Morsi missed opportunity to send democratic message

August 31, 2012 

I find it very disturbing that one of the first trips by Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohammed Morsi, will be to attend the Nonaligned Movement’s summit meeting in Tehran this week. Excuse me, President Morsi, but there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran’s people that the world approves of their country’s clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement — the exact same kind of democracy movement that brought you, Mr. Morsi, to power in Egypt.

In 2009, this Iranian regime literally killed the Green Revolution. It gunned down hundreds and jailed thousands of Iranians who wanted the one thing that Egyptians got: to have their votes counted honestly and the results respected. Morsi, who was brought to power by a courageous democracy revolution that neither he nor his Muslim Brotherhood party started — but who benefited from the free and fair election that followed — is lending his legitimacy to an Iranian regime that brutally crushed just such a movement in Tehran. This does not auger well for Morsi’s presidency. In fact, he should be ashamed of himself.

Egyptian officials say Morsi is only stopping in Tehran for a few hours to hand over the presidency of the Nonaligned Movement to Iran from Egypt. Really? He could have done that by mail. It would have sent a powerful democratic message. By the way, what is the Nonaligned Movement anymore?

The Nonaligned Movement was conceived at the Bandung summit in 1955, but there was a logic to it then. The world was divided between Western democratic capitalists and Eastern Communists, and developing states like Egypt, Yugoslavia and Indonesia declared themselves “nonaligned” with these two blocs. But “there is no Communist bloc today,” Johns Hopkins foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum said. “The main division in the world is between democratic and undemocratic countries.”

Is Morsi nonaligned in that choice? Is he nonaligned when it comes to choosing between democracies and dictatorships — especially the Iranian one that is so complicit in crushing the Syrian rebellion as well? And by the way, why is Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, lending his hand to this Iranian whitewashing festival? What a betrayal of Iranian democrats.

This has nothing to do with Israel or Iran’s nukes. If Morsi wants to maintain a cold peace with Israel, that is his business. As for Morsi himself, I’d like to see him succeed in turning Egypt around. It would be a huge boost to democracy in the Arab world. But what Egypt needs most will not be found in Tehran. Morsi’s first big trip shouldn’t have been to just China and Iran. It should have been all across Europe and Asia to reassure investors and tourists that Egypt is open for business again.

If Morsi needs a primer on the democracy movement in Iran (whose Islamic regime broke relations with Egypt in 1979 to protest the peace treaty with Israel) he can read the one offered by Stanford’s Iran expert, Abbas Milani, on the U.S. Institute of Peace website: “The Green Movement reached its height when up to 3 million peaceful demonstrators turned out on Tehran streets to protest official claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the 2009 presidential election in a landslide. Their simple slogan was: “Where is my vote?” ... Over the next six months, the Green Movement evolved from a mass group of angry voters to a nationwide force demanding the democratic rights originally sought in the 1979 revolution, rights that were hijacked by radical clerics. ... As momentum grew behind the Green Movement, the government response was increasingly tough. In the fall of 2009, more than 100 of the Green Movement’s most important leaders, activists and theorists appeared in show trials reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s infamous trials in the 1930s.”

By early 2010, the regime had quashed all public opposition.

That is the regime that Morsi will be helping to sanitize. One at least hopes he read the letter sent to him by an Iranian democracy group, Green Messengers of Hope, urging Morsi to remind his Iranian hosts “of the fates of the leaders who kept turning their backs on the votes of their people, and to urge them to govern their country relying on the support of the Iranian people rather than military forces.” Morsi might want to even remind himself of that.

Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, can be reached at 630 Eighth St., New York, NY 10018.

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