Mohammed Morsi was the accident candidate. He was supposed to be a simple placeholder, Plan B, for the more powerful, more able Khairat El Shater. Yet the mild-mannered engineer has proven himself an able leader in the short time he has held the helms of power. In one fell swoop, Mohammed Morsi defanged the Egyptian military and reinstated all the powers of the presidency the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had usurped in the run up to the elections. He even defied the U.S.’s bid to isolate Iran and attended a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran. But more importantly, Mr. Morsi is said to be pursuing dialogues with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. That’s right — Iran. The regional pariah no one likes and no one invites to any of the parties has finally been given some recognition. This is a departure with immense ramifications. Egypt and Iran have not had official relations since 1979. President Mubarak was no friend of the Ayatollahs. As a close American ally, he was instrumental in encircling Iran and preventing the contagion of Shia Islamism from spreading. The traditional distrust between Shias and Sunnis meant that Egypt and Iran were locked in a regional power struggle. But Mohamed Morsi’s choice to not only visit Iran but also to seek its cooperation in achieving peace suggests that Mr. Morsi will forgo age-old rivalries for pragmatism. Furthermore, it’s a sign that Egypt will no longer blindly take cues from America on how to conduct its foreign policy.
The American punditry is obviously fretting nervously. But it was the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that offered the toughest criticisms against Morsi in his piece, “Morsi’s Wrong Turn.” The rather unimaginative Mr. Friedman indignantly asks if Morsi is choosing dictatorships over democracies by making his historic trip to Iran. He mistakes the visit by Morsi to be an endorsement of the Iranian regime and its policies. Friedman recalls the brutal repression of the Green Movement in the Fall of 2009 and tries to make it seems as if attending a conference in Tehran is tantamount to lending tacit support to such repressions. Of course that is entirely not the case, as Mr. Morsi himself proved with his unabashed criticism of Iran’s support of the Assad regime at the Summit. President Morsi is thinking for himself; when was that ever a bad thing?
As Americans, we should not let our personal vendetta against Iran prevent it from being a meaningful influence on Syria. The fact is that Iran has the most influence on Syria in the region. Regardless of what we think of the Iranian regime, if it can stop the bloodletting in Syria, that is a good thing. We should also applaud Mohammed Morsi’s recent achievements and hope that with his newfound powers, Mr. Morsi will steer the country towards greater democracy and transparency. As the President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi is expected to pursue Egyptian interests, not American interests. Sadly, we’ve lost a reliable lackey in an important region. But, perhaps we may gain a powerful, truly democratic friend with no occupations to stain its image.