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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Some surprises in Iran today.



Interesting events today, largely drowned out in the US press thanks to the hue and cry over the Republican national convention.

Egyptian President Morsi was in Tehran for a meeting of the Non-aligned Movement. This is the first time that an Egyptian president has visited Iran since the expulsion of the Shah in 1979. This, in and of itself, is certainly worth more than a passing mention, but what really makes it interesting are Morsi’s comments towards the NAM, and not so subtly towards Iran. He made a plea to the non-aligned nations of the world to support the Syrian revolution.

This is no small thing.

The fact that the Egyptian government would make such an unambiguous statement, and do so from within Iran makes it clear that the times they are changing. Egypt, let us remember, is the most populous nation in the Middle East, and just a few decades ago they were the country that the rest of the Arab world looked to for leadership and inspiration. (great piece on Nasser and the NAM over here)  

Power dynamics in the Middle East have continuously shifted since the high water mark of Nasserism - first towards Iraq and Iran, followed by more subtle recent shifts towards Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Today Egypt flexed.

That itself would have been notable enough, but it came on the heels of another underreported item that also took place at the NAM meetings in Iran today: Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the the UN, told supreme leader that Iran needs to seriously revise how it talks about Israel and how it handles human rights.

Iran’s hosting of the NAM was supposed to be a bit of a feather in their cap, but it looks to have badly backfired. (Amusing bit of mustaschadenfreude - note how badly Tom Friedman misread this whole situation)

Ayatollah Kameni has been letting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad play the “bad cop” role for several years now, serving as a useful foil against the bombast and bellicosity of America's previous president, but that old game hasn't been earning Iran a whole lot of points in the Muslim world anymore, and the only reason they haven't shifted sooner is (I believe) that the Ayatollah himself is not an overly creative leader. He develops a plan and he sticks with it, but he doesn't innovate.

Ultimately, the Ayatollah always plays it safe. If cutting Bashar Assad loose seems like the best long-term solution, you can be sure that it will happen. Maybe today's events will move that outcome little closer.