I wrote yesterday for Asia Times that in Muslim politics such as the event of the summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference that was held in Jeddah last week over the Syrian crisis, it is invariably the case that the sub-texts turn out to be more important than the narrative.
The narrative in the present case is well-known; it is well-propagated by the Western (especially American) media and it inevitably trickles down to Indian discourses, namely, that the OIC summit in Jeddah was going to be all about the Saudi-Iranian ‘cold war’.
But the devil lies in the details. One point of immense curiosity was about the stance taken by Egypt’s president Mohammad Morsi (who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood) at the OIC summit. Three reasons could be cited for this. One, this was Morsi’s first appearance on the world stage and it became a poignant moment that an elected Islamist leader in a Middle Eastern democracy was taking to the OIC podium.
Two, Egypt had so far shied away from taking a stance on the Syrian situation and Egypt’s formal stance on the Syrian situation holds a lot of significance for the downstream developments, given the unmistakeable longing of that country to reclaim the leadership of the Arab world — in sum, Egypt could be an ally or a competitor for Saudi Arabia.
Third, Egypt’s Brothers are on the horns of a dilemma. They came to power riding the wave of a ‘regime change’ but they also would be conscious that the MB in Syria has certain unique characteristics, as its secretive dealings with the Western powers and Turkey (and some say, with even israeli intelligence) for creating a militia and resorting to the path of violence to force a ‘regime change’ in Damascus would testify. Egypt’s Brothers had, on the contrary, kept to the strait non-violent path in their march to power through the decades in the political wilderness.
Obviously, there is a keen struggle to sway the Brothers of Egypt. Thus, the stunning decision by Qatar to lend a handsome amount of 2 billion dollars to Egypt to help Morsi tide over the economic crisis was not because Doha has a bleeding heart.
Not a few observers could see that Qatar is creating leverage in Cairo at a juncture when the Saudi and American influence is facing uncertainties. Curiously, the Qatari lovefest with Egypt coincided with the OIC summit in Jeddah.
In the event, Morsi rose to the occasion. The narrative is that he 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 strategm 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. 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 Erdogan as its role model.
Indeed, we could anticipate that interesting times lie ahead as Egypt’s Brothers carry forward the impulses of their revolution. We are slowly, steadily getting near to an answer to the question raised in great angst by 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. Actually, that is also what his latest decision to attend the NAM summit in Tehran underscores.
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.
– August 18, 2012