All indications are that Egypt’s return to the forefront of the Non-Aligned Movement will be the big news this week from the summit meeting at Tehran. The summit’s focus can be expected on three main West Asian issues — Syrian crisis, Iran nuclear issue and the blossoming of the Egypt-Iran relationship.
Tehran is obviously thrilled that Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi is taking part in the summit. Morsi has accepted the invitation to visit Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. The symbolic value of the gesture cannot be underestimated. Simply put, Egypt is underscoring its support for Iran’s right to pursue its peaceful nuclear program. The phalanx of Arab opposition to Iran, which the United States tenaciously built up over the years, lies in ruins. The mood in Iran can be gauged from the statement by a senior politician that Iran is keen to have nuclear cooperation with Egypt.
Cairo is also going halfway to meet Iran’s goodwill. Morsi first repeated at the OIC summit in Jeddah a week ago that Egypt would like to work with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to find a solution to the Syrian crisis. Cairo has now fleshed out the idea and proposes to present it at the NAM summit. Tehran has already welcomed the idea, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey are hard-pressed to respond. Turkey, in particular, is pressing ahead with the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria even without a mandate from the UN, as was done in the early 1990s over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
It clearly shows that Turkey is pitching for Western intervention and won’t be interested in the Egyptian proposal except for any tactical purposes. The (re)entry of Egypt on the frontline of Arab/Middle East politics won’t be liked by Turkey, which has been harboring neo-Ottoman dreams of reclaiming the leadership of Muslim Middle East (while being the West’s trusted partner). Quite obviously, Morsi has pricked Turkish PM Recep Erdogan’s hopes of being the rock star of the Arab street.
The best outcome of the NAM summit would be if it helps checkmate any US plans to start a war with Iran. Indeed, Iran will use the summit to muster optimal support for its stance on the nuclear issue. On balance, it becomes highly problematic for the US to mount an attack on Iran during the 3-year period when it occupies the chairmanship of the NAM. the best spin one can give would be that President Barack Obama is quietly pleased at the prospect.
In the final reckoning, the NAM summit augurs a new chapter in the Middle Eastern politics. The relations between Iran and Egypt nosedived after Cairo gave asylum to the Shah and made peace with Israel in 1978. Egypt and Iran are restoring their ties and it becomes a defining point in the geopolitics of the region. The Saudi policies are at a crossroads. This explains the continuing tirade in the Saudi establishment press against the Arab Spring and Egypt’s Brothers.
To my mind, a little-noticed sideshow implies that Tehran intends to be a ‘responsible’ NAM chairman who would steer the ship without theatrics or controversies. Paradoxically, the NAM chairmanship also puts restraints on Iran, whether one likes it or not. Equally, Iran is acutely conscious that a great opportunity to showcase its leadership on the world stage is at hand and it should not be wasted. Thus, Tehran invited Palestinian chief Mahmoud Abbas to the NAM summit but left out Hamas. No only that, Tehran chose to contradict the impression given by the Palestinian officials in Gaza that it was MOhammed Haniyeh’s decision not to attend the NAM summit.
– August 27, 2012