Tehran, Asharq Al-Awsat – During the celebrations that marked the 28th anniversary of the Iranian revolution last February, the streets of Iran teemed with pictures of the Iranian revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and a few of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There were no pictures of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Iraq’s Mehdi Army leader Muqtada al Sadr or any other figure that could be considered popular in Iran by Tehran’s Arab allies. The Iranians do not usually discuss Arab issues – at this point they are more concerned with the economy and the problems of unemployment and inflation than anything else. Then there is the Basij force that seeks to restrict the youth to conform to proper clothing, Iran’s confrontation with the West over its nuclear program and the possibilities of imposing fresh sanctions on Iran or even a possible American military strike against Tehran, which has been ruled out by many Iranians. “We are not an easy target. America does not want to target us militarily. It wants to ensure its interests and will try to do so without striking Iran because this would not serve its interests,” says Said, an Iranian taxi drive who refused to take part in the celebrations of the revolution. He stated that he wanted to keep away from the crowded center of Tehran that day to be able to earn a few thousand Iranian Rials.
While some Iranians complain that support for Hezbollah and Hamas has become costly to Iran in both political and economic terms, others say that Iran has vital interests in the region and that there must be a clear-cut policy that serves the Iranian interests in the region even if this would cost tens of millions of dollars.
However, the economic and political situation in Iran may now be a cause for concern and reconsideration. An Iranian youth who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “There are two sides to the Iranian issue. The question of backing Hezbollah is not only about paying money. It is support for one’s brothers [in Islam].” “On the other hand, however, because of the poor economic situation, the Iranians began to reconsider and question of how Iran would benefit from offering this support? People in Iran are also beginning to feel uncertain about whether Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s actions serve Lebanon as a nation. If anything happens such as an outbreak of a civil war in Lebanon, this would be terrible for the Arab world, and the Arabs would stand against Iran because they would blame such a war on Iran-Hezbollah relations. As an Iranian Muslim, I say that one should not side with a Shia party at the expense of the other Sunni party in any regional conflict. The Iranians may jeopardize the American interests in the region but they would also jeopardize Muslim unity. In Iran we must find an answer to the vital question: How can we protect Iranian interests from being targeted by America and maintain our relations with regional countries? Even in our present situation, we can deal in someway with America in a manner that helps the Arabs considerably. This is possible and could be put on the agenda if we are to meet with the Americans someday. We are a regional power and want our share in the economy and world politics here in the Middle East. Our share is good economic and political relations with Arab and Muslim countries. America’s and Europe’s shares may be reduced relatively, but this is the solution if peace is to prevail in the region. It is a problem that politicians have to solve and that is their job.”
Politicians in Iran have realized that the developments of the last few months have mounted internal pressure on financial support for some parties and groups in the Arab world. In this regard, former Iranian parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi told Asharq Al Awsat that there are differences amongst the Iranians over the financial support for Hezbollah and Hamas. However, he pointed out that such support was part of Iran’s regional commitments. “Every country in the world has a set of financial commitments and expenses pursuant to the national interests. Nevertheless, it is also natural that people have different views regarding the issue. Some Iranians are for these allocations and others are against them. In general, most of the Iranians back the government’s aids to Hezbollah and Palestine, but some do not agree. We helped Afghanistan and Iraq as well, and some agree with this and some do not.”
There are claims that the Iranian youth may be most affected by Iranian financial support for Hezbollah and Hamas as many of the youth are more interested in internal situations. Some of the youth who were children during the Iraq-Iran war have bad memories of the Arabs. “Why are we interested in Arab issues? I can still remember as a child when my mother sent my brother and me to the cellar so that we would not hear the sound of Saddam Hussein’s missiles flying overhead during the war. I can never forget that sound. Until today, when I hear the buzz of a plane on television, it sends shivers down my spine and I feel sick and scared. Who financed the Iraqis’ arms purchases? Was it not the Arabs and the West? I am still searching for a job, why should I understand the payment of tens of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah? I am not concerned with them – I’m concerned with Iran,” said Misam Muhtadi, an Iranian youth who is still looking for work and, like many others of his peers, complains about inflation, unemployment and underpayment. Other Iranians do not feel this support is important to Iran, including Sameera, a college student who said, “What would the Arabs do if God forbid, America attacked us. Most likely, the Sunni clerics would condemn the attack and that’s all.”
However, it is difficult for anyone to speak on behalf of all Iranians. During the celebrations of the Iranian Revolution anniversary in Azadi Square on Feb. 11, thousands of Iranians who held banners in support of Iran’s right to develop a peaceful nuclear program believed that Muslim unity would protect Iran from any possible attack. They do not talk about Hezbollah and Hamas as Arab political organizations but as Muslim organizations, whether Shia or Sunni, and believe that Iran should not break its ties with Muslim organizations in the region.
Many Iranians believe that the nuclear issue upon which America relies to press Iran is a mere excuse, explaining that the real American goal is to subjugate and neutralize Iran as a regional power, pointing out that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) supervision of the Iranian nuclear facilities is a sufficient guarantee for Washington. Therefore, these emphasize that the Iranian regional sphere rather than any Western promises is Iran’s real fortress. In this respect, Khesro Mohebi, a translator and journalist, said Iran could not do without its regional sphere because regional security is interrelated and as long as Tehran has close ties with regional countries, no external power will risk an uncalculated adventure. “The West claims that the sole problem it has with Iran is the nuclear program and uranium enrichment. They want Iran to prove its good intention and stop the enrichment [process]. So if we try in someway to freeze enrichment what will we get in return? Will we win the trust of the West? We want security, political and economic guarantees. Negotiations are essential. Let us begin negotiations. If we stop enrichment without negotiations or guarantees, will the West stop its attack on Iran? Will it not try to threaten our security or exploit the human rights issue? Enrichment cannot be frozen now without conditions and before negotiations. The only person who can decide this is the supreme leader rather than Ahmadinejad and this will follow a schedule. For instance, he would say, ‘We will stop enrichment for six months, but before that, the West must also prove that it has good intentions.’ That is why the Iranians feel that their relations with neighboring countries should improve,” he added
The Iranians in general complain about their lack of knowledge about the Arabs. The Arabs and the Iranians know very little about each other. It is true that an Arab or Iranian knows more about Western civilization than of each other’s culture. According to Hameed, an Iranian college student studying Arabic, people in Iran hear news about Arabs through state television, which often reports on the political aspects only, and that they might know some songs from Rotana channel and others but this does not reflect Arab culture.
On the other hand, Arab knowledge about Iran and modern Iranian culture is very little and is mostly a result of information from official channels, which also focus on political aspects. Amongst the Iranians, the Arab-Iranians are probably most acquainted with Arab culture. It is not uncommon to hear the song ‘Qariat al Finjan’ [sung by Abdul Halim Hafez] playing in an Arab-Iranian’s house or hear an Arab-Iranian speaking an Arabic dialect that is close to that of the Gulf.