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What to do about Muhammad Mursi?

This is the question that Iran’s Khomeinist rulers are facing with increasing puzzlement.

Even before Mursi had been elected president, the Tehran media started beating the drums about him as a “true follower of the Imam” who would bring Egypt into the so-called “Resistance Front” led by Iran.

Mursi was supposed to tear up the Camp David accords and shut the US Embassy in Cairo as “a den of spies.”

Less sanguine elements in Tehran, however, knew that Mursi would attempt no such things.

Last month the man who heads Iran‘s “interests section” in Cairo tried to obtain a meeting with Mursi. He wanted Mursi to send a message to a gathering in Tehran labelled “Islamic Awakening” and designed to show that the “Arab Spring” was inspired by Khamenei’s “heroic leadership.”

When Mursi declined to receive the Khomeinist emissary, Tehran fabricated an interview in which Mursi showered praise on Khamenei and promised to restore ties with the Islamic Republic.

Mursi denied giving the interview, and the Tehran media shifted attention to another topic. This time Tehran wanted Mursi not to devote his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia.

When Mursi did visit Saudi Arabia, Tehran tried to play down the event.

Khamenei’s newspaper, Kayhan, mentioned the visit in a small item in the inside pages. The state-owned radio and television ran a 10-second report in late night bulletins.

Next, Tehran made another attempt at presenting Mursi as “a soldier of the Imam”. This time, the initiative came not from Khamenei’s faction but from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s clan.

Using the summit of non-aligned nations that is scheduled to take place in Tehran as a pretext, Ahmadinejad dispatched his Special Advisor to present an invitation to Mursi.

The subtext was that diplomatic ties, severed in 1979, would be restored before Mursi visits Tehran in September.

However, that move is not in Mursi’s gift. It was Tehran that severed ties with Cairo, and the initiative for resuming relations should also come from the Iranian side.

That is not as a simple as it sounds. Relations with Egypt were severed on the orders of Ruhollah Khomeini, the mullah who created the regime in Tehran. Khomeini issued a fatwa decreeing that ties not be restored unless Egypt renounces the Camp David accords.

In other words, the Islamic Republic demands control over a major aspect of Egyptian foreign policy. Obviously, Mursi, or any other Egyptian leader, cannot concede such control. The only way out of the impasse is for Tehran to cancel Khomeini’s fatwa.

Such a move, however, would open an even bigger can of worms. As an ideology, Khomeinism is based on the myth of the late ayatollah’s infallibility. To admit that Khomeini might have made a mistake, and that his fatwas could be overruled, would deal a major blow to the structure of Tehran’s official ideology.

If that happens one could also challenge the claim that Khomeini designated Khamenei as successor. With a click, the use of citations from the late ayatollah as justification for anything and everything would be put to question. The phrase “as the Imam said…” could no longer be used against adversaries.

Cancelling the fatwa would also mean that making peace with Israel is no longer regarded as “a red line”.

There are other reasons for Tehran’s disillusionment with Mursi. He has made it clear that Egypt is joining Arab states supporting the Syrian people against President Bashar al-Assad.

Tehran, however, presents al-Assad as a “hero of true Islam” and his opponents as “agents of Zionism and the American Great Satan.”

Tehran is also annoyed that Mursi has not acted as “a true revolutionary” by ordering mass arrests and executions as Khomeini did.

In an editorial, Kayhan takes Mursi to task for “failure to purify Egypt.”

“One of the biggest errors of the Muslim Brotherhood, the bitter consequences of which they will soon face, is allowing the agents of the former regime to remain present and even to occupy sensitive positions in the military and the administration,” the editorial says. “And, yet, we had expected that the Brotherhood would cleanse the revolutionary country from these elements of corruption and branded agents of America and Israel.”

The editorial continues: “The people of Egypt donned shrouds and marched to demand the ruthless and uncompromising purge of all elements of the former regime as the first task of their chosen President.”

Rejecting power sharing with the military, the editorial urges Mursi not to tolerate the presence of former regime elements “in any form or shape”.

It then warns Mursi not to allow the emergence of “balloon like oppositions made and promoted by America and Israel”.

In a revolutionary system, like that of Iran, there is no place for opposition.

Signed by Hussein Shariatmadari, who is reputed to reflect Khamenei’s thinking, the editorial invites Mursi to do in Egypt what Khomeini did in Iran in 1979-83.

In those years, Khomeini executed over 100,000 and purged an estimated 300,000 people in the civil service, the military and the public sector of the economy. He closed all universities and threw out over 6,000 professors and 22,000 students. The late mullah nationalised all banks, insurance companies, major industrial concerns and transport companies. His ‘Imam Committees’ seized the properties of 750,000 people and forced millions into exile. His special forces slaughtered ethnic minorities, notably the Kurds and the Turkmen, and prepared for war against neighbours.

According to Khamenei, that was “the real revolution”.

However, Khamenei ignores one difference between Khomeini and Mursi. The ayatollah seized power by terror. No one voted for him. Mursi, on the other hand, owes his position to Egyptian voters who gave it to him and could take it back in the next election.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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