There was never any prospect of a significant political initiative coming out of the Non-Aligned Movement's summit in Tehran, but for the Iranian regime, that was not the point. Instead, the regime --- amid serious economic difficulties and political tensions --- was spending tens of millions of dollars to display its supposed leadership and international standing amidst the attempt of the "West" to isolate it. For weeks, officials and media pounded out the beat that the arrival of heads of state and foreign ministers would give definitive support for Iran's position, even if that position on key issues like the Syrian crisis was ill-defined.
And then it all went wrong. First, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon proved unexpectedly tough in his remarks to the Supreme Leader. Rather than nodding in deference, he told Ayatollah Khamenei that the Islamic Republic needed to meet the international community's expectations over its nuclear programme and a positive contribution to a Syrian resolution. Ban even broached human rights and chided the Supreme Leader over his politicians' rhetorical attacks on Israel.
The Iranian media tried to cover up the development by ignoring Ban's words and replacing them with Khamenei's remarks on the nuclear issue and Syria but the presentation had been irrevocably changed. The Secretary General, who had supposedly defied the US and Israel to come to Tehran, had faced down the Supreme Leader in his own house.
This, however, was only the prelude to Thursday's appearance of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at the summit. Morsi was supposed to play a starring role in the Islamic Republic's play of "Islamic Awakening", in which Egypt would work with Iran to set a new political line throughout the Middle East.
For two months, the Egyptian President had played hard to get, preferring to go to Saudi Arabia as Iranian media put out false stories that he was en route to Tehran, but now this would be the first visit of Cairo's head of state since 1979. Iran declared that Egypt would join it in a new "contact group" to change the approach to Syria, abetted by unexpected "Western" accomplices such as the silly and ill-informed Thomas Friedman, QUOTE.
Both Iranian propaganda and this commentary missed the countering signals, such as the Egyptian media's reports that Morsi would stay only a few hours in Iran. So it came as a shock to the Islamic Republic when the Egyptian President not only failed to prop up its Islamic Awakening but turned it back on Tehran. Morsi left no room for doubt as he not only denounced the bloodshed in Syria but blamed it on President Assad and his inner circle. Then he declared:
Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty as it is a political and strategic necessity.
We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom.
In a minute, Morsi had replaced weeks of Iranian narrative.
This, however, was far more than a moment of rhetoric. The Egyptian President was also on a political mission, one far different than the tangential "contact group" pushed by Iran.
Two weeks ago, Morsi had offered a signal that Iran could be part of political discussions on Syria. What almost everyone in the media missed, however, was last week's follow-up by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, setting out Iran's participation but in a process that was already being defined by Ankara and those with whom it had worked for months.
That process is based on the departure of President Assad for a transitional government as a cease-fire is established. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been even more vocal than the US, Britain, and France in setting that condition. What's more --- and, again, no one seemed to notice --- Morsi took the same line in an interview with Reuters on Monday.
So when the Egyptian President took the podium yesterday, he was delivering a message to the Islamic Republic that cut through all the pomp and propaganda around the summit: "You want to be part of the discussion of Syria? Then halt the political and military support for an Assad regime that is killing its people."
Most Iranian media censored that message, to the point of allegedly replacing Morsi's references to "Syria" with "Bahrain" and definitely replacing it with false versions of his speech on leading websites such as Khabar Online. But, even if the Iranian people are being shielded from the politics, the delegates at the summit and audiences outside the Islamic Republic are not.
The conclusion of the ceremonies today are peripheral. As an Iranian commentator for EA summarised last night, "The regime spent $100 million for a political own goal."