revolution hides a deeper rift.
Egypt, with the Arab Spring countries, has opened a new horizon based on the concept of civil state and the values of freedom and political participation, while Iran, with its current political system, is an example of the old horizon hostile to freedom and based on the Shiite concept of "Wilayat Al-Fakeeh" (right of the Islamic scholars to rule) and on religious sectarianism.

Contrary to Iran, Egypt is concerned with the alliance of countries. It wants to contribute to redrawing the map of the region through alliances with various countries in the region and with the world at large. Iran is still strongly sticking to the concept of alliances of minorities in the region on which its foreign policies are based. Iran's alliance with the Syrian regime is in fact an alliance with a family belonging to a minority in Syria that considers ruling the country a God-given right. This is, in fact, part of a wider alliance extending from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The sectarian and political differences between Egypt and the rest of the Arab countries on the one hand and with Iran on the other become visible here. What is required in this case is to help Iran get out of its religious sectarianism to the broader Arab and Islamic perspective. Egypt alone could not play such a role if it did not support the revolution of Syrian people with all its sects to regain their rights in the political process. If Mursi had taken a weaker attitude than the one he announced in Tehran, this would have put him in conflict with his own people and with most of the Arab countries and Turkey. He also would have impoverished Egypt's ties with Syria after Assad. This would cause Egypt to lose the leading role it is looking for in the region.

In a nutshell, we can safely say that Mursi's attitude in Tehran was for the future of Egypt and that of the region, not for its past.


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