x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Why Iran's Non-Aligned gambit failed

The Non-Aligned Movement meeting made Iran no friends because Tehran persists in supporting Bashar Al Assad, a columnist says. Other topics: that Al Assad interview, and Arafat's death.

Iran's effort to escape from isolation has failed because Tehran is 'super-aligned' with Syria

The Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) summit that concluded in Tehran last week was Iran's chance to show the world that it still has friends. But the Islamic Republic's staunch backing of the repressive Syrian regime was enough to turn the whole event into a public-relations flop, wrote Dr Saad Al Ajami, a regular contributor to the opinion section of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

"Nam's rotating chairmanship came to Iran at a time when that country is in international isolation that can be topped only by that of North Korea or the regime of [Syrian President] Bashar Al Assad," Dr Al Ajami wrote in a column yesterday.

"So, for Tehran, the Nam summit was a PR opportunity to break that isolation and give laypeople in Iran the illusion that everything is all right."

Dozens of foreign delegations poured into Iran, despite its long-standing disagreements with important segments of the international community over its nuclear programme.

Even Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, attended the summit, brushing aside US and Israeli pressures to dissuade him. "Sure, he had some aggravating things to tell Iran on its own turf … but he was there, and that matters," the writer said.

Even the summit's star attendee, Mohammed Morsi, the first Egyptian president to visit Tehran since relations between the two nations were severed over the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1979, had a tough, if indirect, message for his hosts:

The Syrian regime is "repressive" and has "lost legitimacy", Mr Morsi said in his speech about Iran's foremost ally in the region. Mr Morsi was basically telling Iranian leaders that they are standing on the wrong side of the Syrian uprising, the writer suggested.

"The world did not care much about what came out of the summit in terms of resolutions or a final statement, because this 'non-aligned' summit was held in a country that is 'super-aligned' with a regime that bombs its people night and day," he concluded.

For his part, columnist Walid Shuqair noted, in the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday, that Tehran may, to some degree, benefit from its chairmanship of the Nam summit over the next few years. Tehran may use the event "for PR purposes as it braces against a possible Israeli strike", he wrote.

But that would be it. Iran's support for the Syrian regime trumps all its other efforts to emerge from isolation, Shuqair noted.

"The overwhelming majority of those 118 Nam member states that attended the summit … had voted on August 3 in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution denouncing the Syrian regime's use of heavy weapons and its gross, systematic and wide-ranging violations of human rights and liberties."

In TV interview, Assad was not 'out of touch'

"Contrary to what many have thought about Bashar Al Assad's latest TV interview, the man was fully conscious of what he was saying," commented Tariq Al Homayed, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"While dark irony dominated some of his answers … Mr Al Assad was not really out of touch with reality," the editor wrote yesterday. "In fact, he was sending specific messages to specific parties."

Mr Al Assad, who leads a regime accused of killing thousands of its own people in the past 18 months, told his interviewer that "progress is being made" in the fight against "terrorists", but that "more time is needed".

Consider the timing of the interview, the editor suggested. It came on the eve of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran last week. Mr Al Assad was clearly addressing his allies in Iran, but also his "followers and agents" in Syria and Lebanon.

"The resident tyrant of Damascus said without equivocation: 'Everyone is looking forward to an accomplishment or decisive conclusion within weeks, days or hours … but this is not sensible talk.'"

In plain language, Mr Al Assad was promising his supporters "victory" but asking for their patience. This is a sign that he has grown fully aware - and afraid - of the looming dangers ahead. It wasn't the usual arrogant talk, the editor concluded.


Probe into Arafat's death is long overdue

The decision by the French judiciary to start investigating the death of Yasser Arafat, the iconic Palestinian leader who breathed his last in a French military hospital, is "a positive step that all Palestinians welcome" but is eight years overdue, the West Bank-based newspaper Al Quds said in its lead editorial on Friday.

"This sort of measure should have been taken immediately after the death," the paper said.

The post-mortem the hospital released at the time was "beyond vague; doctors actually said that they did not know the cause of death", the paper added.

"This fact alone should have been grounds for a serious investigation at the time, which unfortunately never happened … spurring justified suspicion that some parties, including Israel, might have been implicated."

Israel has consistently denied involvement in Arafat's death.

During the months preceding Arafat's death, Israeli bulldozers had started tearing down his headquarters. Thousands of Palestinians stood as human shields in the way of demolition machines, Al Quds said.

Until the definitive findings of this newly opened investigation come out, the newspaper said in conclusion, "the case remains shrouded in suspicions and unsupported accusations".


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi