DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has criticised Iranian officials over a mistranslation of a speech by Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, which replaced the word “Syria” with “Bahrain” when he listed Arab states that had experienced revolts since last year.
The reference was diplomatically sensitive because Iran, a Shi‘ite Muslim power and an ally of the Syrian government, has expressed sympathy with a Shi‘ite-led democratic protest movement in Bahrain against the ruling Al Khalifa family. The Khalifas, backed by Washington, are Sunni Muslim.
Mursi, a Sunni Islamist who was elected president this year, gave the speech on Thursday during a meeting in Tehran of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of 120 mostly developing nations.
He did not mention Bahrain, and the Bahraini government lodged a complaint with Iran’s charge d‘affaires on Saturday over the mistranslation on Iranian state television and radio.
“This is a violation, fabrication and unacceptable media behaviour that shows how Iranian media is interfering in Bahrain’s internal affairs,” Bahrain’s government-run news agency BNA said late on Saturday, adding that Bahrain had demanded an apology.
The head of Iran’s state media said on Sunday the word “Syria” was mistranslated on only one of its channels.
“In a verbal mistake, this translator said ‘Bahrain’ instead of ‘Syria’ and this became a pretext for Western media,” Ezatollah Zarghami was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.
Mursi perturbed his hosts in his speech by describing the government of Syria as “a regime that has lost its legitimacy” and calling for its ouster. His words prompted Syrian delegates to leave the hall.
Egyptian newspapers said Mursi was also misquoted as hoping for the “continuation of the Syrian regime”.
Some Iranians complained online about the Bahrain mistranslation, which was an embarrassment for Tehran as it sought to make diplomatic capital from hosting the summit last week.
“With that intentional translation by Iran’s state television, a great insult was delivered to its viewers,” a reader who gave his name as Ahmadi wrote on the website of the Asr-e Iran newspaper, which published a correct translation of the speech.
Another reader wrote on the website: “For us who were listening on the radio, whenever Mursi said ‘Syria’, the Persian translator, who did not have the required integrity, translated it as ‘Bahrain’!!”
When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Tehran last week he strongly criticised Iran’s human rights record and lack of transparency over its nuclear programme. However, Iranian media focused on his references to Iran’s importance in the world and generally ignored his criticisms.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister on Saturday suggested Mursi was misinformed about Syria.
“Many of Mursi’s views accord with Iran’s and it is only in some issues like Syria that he has different views. If Mursi had more information about Syria, he would change his views,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying by Mehr.
Editing by Andrew Torchia and Pravin Char