TEHRAN -- Days ago, the Egyptian president unsettled his Iranian hosts by calling Syria an oppressive regime -- an assertion that flies in the face of the Iranian government view that Syria is being sabotaged by terrorists backed by the West.
Iranians tuning into state television, however, heard something quite different, as a Farsi translator used the word “Bahrain” rather than “Syria.”
The switch made Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi appear to be excoriating a government Iran has criticized for cracking down on Shiite Muslim protesters, instead of an ally Iran has defended against mounting international pressure. The controversial speech took place last week in Tehran at a summit of the Non-aligned Movement, an alliance of more than 100 nations that dates back to the Cold War era.
Bahrain pilloried the mistranslation as “falsification and distortion made by the Iranian media,” issuing an official note of protest to the Iranian charge d’affaires Saturday and demanding an apology. The act could hurt relations and “brotherly ties” between Bahrain and Egypt, it said.
Iranian media have reported officials saying the switch was a simple error in translation: The head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting called it a “slip of tongue error,” according to Shargh, a reformist daily.
Yet the strong words against Syria, lost in translation on state television, were also absent from coverage by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, which emphasized Morsi saying that the group of nonaligned nations should “play its pivotal role in global developments.”
It summed up his statements about Syria as discussing “massive changes and developments,” alluding gently to Morsi drawing a parallel between Syria and revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. State-run news agencies and websites didn't run the controversial bits of the speech.
The semiofficial Fars News Agency wrote in a commentary that Morsi had criticized the Syrian government, but said the issue was only a minor disagreement in a speech that otherwise showed Egypt to be a new player in what it termed the “axis of resistance” against Israel. Another editorial in Kayhan, a conservative daily, said Morsi was mistaken and would change his mind about Syria.
Iranian officials have hailed Morsi going to the Tehran summit at all as a breakthrough in long-strained relations between the two countries.
Morsi took a similar tack to Iran on issues such as the Palestinians and the rights of all nations to peaceful nuclear energy, Golshanpazhooh wrote.
"These outcomes are big enough to overshadow the purposive media hype that the Western channels have launched over erroneous Persian translation of his remarks," he concluded.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, center, delivers his speech as his Iranian counterparts Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh listen during the Non-aligned Movement summit in Tehran on Aug. 30. Credit: Raouf Mohseni / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images / Mehr News