Iran-Arab Relations Following Middle East Developments

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Master’s Degree in International Relations

Since a long time ago, the Middle East has been one of the most critical regions of the world. Crisis in this region has resulted from various historical reasons. In the present historical juncture, existence of various ethnic groups under a single political rule, as well as presence of transregional powers in addition to unfriendly relations between Arabs and Iran are the main causes of instability in this region.

Relations between Iran and Arabs have been influenced by cultural and historical challenges between Arabs and non-Arabs as well as between Shias and Sunnis. Despite many advantages of convergence for regional countries, they are entangled in a mesh of unending conflicts.

It seems, however, that new conditions in Arab countries as well as general situation of political systems of the Middle East following popular uprisings have paved the way for changing the aforesaid conditions. Egypt is an example. It has been the sole Arab state with which Iran’s political relations have been cut for 30 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Under new conditions which have been brought about by the fall of Hosni Mubarak, both countries are taking gradual steps toward détente.

Conflicts between states are usually defined at two levels: the first level is related to political systems while the second level deals with social infrastructures and mindset of people in both countries. Assuming that recent developments in the Middle East will be able to achieve their goals, they can make old political systems fall and be replaced with new democratic ones. If this happens, a major reason for the existing conflict between Iran and regional Arabs will be eliminated. The next barrier is mindset of people in Arab societies.

Iran’s relations with Arabs have been traditionally determined by a triangle whose three sides included Iran, Arabs and the United States. The Arab side of the triangle has been historically and strategically dependent on the United States and has never spared any effort to meet the interests of the United States. When pro-American regimes of the Middle East fall, one side of the triangle will lose its importance and relations between Iran and Arabs will be determined according to a new equation formed by Iran and its Arab neighbors.

As said before, conflict in Arabs’ relations with Iran is not solely determined by political systems. Bilateral relations have been marked with cultural – historical as well as cultural – religious challenges. Therefore, mindset of Arab societies is an independent variable which cannot be ignored by any means.

On the basis of that mindset, Arab societies of the Middle East can be divided into two groups. The first group comprises Arab countries on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf which are topped by Saudi Arabia and have been traditionally pessimistic of Iran. The consequences of that pessimism have been evident in history of their relations with Tehran.

The second group consists of peoples of such countries as Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Syria that laud Iran for its resistance against the United States.

Evidently, developments in the Middle East have not greatly touched Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, save for Bahrain. Even if those countries were affected by the ongoing developments, the negative mindset of their nations will not allow a basic change to happen in their countries’ relations with Iran.

An example of the second group is Egypt which has been a starting point for recent popular uprisings in the region. The positive attitude of Egyptian people toward Iran can be a great contribution when the two states try to cut the Gordian knot of bilateral relations.

In reality, both groups of Arab nations and Iran need each other due to various interdependencies in such areas as energy, fuel carriers and security matters. Therefore, they have to eliminate grounds for pessimism and prevent further wastage of existing opportunities. Meanwhile, reducing tension between Iran and southern states of the Persian Gulf is of utmost importance due to their geographical propinquity to Iran. It seems that firm determination of governments and their spiritual support for nongovernmental organizations that aim to bolster Iran’s relations with those countries, such as friendship associations, can be a good starting point. As distrust among nations escalates, the same may happen to their governments.

Arab people of most Persian Gulf countries have a positive image of Iran in their mind. As dependent governments fall and replaced by independent ones, Iran and these group of nations will move toward détente in the near future. Finally, powerful relations will take shape between Iran and those countries when that positive process continues for a few years.

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