Bahrain has demanded an apology from Tehran after the mistranslation of a critical speech by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by Iranian official translators, which replaced the word “Syria” with the word “Bahrain.”
Morsi gave the speech on Thursday during at the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran.
It was an Egyptian head of state’s first official visit to Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It was also only Morsi’s second official visit abroad as president since being elected this June.
“Our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy is an ethical duty, as it is a political and strategic necessity,” he said at the meeting. His speech also included a call for the Syrian opposition to unite.
However, during his speech, the translator for Iran, where Persian is spoken, substituted the word “Syria” for “Bahrain.”
“This is a violation, fabrication and unacceptable media behavior that shows how Iranian media is interfering in Bahrain’s internal affairs,” the BNA, Bahrain’s government-run news agency, said on Saturday.
The speech was transmitted live with a Farsi (as Persian is called in Iran) translation on two Iranian channels, IRIB Channel One and IRINN, although the Bahraini statement didn’t mention which channel it said changed the words.
The head of Iran’s state media, Ezatollah Zarghami, admitted the mistake but insisted it was mistranslated on only one of the country’s channels, IRIB Channel One.
He added that while President Morsi was addressing the summit, a technical error occurred that caused the translator to make the mistake.
Zarghami added that the Western media were quick to seize upon the error. “In a verbal mistake, the translator said ‘Bahrain’ instead of ‘Syria,’ and this became a pretext for Western media,” he said.
The scandal has become an embarrassment for Iran, which found itself in the international spotlight due to the summit, which brought representatives from 120 nations.
Iranian media activist Ameed Maqdam expressed astonishment at the error. Maqdam said he heard “Bahrain” mentioned three times in the simultaneous Persian translation broadcast on Channel One.
“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!!’” one listener complained online to the Asr-e Iran newspaper, as quoted by Reuters.
The incident is diplomatically sensitive because Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim power, is an ally of the Alawite religious minority that rules Syria. Alawite Islam is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Iran has previously expressed sympathy with the democratic protest movement in Bahrain against the ruling al-Khalifa family, which put down a democratic rebellion in 2011 by the majority Shiite population.