Flynt appeared on Scott Horton’s radio program last week. The interview focused on the ways in which American animus toward the Islamic Republic is driving, to a large extent, the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria; to access the audio, click here. The discussion ranges beyond Syria to consider how Washington’s ongoing attachment to the goal of hegemony in the Middle East warps American policymakers’ understanding of regional realities and, by extension, their strategic and tactical calculations. It also takes up the dangerous consequences of Washington’s repeated cooperation with Saudi Arabia to support salafi—or, more precisely, takfeeri—militias, as is currently transpiring in Syria, along with the rising risk of more fulsome (and ultimately ill-fated) U.S. intervention in Syria after the U.S. presidential election in November, whether under a reelected President Obama or a new Romney administration.
As the conflict in Syria continues, we were struck by two recent actions undertaken by Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi. First, at the emergency summit meeting on Syria convened by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Mecca last week, Morsi gave what we believe could turn out to be a very important statement about the direction of post-Mubarak Egyptian foreign policy.
Just prior to the start of the OIC summit, the Emir of Qatar had traveled to Cairo to meet with Morsi and, according to various media reports, put $2 billion in economic assistance on the table, presumably to create leverage over Egypt’s position going into the meeting. Against this backstory, Morsi’s speech in Mecca is all the more impressive.
Western media coverage tended to focus on Morsi’s statement that “it was time for the Syrian regime to leave”—presumably just what Qatar and Saudi Arabia would want to hear. But what really stood out was his call for the creation of a regional contact group on Syria, to include the Islamic Republic of Iran along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar offered a sharply incisive take on Morsi’s speech, see here. Bhadrakumar’s analysis bears reading in its entirety, but we want to highlight the following passages:
“The narrative is that [Morsi] called for a transition in Egypt. ‘It is time for the Syrian regime to leave,’ he said. So far so good. The Western media lapped it up. But then came the sub-texts. Morsi called for a non-violent path. In immediate terms, he sought a ceasefire through Ramadan. Besides, he wanted an Islamic solution.
Then came the bombshell. Morsi proposed that a contact group should be formed to resolve the Syrian crisis through peaceful means, discussion and reconciliation. And, pray, who would form this group? Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Iran—he outlined.
In a nutshell, Morsi has rejected the stratagem for ‘regime change’ in Syria by the United States in alliance with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (with Israel standing in the shade for undertaking covert operations). Most important, Morsi’s package is almost exactly what Iran espouses, too. No wonder, Tehran feels greatly elated. In contrast with the deafening silence in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha, Tehran has scrambled to welcome Morsi’s proposal.”
As if this were not enough, Morsi’s office followed up with a second diplomatic “bombshell”: formal confirmation that Morsi will travel to Tehran at the end of August to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Next week, in fact, Morsi will travel to China before going on to Iran.
Think about that: Egypt’s new president will travel to China and Iran before he comes to the White House. This further highlights Washington’s growing marginalization to constructively addressing a growing number of Middle Eastern challenges. Morsi’s call for a contact group on Syria was noteworthy not just for who was included—the Islamic Republic—but also for who was left out—the United States. Morsi’s itinerary next week draws a line under the point.
Morsi’s upcoming visit to Tehran—where he will almost certainly be received by both President Ahmadinejad and by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei—also marks an important step forward in the ongoing improvement of Egyptian-Iranian relations. A truly obtuse analysis published by the Associated Press, see here, holds that the conflict in Syria has reversed the “surge” in Shi’a power in the Middle East, “based on the central alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, with close relations to Shiites who took power in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.” As a result, “the region’s Sunni-led powers are appearing more confident, encouraged by the prospect that the Sunni-led rebellion could bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, dominated by members of the Shiite offshoot sect of Alawites.” It is in this context, supposedly, that the announcement of Morsi’s visit to Tehran “likely reflects the growing confidence that Iran’s status is damaged and that Sunni Arab nations can steer the agenda.” We find Bhadrakumar much closer to reality:
“Saudis will feel perturbed that Cairo is careering away into the trajectory of an independent foreign policy that may have more commonality with Tehran than the course adopted by the GCC states. Turkey will feel downcast that the new Egypt is not exactly in a mood to adopt the so-called Islamist leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as its role model…We are slowly, steadily getting near to an answer to the question raised in great angst in several quarters (Washington, Tel Aviv, Riyadh): Will the new Egypt orient toward Saudi Arabia or Tehran?
The answer is crystallizing: Morsi intends to follow the middle path…So, it is about time we move on to the follow-up question: Whom does Morsi’s (and Egypt’s Brothers’) middle path suit better—Saudi Arabia or Iran? I won’t wager for an answer. It’s Iran, Stupid! All that Tehran ever expected in its regional (Arab) milieu all through these past 34 years since the Islamic Revolution was a level playing field. And Egypt is willing to recognize, finally, that it is a legitimate aspiration to have.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett