A new controversy has been sparked when the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took to social media to criticise Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, the second President of Egypt who served from 1956 up to his death in 1970. He has been seen as the leader of Arab nationalism.
On 10th June, the Supreme Leader put the following message on Twitter: “The Islamic Republic plays rationally in all issues. On the issue of the Zionist regime, Gamal Abdel Nasser would say ‘we will throw the Jews in the sea’. The Islamic Republic has never said anything like that since its inception.” (Incidentally it was not Gamal Abdel Nasser that made this comment; it was Ahmad al-Shukeiri.)
Hazem Saghieh, a Lebanese political analyst and the political editor of the London-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat, pointed out that the Supreme Leader of Iran himself was involved in the translation of several books by Sayyed Qutb of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood into Persian. Qutb was murdered by Abdel Nasser.
It is not clear why the Supreme Leader decided to make a big deal of the issue now. The Iranian regime has made no secret of its anti-Semitic stance and it would not be inaccurate to say that he is one of the most prominent among those that deny the Holocaust, as is the country’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saghieh points out that Iran even hosts Holocaust denial events and that the Supreme Leader has written a book in which he asserts that Israelis are “not humans”.
So, why did Khamenei post a message on Twitter saying that the Islamic Republic is not anti-Semitic? He is now calling for a democratic approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine – a far cry from what he has previously advocated.
The answer perhaps become clear when we look at the situation in the Middle East. The Iranian regime is at a dead end because of developments in the region that go against Iran’s goals. Israel has overwhelmed Iran in Syria and the United States is pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal. Crippling economic sanctions will return and internal fighting in the regime is exposing its great weaknesses.
Iran may have realised on its own that it cannot continue to threaten Israel. Or perhaps its ally Russia has told Iran to change its behaviour towards Iran. Russia does not want to see a confrontation break out between its two allies.
Whatever the real reason is, it is no bad thing that anyone is distancing themselves from anti-Semitic viewpoints. But this does not mean that the Iranian regime is changing for the better. The regime is corrupt and a state sponsor of terrorism. Its belligerence goes far beyond this one thing and it has proven, on a number of occasions, that it is incapable of reform despite its best efforts.