Amir Taheri

A week of disappointments for Tehran

By Amir Taheri

According to Iranian media, the Non-Aligned Movement [NAM] summit cost Tehran around $600 million. Taking into account production losses incurred by a week of martial law, the cost could be higher.
 
What did the investment bring for the organizers?
 
The conference had one key objective and two subsidiary goals.
 
Let us deal with the subsidiary goals first.
 
One was to show that, despite five United Nations Security Council resolutions against it, the Islamic Republic was not isolated. The second was to mobilize support for Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad.
 
Neither goal was achieved.
 
Of NAM’s 142 members and observers only 23, mostly small African nations, sent heads of state. Most of Iran’s 15 neighbors did not do so.
 
There was also no support for the Syrian despot. The passages Tehran had composed in al-Assad’s favor were cut by the committee producing the final communique.
 
Tehran’s biggest disappointment, however, concerned the key objective of the conference. This was to build an international stature for “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.
 
Khamenei cannot travel outside Iran because of an international arrest warrant issued by the Berlin Criminal Court for his alleged involvement in the murder of Iranian Kurdish leaders in that city. He is obliged to build his international image with the help of foreign dignitaries visiting him. The trouble is that few dignitaries agree to do so. Tehran has been trying for years to persuade Vladimir Putin to come to Tehran and the hope was that he would do so during the NAM meeting. Putin didn’t. Instead he sent a letter which contains no reference to Khamenei’s “wise leadership.” Even the Castro brothers who run Cuba refuse to visit Tehran. The 27 members of the European Union would not go anywhere near Khamenei. When it comes to Muslim nations, the situation is no better. Several, including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco have no relations with the Khomeinist regime. This year, even al-Assad failed to turn up, afraid of leaving his foxhole in Damascus.
 
Tehran is left with few regular visitors, usual suspects, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. But, being unwell, Chavez, too, is no longer able to pop in.
 
Tehran had pinned hopes on two men: United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian president Muhammad Mursi.
 
The two were especially attractive because Washington had criticized their decision to go to Tehran.
 
However, both proved disappointments.
 
Ban ignored diplomatic niceties and lashed out against Iran’s domestic and foreign policies both in his address at the conference and during his meeting with Khamenei.
 
Not knowing what to do, Tehran decided to do what it has often done: make things up. Here is how Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to Khamenei for “Islamic Awakening”, described Ban’s meeting with the “Supreme Guide”:
 
“Addressing the Sublime Position of the Leader, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said: You are not Leader only of Iran but also hold the Religious Leadership of the entire Muslim World. We have come supplicating at your threshold to ask you to help us in solving the region’s problems, including Syria, because in all those domains we face difficulties.”
 
Velayati’s claim unleashed a tsunami of headlines claiming that Ban had praised Khamenei as “Leader of the Muslim World.”
 
President Ahmadinejad’s “First Assistant” Muhammad-Reza Rahimi used the claim to weave an even bigger tale.
 
“The Tehran conference prepared the ground for worldwide management based on the teachings of our Imam,”
 
The daily Kayhan, published by Khamenei’s office, was more enthusiastic. “A New World Order is taking shape,” it claimed. “It will be guided by Our Leader.”
 
Needless to say, the claim was instantly denied by Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky.
 
“It is impossible that the Secretary-General would have said that,” he told reporters. “Mr. Ban could not have given such a title to the leader of Iran.”
 
For the Tehran media, that was enough to transform Ban from a man who had recognized Khamenei as Leader of Islam to “a tool of Zionism.”
 
Khamenei’s entourage came out with stories about how various foreign leaders had recognized him as a leader “not only for Islam but for all humanity”.
 
Muhammad Golpaygani, a mullah who heads Khamenei’s office, claimed that one leader who paid tribute to Kahmenei was South African President Nelson Mandela.
 
According to Golpaygani: “When received by the Leader of our Revolution, the [then] 80-year old man, Mandela, knelt in front of His Holiness and called him Leader.” (The claim was denied by Mandela’s spokesperson Birget Masanjo.)
 
Next came, a Lebanese gentleman, identified as Muhammad Yazbeck, Chairman of Hezbollah’s Religious Council. He was quoted claiming that Khamenei, being “the true heir” to Ali Ibn Abi-Talib , is “the undisputed Leader of all believers”.
 
However, the real disappointment came from Mursi. He refused even a courtesy call on Khamenei who was waiting in a room a few meters away.
 
Mursi refused to go on “pilgrimage” to Khomeini’s tomb and rejected Iranian demands to extend his four-hour stopover. Mursi did not even agree to discuss a restoration of diplomatic ties with Tehran.
 
Tehran’s answer was to “doctor” Mursi’s speech at the conference to make him sound as if he backed al-Assad in massacring Syrians.
 
Then, Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdullahiyan told reporters that Mursi and Ahmadinejad had negotiated the restoration of relations. (Mursi’s spokesman denied the claim.)
 
Tehran was shocked, not knowing what to do with Mursi.
 
For years, thanks to such Muslim Brotherhood figures as Kamal el-Halbawi and Fahmy Howeidy, Tehran had believed that it could steer the Brotherhood towards Khomeinism. Mursi was expected to be Khamenei's Man Friday.
 
Kayhan spearheaded the change of tune on Mursi.
 
The Egyptian leader is now regarded as “a dubious character” and “an opportunist.”
 
The sharpest attack on Mursi came from Tazendejam-Razmandeham, a Hezbollah-affiliated Internet site.
 
Here is its take on the Egyptian leader:
 
“The Egyptian President has studied and grown up in America. There, they pickled him in salt from an early age so that, one day, they could use him as a winning card. .. Mursi has come with a well-calculated plan to draw the Egyptian people towards him while turning Egypt into a land base for America from which to invade Lebanon, destroy the Lebanese nation and overthrow Hezbollah. We do not see a bright future for Hezbollah. For them, the countdown has started.”
 
Has the “countdown” started only for Hezbollah?
 
This article was first publish by Asharq Alawsat.
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