Mohammed Morsi and Iran’s propaganda machine

Soon after Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt’s presidential elections, reports began to circulate that he was planning to forge a new axis with Iran and renege on the peace treaty with Israel. There’s only one catch: the story was concocted by the Iranian propaganda machine.

In his nationally-televised victory speech, Morsi pledged to “preserve all international treaties.” Nevertheless, the international and Israeli press has been abuzz with news of an impending realignment of the Middle Eastern balance of power. From the Times of Israel to the Times of India, media reports suggested that Israel’s worst nightmare was coming true- Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt would unravel, and Egypt would become yet another Iranian proxy on Israel’s borders.

These reports were based on statements attributed to Morsi that he would “review” Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and “develop[e] ties between Iran and Egypt that will create a strategic balance in the region.” Inexplicably, the press published these uncorroborated statements, despite the fact that they were attributed to an interview given to the Fars News Agency- a mouthpiece for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Egyptian presidential spokesperson issued a statement that “Mr Morsi did not give any interview to Fars and everything that this agency has published is without foundation.” In response, the Fars News Agency posted what it claims is an audio recording of the interview. I sent the audio recording to an Egyptian colleague in the U.S. with whom I have been following the Egyptian elections for the past year. He replied that, as someone who has heard Morsi speak countless times, he is certain that the voice on the audio recording is not Morsi’s. In his view, the supposed interview “is שקר וכזב [lies and falsehood].”

Indeed, it makes no sense that  the president-elect of Egypt, home to the bastion of Sunni orthodoxy that is Al Azhar University, would throw a bone to s clerical Shiite regime which his core constituency regards as heretical. Furthermore, Morsi understands that his success in alleviating Egypt’s economic malaise will hinge on his ability to secure increased financial support from the West and the wealthy Gulf states (particularly Saudi Arabia). He has no interest in jeopardizing these relationships by publicly embracing Iran, their arch-rival.

According to the Iranian-Israeli analyst Meir Javedanfar, Morsi recently told a Kuwaiti newspaper that it would be “delusional, slanderous, and baseless” to claim that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood seeks an alliance with Iran. He added that “we will never stand with the forces who threaten friendly countries in the Arabian Gulf.”  Morsi is certainly no friend of Israel, but there is no love lost between him and Iran.

The myth that Morsi is planning to form an alliance with Iran and abrogate the peace treaty with Israel is a product of Iran’s well-oiled propaganda machine. The Fars News Agency, which claims to have interviewed Morsi, is essentially a mouthpiece for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s journalistic record is replete with instances of inventing or distorting facts to suit the propaganda agenda of the Iranian Ayatollahs. Before redistributing the “news agency’s” story of an impending Egyptian-Iranian axis, the international press might have recalled some of Fars’s more farcical reporting, as well as the Iranian regime’s propensity to manipulate the media to promote its own agenda.

For example, Human Rights Watch (which is no friend of Israel) recently took the international community to task for being soft on human rights abuses in Bahrain. HRW noted in a press release that “the international community has been subdued regarding Bahrain’s manifold violations, especially compared with the international response to abuses in Syria, Libya, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries.” When Fars picked up the story, they reworded the press release and substituted Saudi Arabia and Israel in place of Syria, Libya and Iran.

Similarly, when Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi took home an Academy Award for the film A Separation , the Fars propaganda machine swung into full gear. In order to portray Farhadi as a supporter of the regime, the “news agency” altered Farhadi’s acceptance speech to include a defense of Iran’s nuclear program. It also sought to undermine the film’s critique of Iranian family life by claiming that Farhadi accepted the award with his young daughter. In fact, the only person on the stage with Farhadi was Sandra Bullock.

In addition, the Iranian regime has a long history of manipulating the international media for propaganda purposes. In 2008, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps began an effort to recruit 10,000 members of the paramilitary Basij force as pro-regime bloggers. When Iranian missile tests fell flat, the IRGC used the Sepah News agency to disseminate doctored photos of Iranian rockets soaring into the sky. The photos were then redistributed by the New York Times, BBC, AP, AFP, and (my personal favorite).

Given Iran’s record of using media proxies to plant stories which advance the Ayatollahs’ radical agenda in the Middle East, it is hardly surprising that the Iranian propaganda machine let loose after Morsi pledged to honor Egypt’s international commitments. The Iranians seek to destabilize the region and distract Western and Israeli attention from their nuclear program, while undermining the sub-rosa Sunni-Israeli alignment against them. The sham Fars interview is merely their latest attempt to destabilize the region by stirring tensions between Israel and Egypt. Sadly, the international and Israeli media played right into the hands of the Iranian propaganda machine.

About the Author
Ari Moshkovski is a Doctoral Candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He holds an M.A. from Brandeis University, as well as a B.A. and M.A. from Queens College of the City University of New York. At Queens College, he engaged in extensive research and curriculum development on Israel and the Middle East as part of a project funded by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Ford Foundation. Ari was also a co-founder of the Queens College Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding under a grant from the United States Department of Education. Has researched, taught, and lectured on Zionism, Jewish thought, Israeli foreign affairs and security policy, Arab-Israeli diplomacy, and the nexus between religion and politics.