Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Little sign of an Iranian spring

While Ahmadinejad received red-carpet treatment in Egypt, his efforts were ignored in his home country, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

From the moment Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran almost eight years ago, he has expressed his desire to reopen Iran’s embassy in Cairo. However, at that time Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt, and many reasons held him back from accepting Iran’s request.
But Ahmadinejad was not unique in attempting to improve Iran’s relations with Egypt. Prior to Ahmadinejad, the then Iranian president, Mohamed Khatami, leader of the reformers in the country, had also exerted a great deal of efforts to normalise relations between the two countries, if unsuccessfully.
Yet, it was Ahmadinejad who made the historic trip to Cairo, becoming the first president of Iran to visit Egypt since Iran’s Islamic Revolution 34 years ago.
Ahmadinejad received a red-carpet welcome from the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and brotherly kisses, but the two distant brothers did not take the final steps to restoring full diplomatic relations.
Though Morsi may be able to wait a little longer, Ahmadinejad had great hopes of returning to Iran with this prize in his hands. Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has travelled to Egypt four times within a month, using all his diplomatic skills and personal charms to reach the goal.
He said on the sidelines of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference meeting in Cairo that he was optimistic that his efforts would reach fruition soon. The question is, how soon?
Ahmadinejad did not succeed in harvesting the fruit, but what he prepared and presented to the Egyptians fascinated them and made them reconsider him in a light different from that of a typical radical Iranian politician.
As much as Ahmadinejad enjoyed the publicity and media attention during his visit to Cairo, back in his home country the state TV and media did not highlight the events or give good coverage of them.
Indeed, the Iranian media largely boycotted Ahmadinejad’s visit, with the highlights of his trip being presented negatively, such as when a shoe was thrown at him during his visit to the Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo, or the statements made by the imam of the Sunni Muslim Al-Azhar University regarding Iran’s interference in the Gulf states, or his statements about the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran.
Some conservative Iranian websites asked why Iran was leaving its old friend Syria for “opportunist Egypt”, which had once dubbed Iran more dangerous than Israel.
Had Ahmadinejad made his trip four or five years ago, when he was the apple of the eye of the Iranian supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he would have enjoyed full media coverage in Iran, but times have changed since then.
The conservatives in Iran, such as the Revolutionary Guards top commanders, support the supreme guide, and they can no longer tolerate the president.
However, more media coverage means more publicity for the president at a time when only four months are left to the next presidential elections in Iran. Boycotting him on state TV and media coverage is like disconnecting him and minimising his presence in the eyes of the people.
The underlying fear is that Ahmadinejad will use his influence to invite his supporters to vote for his allies in the forthcoming elections.
Many people in Iran would like to see the restoration of relations with the United States and with Egypt. These desires have not been hidden, and the supreme guide is well aware of them, though he likes to be at the centre of everything and expects the president to carry out his orders.
Iran’s supreme guide wants to be the leader of the Muslim world, and he wants the United States to bend to his wishes. He believes he is the only one who can speak on behalf of 75 million Iranians, and his opponents can be sure to receive a lesson should they not listen.
The reformists are sitting in prison in Iran and Ahmadinejad’s people are joining them one by one. Yet, the president is not listening.
The conservatives had been holding their breath to find out whether Ahmadinejad would succeed in restoring relations with Egypt. When he did not do so, they exhaled in relief. His cold homecoming to Iran was a sign of their disapproval and unhappiness with the trip. Even during his leaving ceremony from Tehran Airport, the representative of the supreme guide was for the first time absent.
The conservatives’ pain was exacerbated when President Morsi cleverly evaded meeting with the supreme guide in Tehran last September.
Speaking off the record, an Egyptian diplomat who accompanied Morsi to Iran stated that Morsi had told the Iranians that as president he would only meet with the Iranian president, and that the Egyptian morshid would need to meet with the Iranian morshid, in other words with the supreme guide.
The other fear threatening the supreme guide and those associated with him is the impact of the Egyptian revolution on Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei called the Arab Spring an “Islamic awakening”, and he likes to believe that the Arab nations were influenced by Iran’s revolution.
However, it seems that Khamenei’s opposition has not discouraged Ahmadinejad, who expressed an interest in visiting Cairo’s Tahrir Square to show solidarity with the people who made the Spring.
In the end, he neither requested the visit nor made it. When asked why the president had changed his mind, one of his top aides said off the record that it wasn’t right to “cause sensitivities” when the host did not wish its guests to go to Tahrir Square.
“Why should we do something to irritate them,” the aide asked.
Ahmadinejad’s supporters who came to Tehran Airport to welcome him back from Egypt carried a banner that said, “herald of the Spring, welcome back to Iran.”
His association with anything related to the Arab Spring, even in the form of a slogan, will raise suspicions that Ahmadinejad may be after a spring in Iran.
On Sunday, during the 34th anniversary of Iran’s revolution, Ahmadinejad thrice said “spring is coming.”
On Monday, conservative members of parliament questioned the aim of the president in using this “spring is coming” phrase, and they are clearly suspicious of his using the words in an Arab Spring sort of way.
Ahmadinejad was welcomed with a red carpet in Egypt, but his efforts were ignored in his home country. If the president was inspired by the people in Tahrir Square, perhaps this inspiration will be reflected in the upcoming presidential elections in Iran.

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