President Mursi’s visit to Iran was a “masterstroke”. True, the decision to visit in itself was controversial due to the fact that Iran is the main and strongest supporter of the al-Assad regime, which is committing the most horrific crimes against its own people in Syria. Yet in the eyes of his critics Mursi’s move shifted from a controversial decision to an impressive one after his speech at the Non-Aligned Movement summit, his outright condemnation of the al-Assad regime, and his support for the Syrian revolution to overthrow it. This foreign affairs masterstroke could not have happened were it not for the domestic masterstroke that preceded Mursi’s travel to Tehran, whereby the Egyptian President redressed the balance of his presidency by gathering up any loose ends and sacking his fiercest and most dangerous rivals. This first domestic strike gave him the confidence to deliver the latter strike on the international stage. Iran had intended to hold a conference of those “non-aligned” with the major states, whilst President Mursi used the opportunity to emphasize that Egypt is not “aligned” with Iran, and now many of his former critics have opted to side with him in support.
By all accounts, Mursi’s rightful condemnation of the Syrian regime and his support for the people’s revolution to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is an indirect rebuke to Iran, which champions al-Assad’s injustice and supports him financially, militarily, internationally and in the media. Mursi drew a parallel between the suffering of the Palestinian and Syrian peoples, as a result of being suppressed by the Israeli and Syrian regimes respectively, and this was another masterstroke geared to evoke the Iranian revolution’s claim to support the disadvantaged and oppressed. As such it was not surprising to see confusion and embarrassment on the faces of the Iranian leadership because of Mursi’s surprising speech, and official translators became embroiled in a scandal by falsifying the words of a president and lying about what he said in broad daylight. During the speech they changed the word Syria to Bahrain and omitted Mursi’s references to the prophet’s companions. Indeed, these indirect sectarian exchanges resemble something of a cold war between Presidents Mursi and Ahmadinejad, for while the former praised all companions of the prophet, the later only praised “al-Muntajibin”, a select number of companions that are recognized under the Shiite doctrine and can be counted on one hand; a group that certainly does not include Abu Bakr, Omar or Othman, peace be upon them all.
In my estimation, Mursi wanted to direct a strong message through his explicit praise of the caliphs, mentioning them all by name and describing them as “our masters”. He could have avoided this Shiite minefield, especially as he was in Tehran, the Shiite stronghold, and under the hospitality of the doctrine’s custodians, but by offering prayers to all the ahl al-Bayt [companions and relatives of the prophet], and by focusing on the names of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, it was as if Mursi was giving a lecture on the virtues of the prophet’s companions rather than a political speech at the Non-Aligned Movement summit. The Egyptian president was sending a message to the Iranian leadership, namely that the Muslim Brotherhood’s discourse, which discourages confrontation with followers of the Shiite sect and seeks to work with them in partnership, regardless of sectarian differences, has been exploited by Iran’s leaders in a depraved manner. Tehran has sought to cause a rift in Egypt’s harmonious sectarian fabric by proselytizing Shiism and increasing the number of Shiites there, in order to serve as a vehicle for Iranian political influence. This has actually happened in a large number of Sunni countries around the world, but Mursi wanted to stress the stature of Egypt and its weight, not only politically but also in an Islamic sense, and to say that Egypt alongside Saudi Arabia have the honor of defending the Sunni world that Iran is trying to penetrate and dismantle regularly.
The question of supporting and strengthening this Egyptian position towards Iran remains the most important in this context. Ideological rivalries must be put to one side within the new Egyptian leadership to promote a strong Egyptian stance towards Tehran, increase Iran’s isolation, and pressure the Syrian regime and its Iranian ally, as argued by the British newspaper The Independent. This stance towards Tehran, coming from one of the key symbols of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, can serve to shake up the rest of the Brotherhood’s branches’ relations with Iran, especially Hamas. In short, the latest Egyptian position in Tehran is a golden opportunity to continue to exhaust Iranian influence in the Arab world, and then finish it off.