This is my favourite news story thus far in 2012. An Islamist wins election to the presidency of Egypt, but Iranians are still so creeped out by the idea of democracy in Egypt that they have to fake an interview with the new president to put words in his mouth.
Initially, news reports drawing upon a faked interview done by the Iranian news agency Fars were widely disseminated by media in our neck of the woods as well. This article I’m linking, from the National Post here in Canada, largely still reads as if it believes newly-elected President Morsi will in fact revise Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and strengthen ties with Iran, just because Fars claimed this is what he said. Usually, the National Post, which was a newspaper founded by Conrad Black to push conservative opinion in Canada, would avoid printing as gospel anything that came from a news agency in Iran. But, since the “interview” claimed that Morsi was going to sell the Israelis down the river and buddy up with Ahmadinejad, the Post rushed to get this alleged news out to the rest of us. After all, the idea that Egyptians might want to be self-governing instead of dutiful little foreign policy pawns is as threatening to the average National Post commentator as it is to the average Iranian.
One problem, though. The new president is not only claiming Fars made up the “interview” where he was supposed to have said these things, but also suing Fars for having done so.
There are two possible interpretations of this, depending on whether you think President Morsi is telling the truth about this or lying. (I think he’s telling the truth, but let’s consider both possibilities for the moment.)
If Morsi is telling the truth, then this is an example of Iranians clumsily trying to manipulate the leader of a sovereign country – something they spend a good deal of their time trying to convince people only Americans do. While most Americans right now are spending their time crossing their fingers, taking a deep breath, fearing the worst but hoping for the best, and trusting the Egyptians to find their way on their own, Iranians are interfering in the most heavy-handed way possible, showing their true lack of faith in Egypt’s new democracy and openly attempting to force its leaders into mindless Israel-bashing and mimicking the repressiveness of the Iranian theocracy. Worse for the Iranians, the response from Morsi indicates the attempt has failed.
If Morsi is lying, and he really did say these things in an interview but now is pretending he didn’t (and where’s the proof of this?) then it’s even worse for the Iranians. That would mean Morsi either deliberately set Fars up to look foolish, or at the least didn’t care that they did. It was the intent of this Fars story to depict Egypt to be this generation’s Islamic Republic of Iran. Morsi going out of his way to flip the bird to Iran in the first few days after his election suggests fairly powerfully that it is not.
I will make no secret of thinking that the most surprising and welcome development of the 2010s has been the emergence of a “moderate” Islamism. The way you know whether the “Islamic democracy” movements we have seen sprouting in the Middle East this decade are real is that these movements talk back to the kind of ugly Muslim extremists that “moderate Muslims” in the past decade feared to criticise. Tunisia’s Rached Ghannouchi tore Al-Qaeda another one in highly-publicised comments a few weeks back. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s commitment to the diplomatic isolation of the Syrian autocracy set an example for the rest of the Muslim world. Now Egypt’s new president is going out of his way to embarrass the propaganda mouthpieces of the Iranian regime.
Admittedly, none of those individuals would be my first choice to be leaders in their respective countries. But still, if this is what “Islamism” looks like, I can deal with that.
Props, President Morsi. Good luck with the lawsuit.