The Egyptian President’s Brilliant Move

September 1, 2012

by Avi Melamed

Many people in the Arab world didn’t understand why Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi went to Iran to participate in the Non-Alignment Meeting (NAM).

The Arab world loathes the Iranian regime which:  supports Assad as he butchers Syrian citizens; dominates large portions of Iraq and Lebanon through proxies; is involved in espionage and terror activity throughout the Arab world, including in Egypt; and threatens its neighbors, the Arab Gulf States.

It is no wonder then, that Morsi’s move was criticized by different factors in the Arab world.

Yet, Morsi knew exactly what he was doing.  

He went to Iran for one purpose.  To position himself and Egypt as the leader of Sunni Arabs who challenges and confront the Shiite Iranian regime.

The Iranian spiritual leader mentioned in his speech the prophet Mohammad. Morsi obviously mentioned Mohammad as well, but he also mentioned the names of the first Caliphs who ruled the Muslim empire after Mohammad, who are deeply admired in Sunni Islam, yet loathed by Shiite Islam.  Mentioning these figures in this setting was Morsi’s way of wining political points among Sunni Muslims.

Morsi’s speech in Iran was a brazen act of defiance meant to embarrass the Iranian regime.

In his speech, Iran’s spiritual leader denied the Holocaust, described Israel as a tumor” and vowed to wipe Israel off the map.  Given the presence of the United Nation’s Secretary General in the room, Morsi was wise enough not to say anything of that ilk, thus gaining credit within the international community.

Iran’s spiritual leader urged the audience and the Arab world to fervently support the Assad regime.  Morsi openly declared that Assad’s government had lost its legitimacy.  That stance, of course, gained Morsi credit among the Muslim and Arab world as well as in the court of world-wide public opinion. That statement also caused the Syrian delegation to leave the conference hall.  At this dramatic moment, Iranian TV cut the live-stream of Morsi’s speech and went to a commercial.

The Iranian regime is known to be sophisticated. This time, they made a serious political mistake. Morsi’s visit to Iran was viewed by the Iranian regime as great achievement. But they totally misread Morsi’s move. Blindsided by the visit, eager to gain legitimacy and to be recognized as a leading factor in the region, the Iranian regime gave Egypt’s President a golden opportunity to harvest political dividends both in the Muslim and Arab world as well as among the international community at the expense of the Iranian regime itself.

And Morsi very skillfully maximized the opportunity.

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