THE Arab spring reached the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on Thursday when Egypt’s president and the United Nations (UN) chief delivered stinging speeches, damaging host country Iran’s quest for global prestige, and support for its nuclear programme and its policy on Syria.
The organisation, of which South Africa is a member, was launched 50 years ago when the world was divided by antagonism between the US and the Soviet Union, as a platform for developing countries to assert their independence from the two superpowers. Many are questioning its relevance today.
The Iranians had to listen while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced them for calling for Israel’s destruction and denying the Holocaust.
In his speech, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticised the UN Security Council as a tool used by the US "to impose its bullying manner on the world".
Mr Khamenei did not mention Syria or Iran’s staunch support for its president Bashar al-Assad, who is struggling to crush a 17-month uprising in which more than 18,000 people have been killed.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said solidarity with the Syrian people "against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty" and a strategic necessity. "We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom," he said.
Mr Mursi’s speech prompted Syrian delegates to leave the hall.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said the delegation withdrew "in rejection of the incitement in the speech to continue the shedding of Syrian blood", and returned after Mr Mursi’s address.
Iran has portrayed its hosting of the high-profile summit as proof that western efforts to punish it economically for its suspected nuclear programme have failed.
The summit’s scheduled declaration is set to express concern about the violence in Syria and support for efforts by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to broker a resolution, a delegate said.