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The Gulf States and Iran - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The saying “if you feel no shame then do as you wish” applies to the recent comments made by Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast in reference to the United Arab Emirates.

The Iranian spokesman warned UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed against likening Iran’s occupation of the three UAE islands to Israel’s occupation of Arab territories. The Iranian spokesman said, “If these statements were really made, I believe it would be difficult to control the sentiments of the Iranian people towards such thoughtless statements.”

I wish I could believe that the spokesman is truly aware of the feelings of the Iranian people, unless of course he was referring to the Basij militia or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). My suggestion is that he listens to Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the most prominent leaders of the green revolution, who said recently that the Iranian government had been persecuting oppositionists in the name of Islam. An Iranian website quoted Mousavi as saying, “The only way for Iran to get out of the crisis would be for you (the rulers) to change your approach.”

What are the feelings of the Iranian nation that we should fear or beware of? Is it the feelings of those who are angry and have been filling the streets of Tehran continuously, protesting ever since the so-called “victory” of Ahmadinejad that was secured with the persistence of the Supreme Leader and the IRGC? I recall Damascus’ insistence upon extending the tenure of former Lebanese pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud that went against the wishes of the people. This incident triggered a series of organized angry reactions across Lebanon.

Despite all the transformations and defeats that have affected the March 14 Alliance, because of its persistence in keeping Lahoud even though there were other pro-Syrian candidates, Damascus remained the biggest loser amid this overflow of rage and resistance over the fact that the will of the people had been ignored in favour of one single party.

Nearly the same thing happened in Iran due to the persistence of the Supreme Leader and the IRGC in granting full support to Ahmadinejad without even considering the demands of those who oppose this man who is immersed in mythical legends and delusions. This fact doubled the level of popular resentment and unleashed fresh anger in the Iranian people; anger that proved to be advantageous to the old internal enemies of the Khomeinist republic as well as its new ones.

Despite the relentless clamour with which the propaganda machine of Iran is deafening the entire region and its banging on the drums of war, it is this machine that is subject to the biggest threat. By Iran, I mean the ruling regime of course and not its vibrant and cultured nation. Look at what happened to the ruling regime; it is fighting on more than one front: externally, internally, internationally, regionally as well as eastward and westward.

The Iranian regime is engaged in a diplomatic war to market its nuclear project on the basis that it is a peaceful one. It dispatched its Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Vienna to conduct negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The latter described the negotiations as being “held in a business-like atmosphere.” Meanwhile, Iran held its missile manoeuvres in the face of Gulf States and European countries at the Strait of Hormuz where it carried out the Great Prophet 5 military drills using speed boats and missiles and to stop European vessels for inspections to check how environmentally-friendly they are, said the IRGC generals, who are so keen on preserving the environment, marine life and the magnificent coral reefs.

The Great Prophet 5 military manoeuvres were primarily directed at the countries opposite Iran on the other side of the Arabian Gulf. The closest of all Gulf States to the Strait of Hormuz is the Sultanate of Oman and then the United Arab Emirates. This would explain the war of words that has been going on for so long between the UAE and Iran. Back in the old days, people used to say that war begins with words. This is not to say that war will break out, God forbid, but I believe that there is a bluffing war going on. Sometimes the gains you make out of threatening to do something are far more substantial than those you would achieve by actually doing what you threatened to do.

Iran’s history with the Gulf region has always been strained regardless of the nature of the ruling regime or its ideology. This situation has persisted from the days of the Safavids, the Qajars and the Pahlavis all the way through to the Khomeinist era. There has always been this permanent desire to expand Iran’s control of that vital area either out of the natural desire for more power, the existence of a large political vacuum at the head of the ruling power or the urgency of taking advanced positions in line with pre-emptive security policy, especially as Khomeinist Iran is carefully watching as the “great Satan,” or the US, draws closer to its borders. Iran wants to distract the US by occupying advanced positions. I would like to say here that the current Iranian hostility towards the US might be a reflection of admiration in the past. You do not hate someone so much unless they disappointed you or stood in the way of you realizing your dreams. This idea was developed by anthropologists and methodologists; that the sacred and desecrated are merely two sides of the same coin. This is what history tells us, but that does not mean that history will inevitably repeat itself. At the end of the day, history is a compilation of the actions and relations of our ancestors. Those actions, relations, conflicts and alliances are carried out by humans governed by their interests, beliefs or ever-changing circumstances.

The people of the Gulf today are very different to the people of the Gulf in the past. They are no longer poor and ignorant people, who ride camels, live in tents and have palm trees on every corner, as some racists in Iran like to think. This is what makes people, such as the Supreme Leader’s media advisor Shariatmadari, speak lightly of the Gulf communities and states all the time.

The UAE’s position towards Iran is legitimate, justifiable and very clear. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed’s statements bear the tone that ought to be directed towards Iran in one collective voice; a voice that explicitly says “enough.” The Gulf States could also respond effectively to the harm caused by Iran’s aggressive policies. In reference to preachy words about the Islamic nation rallying around the Palestinian Cause, such comments will not restore the occupied UAE islands or stave off the damage inflicted by harmful Iranian revolutionary policies. A strong reminder of that is the statement issued by Iranian officials about Bahrain and Iran’s so-called sovereignty over it. As far as Iran is concerned, the entire Gulf region should act in the interest of the East.

At the same time, Iranian society is undergoing major and profound transformations that will have a deep impact not only on the Iranians or the policies of the region, but also on Islam itself as a faith, culture and ideology. Observers of the critical, intellectual and philosophical movement introduced by key intellectual and philosophical figures in Iran’s reformist current like Abdolkarim Saroush will realize the farthest extent to which the Iranian balloon is likely to reach.

One amazing fact remains with respect to the political ideas of some Arabs towards Iran. Many of them do not attach importance to the fears of the people of the Gulf and do not appreciate their statehood or the sanctity of their territories. It is as if the Gulf States do not have any sanctity or the right to defend their territories. From their point of view, only the countries of the north and North Africa are considered fully-fledged recognizable entities. As for the Gulf States, they should stop disturbing Arab fighters by revealing their fears of Iran’s ambitions in the region. Such fears are mere delusions in the view of those fighters. Just as their grand theorist (the master) said; he sees nothing between Iran and Egypt except a vacuum. By this he means the countries situated between Egypt and Iran, and of course the Gulf States are at the top of the list. The master believes that this vacuum contributes to nothing but the surplus of Iran’s power, which the master loves. Of course his disciples applaud him for that. Strange enough, even some Gulf satellite television channels take part in applauding the master.

These people are not aware of the fact that the Gulf region has grown into an economic and educational giant and that the potential of its population has started to materialize. More importantly, Gulf States have begun to secure a good position after decades of operating solely in the field of oil. New Gulf economies that are not entirely dependent on oil have risen in recent years.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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