Egyptian president annoys US, Iran and Syria at summit

Aug 30, 2012
Louisa Loveluck

Mohamed Morsi supports Syrian rebels, but his presence in Tehran is also likely to anger the US


EGYPTIAN president Mohamed Morsi sparked a walk-out by the Syrian delegation at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement after saying that the uprising against Bashar al-Assad is a "revolution against an oppressive regime" and describing support for the rebels as an “ethical duty” as well as a “political and strategic necessity”.

After leading his diplomats out of the chamber in Tehran, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem accused Morsi of “incitement to continue shedding Syrian blood".

Bizarrely, Al-Muallem later denied the delegation had walked out on Morsi. The pro-Assad al-Mayadeen TV channel reported that they had left the room in order to conduct an interview.

The incident is a window into the delicate web of relationships that make up the Non-Aligned Movement. A ‘child’ of the Cold War, NAM was established in 1961 as a forum for nations declining to take sides with either the United States or the Soviet Union.

Morsi is in Tehran to hand over the rotating presidency to Iran for the 2012-15 period. His trip marks the first visit by an Egyptian leader to the Islamic republic since 1979. This has widely been interpreted as a softening of relations between the two countries, following over three decades of enmity.

Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation, says Egypt is obviously trying to reinvigorate "what had been moribund for a good portion of the Mubarak regime". But, he continues, "I don't think we should [overestimate] how far foreign policy will shift in the very near term.”

The BBC’s Jon Leyne also does not believe there is likely to be "a new 'Islamic axis' between the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Egypt and the Islamic Republic of Iran" any time soon.

He sees Morsi's comments as a clear message that Egypt intends to have a "new, independent and assertive foreign policy". He explains: "The new Egyptian leader has defied Washington, by going to Tehran for the Non-Aligned summit. Now he has angered the Iranian government by criticising their allies, the Syrian regime."

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