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Philip Whitfield

Philip Whitfield

By: Philip Whitfield

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must be walking on air. His acolyte President Mohamed Morsi apes Iran’s every move.

Essam El-Haddad, one of the top honchos in the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, has been in Tehran chewing over Syria. Just as on 4 December he was supposed to be meeting National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House.

Until President Obama dropped in.

At the time it was taken to be confirmation of US support in the wake of Morsi’s help to quiet Hamas. Nowadays the wider view in the White House and elsewhere is that Egypt is becoming far too clubby with Iran. Dependence on the US and its NATO allies is unhitching. Morsi is on the long finger.

Egypt set the cat among the pigeons in Geneva playing the Jewish card. There to discuss ending the presence of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East – disarming Israel – the Egyptian team packed their bags and headed home last week.

Why? We can’t wait forever for the implementation of this decision, the Foreign Ministry said.

Everyone has a plan, said the boxer Mike Tyson famously, until they get hit in the face.

The distinguished Middle East economist Elijah Kanovsky estimated Iran’s revolutionary policies provoked as many as four million well-educated Iranians to flee taking $40bn with them.

Economic mismanagement, high inflation, declining living standards and clerical corruption disgusted them. Some 150,000 young people a year sat foreign university exams.

Iran was unable to increase oil production, faced stagnant per capita investment and GDP, serious manufacturing problems and a heavy burden of foreign debt. As a result the rate of annual economic growth averaged 1.5%, well below the 3% annual population growth.

Sounds familiar?

Kanovsky chronicles how revolutionary ideology and political infighting hampered the development of coherent economic policies, and how economic mismanagement sparked violent riots in several Iranian cities.

This is the model Morsi avows.

There’s a great danger of not seeing the wood for the trees. The papers in Egypt are full of titbits of information about this and that political development. They gloss over the parlous economic situation.

Join the dots. It’s dire.

Step by step Morsi and the Brothers are emulating the fateful journey that snuffed out any chance of democracy in Iran, killed the opposition and destroyed the economy.

All in the name of syncretic politics: neither left nor right, but guided by Islamic ideology.

Elections in Iran are supervised by six experts in Islamic law in The Council of Guardians. Chosen by the Supreme Leader of Iran they are supposed to be ‘conscious of the present needs and the issues of the day.’

They sit with six Muslim jurists nominated by the head of the judicial system that, in turn, is appointed by the Supreme Leader.

Not much chance of the opposition making any headway under those rules, which is where the Egyptian democratic opposition is stuck under Morsi’s rules. His attack on the judiciary threatens to annihilate any semblance of impartially vetting candidates’ credentials.

That’s if Morsi is really interested in holding elections for the House of Representatives. Why should he? The Shura Council’s tame poodles do his bidding.

Worse is the Muslim Brothers’ insouciance towards Egyptians. As with the Iranian model, they seek a leading world role – prepared to ignore domestic concerns in their pursuit of global power.

On the home front Morsi’s plan is a cut-and-paste from Iran’s ayatollahs: chip away at the centrist parties’ influence. He’s not threatened directly by left-wingers. Indirectly he’s at the mercy of well-organised trade unions.

Iran’s own figures show poverty increased 45% in the six years that followed their revolution. Egypt’s? I haven’t seen any figures. I do know however that the price of food is shooting up and to a man taxi drivers refuse to give you change.

Speaking out against the Brotherhood invites retribution. Professor Mona Prince is being investigated at Suez CanalUniversity accused of contempt for religion, slander and discussing topics off the syllabus.

If that were true, the entire faculties of CairoUniversity and the AmericanUniversity in Cairo should be in the dock with her.

No wonder Reporters Without Borders added Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to the list of Predators of Freedom of Information on Friday.

There’s another murky cesspit to be dredged: Egypt’s cosy relationship buying and selling ballistic missiles with Iran and North Korea. Egypt helped kick off North Korea’s nuclear programme by sending a few Soviet R-17 missiles (SCUDS) to be de-engineered after the 1973 October War.

Since then Egypt has been a customer of North Korea as is Iran to the tune of $2bn annually. They buy Hwasong, Shahab and Rodong short- medium- and long-range missiles.

The West is bound to monitor these activities closely. So alarm bells ring when Egypt withdraws without a by your leave from the Geneva conference on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons citing western vacillation.

How will Egypt react to Israel’s audacious elimination of a huge stash of Iranian Fateh, 110 advanced 300km surface-to-surface missiles they claimed were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon? Of course the US and probably the UK and France would have known about the strike in advance – probably helped to plan it.

Meanwhile Egypt and Iran are reportedly scheming to enable Syria’s loathsome Assad to escape to a pro-Syrian enclave under Hezbollah protection.

That puts Morsi’s guiding policy under the microscope: The enemy of my enemy is Morsi’s friend.

Who’s who?

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator


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