The announcement of President Mohamed Morsi’s visit to Iran was met with concern, but following a forty minute keynote speech at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit currently taking place in Tehran, a change in attitude is underway. This is the first time an Egyptian leader has visited Iran since 1979, after the latter cut ties with Egypt in the wake of the Camp David Accords.
Morsi used the speech as an opportunity to lash out at the Syrian regime, saying, “Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, as it is a political and strategic necessity.” His comments, which included a call for the Syrian opposition to band together, prompted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, to walk out. He later slammed Morsi’s speech, accusing him of “inciting bloodshed” in Syria.
Morsi’s statement about Syria also sent a clear message to his Iranian hosts who are closely aligned with the Assad regime. Some analysts have interpreted Morsi’s comments on Syria as a nod to the US, but it is far more likely a nod to the Middle East, particularly the Gulf, all of whom have interests in seeing Bashar al-Assad’s regime toppled. His statements on Syria have also earned him an avalanche of praise in Egypt. Iran was also quick to react, with local news sources modifying Morsi’s speech in their reports in some cases removing references to Syria, or simply replacing them with references to Bahrain.
In addition to speaking extensively about Syria, another key issue Morsi dedicated a significant amount of time to was the recognition of the state of Palestine, and the need for solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, likening it to that of Syria’s. Like the rest of his speech, rather than frame it in religious overtones, Morsi took a mainstream Arab approach. In fact, the entire speech, which included a reference to Egypt as a civil and democratic state, was devoid, save for a brief introduction, of any kind of religious rhetoric. Morsi also spoke about Middle Eastern nations’ pursuit of nuclear arms, and touched briefly on women’s rights.
Morsi’s speech was a careful balancing act. Speaking in Iran is an attempt on Morsi’s part to distance Egypt from Mubarak’s foreign policy, one tied closely to the US and Israel. At the same time, the direction of his speech and its content placed a similar distance between Egypt and Iran. It would appear that Morsi aims to establish Egypt’s independence, with a foreign policy that does not adhere to the constraints of any given country. Morsi’s unpredictability appears to be the only thing we can be sure of.
While some warned against idolizing Egypt’s new leader, or placing him on a pedestal, the Egyptian response to his speech has been overwhelmingly positive. It was welcomed by many activists and politicians in Egypt, with activist Asmaa Mahfouz calling on Egyptians to support the president, while both the Salafi Nour Party, and the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, are encouraging supporters to welcome Morsi at the airport. Former member of parliament, Amr Hamzawy, also praised Morsi’s rebuke of Syria’s Assad.
The full transcript of Morsi’s speech is available, in Arabic, here.
Watch the full speech (Arabic) below:
Photo Credit: AFP