Thursday, August 30, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Iran, hosting the non-aligned conference this week in Tehran, launched a strenuous effort to get Mohamed Mursi, the new Egyptian president, to attend.  They were successful and really, really happy. 

Mursi, on the other hand, revealed a level of independence that no one – NO ONE – anticipated as he condemned the Syrian government and urged the Syrian rebels to unify and turn out President Assad.  No doubt somewhat shocked, the Syrian delegation walked out.  More importantly, the Iranian government likely had a collective heart attack as Mursi, a conservative from the Muslim Brotherhood (feared and loathed by the Americans and Israelis) basically told Iran that he supported the rebels whom the West want to see take down Assad, putting him on the same side as Turkey, Western Europe and the US and against Russia, Iran and the current Syrian government. I leave China out because their veto of the UN resolutions, where they joined Russia, were  based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country (not liking the idea that it could be applied to them) rather than the vaporization of an ally and major arms purchaser.  
As if to rub salt into the wound, Mursi then went on to compare the rebel cause in Syria to the plight of the Palestinians.  Just to be clear – the Palestinian cause is sacred to Egypt and a frequent, convenient rallying point for Iranian propaganda.  Mursi has effectively put Iran in the shoes of Israel vis a vis the Syrian rebels. Sting much? 
This speech is clearly not what Iran wanted and ups their cost as they will now have to deal with an increasingly annoyed Turkish government, the vast wealth of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and now a moral opponent in the leading Arab state of Egypt supposedly being run by one of their own. This is clearly not the optimum outcome from the point of view of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor will Hezbollah be celebrating in the streets of Beirut.  Hezbollah leadership is likely re-calibrating everything at this point.
Multiple  factors seem to be in play. Aside from the fact that President Mursi is a creation of the Egyptian revolution and likely feels a good deal of sympathy for the similar revolt in Syria which began peacefully and was met by violent responses from the Assad family,  Mursi is Sunni in a largely Sunni country.  Turkey is Sunni as well.  The Sunni minority in Iraq has been sidelined from power, with the Sunni Vice President forced to flee to Istanbul.  Iran has the upper hand in Iraq (thanks Bush Jr.) and Egypt wants Western, Qatari and Saudi money and investment.  Qatar and Saudi Arabia are, like Egypt and Syria, Arab.  Iran is decidedly not Arab or Sunni and, to make matters worse is flexing its muscle in the direction of the Gulf Arab states.
So, now the game becomes more complex.  Moscow is sweating and Iran is probably not in the best of moods.  An interesting sidelight to this is the American displeasure that the non-aligned movement held its conference in Tehran.  They actively tried to convince the UN Secretary General not to attend (any place, except Iran).  The Republican Party railed against the meeting and the UN – largely because they prefer killing to peace - and thought a dictator like Hosni Mubarak was their kinda guy.  Who’s laughing now?
Assad said the army was “cleansing” society and needed some time to finish the job.  Not the best choice of words.  Once ground-to-air missiles and some anti-armour weapons begin to make their impact through the largess of Qatar and the Saudi’s, Moscow should start to fixture a nice dacha for him.

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