Iran Should Revise its Middle East Policy

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seyed Mohammad Sadeq Kharrazi
Former Iranian Ambassador to France and the United Nations

What happened in Egypt during the past week, was, in fact, a “white coup d’état” which was at odds with the progress of democratization and the awakening revolution of the Egyptian people. I, however, believe that the final course of the country’s political developments will be quite to the opposite of what the supporters of the former regime want.

During the past decade, the Middle East region has seen more profound and deep-rooted developments compared to any other region in the world. One decade ago, Turkey was ruled by a military dictatorship, while Iraq was under the yoke of the harsh dictatorship of Saddam Hussein; Tunisia was ruled by the former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who promoted his own violent version of secularism; Egypt was reeling under Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial arrogance; Libya was governed by the weird rules of the country’s former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi; and Yemen was under Ali Abdullah Saleh’s repressive rule. None of those dictatorships exist anymore and the arrangement of power in the region has totally changed. Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the other side of the Middle East, are experiencing profound changes as well: there is no sign of Taliban in Afghanistan, nor any vestige of General Pervez Musharraf’s rule in Pakistan.

Therefore, one decade after the iconic terror attacks which took place in the United States on September 11, 2001, we are now faced with a new world and a new region. Undoubtedly, the course of developments in the region is a function of developments in the world and the international system. Regional developments, on the other hand, have also had reciprocal effects on terminology and methodology of various political ideas and attitudes in the United States and Europe.

Some of these developments have been in our favor and reflected our long-cherished aspirations, while others were in conflict and against our ideological, national and traditional views and expectations from political phenomena. On the whole, political events that are going on in the world of politics are auspicious and welcome. People are looking at awakening, democracy and ballot boxes as the main road to determining their fate and this has brought about serious changes both in the area of religion and governance. Both those who support radical and extremist moves and those schools of thought which believe in people and democracy are now resorting to ballot boxes. As a result of this change of attitude, the civil society is thriving in its new form all across the region. Even in tribal systems, this development is now quite evident. There were, and still are, tribal systems in this region, which have no respect for people’s participation in political affairs. They consider people as cattle that should be guided and protected by a shepherd. Therefore, the sum total of developments which have taken place in the course of the past decade has been in favor of our political system, and in favor of the idea that the Islamic Revolution has brought to us and we must take it as a good omen.

The same Iraq which was ruled for many years by a repressive government rising from a military coup d’état is now having its early experiences with the process of democratization. In Turkey, rational Muslims have taken an accurate course to expel the military from the political scene and come up with a new model of government while defining a new relationship between commitments to religion and running the government. This is the country where we see a rational group that has pursued its path to power through logical means and good management of a real politician. In doing this, they have managed to conquer political embankments one after the other until becoming fully established.

At the same time, the region is still plagued with dictatorial systems and monarchies like what we currently see in Saudi Arabia which are, of course, increasingly losing ground with the regional and international public opinion.

Egypt is also undergoing similar developments. Despite the white coup d’état which took place in this country last week, the general course of political developments is directed toward democratization and this is a fortunate and auspicious state of affairs. The revolution of the Egyptian people is focused on social developments, which are making their way toward elections. It goes without saying that elections and other kinds of social developments may be accompanied with crisis as well. However, such crises can be solved through political wisdom and the Egyptian people are currently trying to remove obstacles which are still in front of them.

The most important question now facing Iran’s foreign policy is what strategy has the country formulated in order to get linked to a Middle East which is defined by such new coordinate? Does our foreign policy actually have a say and enough influence in order to revive Iran’s regional standing? It is obvious that in view of power equations in the region, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt are three powers and three main players in the Middle East region and the entire world of Islam. Turkey has already formulated its strategy and found its way while Egypt is still grappling with domestic challenges. Domestic challenges faced by Egypt can be identified by a cursory review of what has been going on in this country during the past few weeks. The army, former executives and state officials, a bipolar society, social diversity of Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters, and the Coptic people are but few problems with which the Egypt is faced right now.

The long rule of the Egyptian military is currently one of the most important internal challenges faced by political forces in that country. It should be, however, noted that Egypt’s military personnel consist of various social and theoretical divisions. This is the same army from which Khalid al-Islambouli [the army officer who killed former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat] rose. The military has also been the birthplace of a major part of political thought in Egypt. Many military men have gone to prison who have turned civil after leaving jail and are now playing a role in the political scene of Egypt. Therefore, it is not true that the Egyptian military has confined itself to relations with the United States and Mubarak’s regime.

Let’s not forget that one of the most important reasons behind the fall of Hosni Mubarak was lack of cooperation from the country’s military organization and army with Mubarak’s regime. If the Egyptian army had decided to take sides with Mubarak’s regime at the eleventh hour, the Egypt would have been possibly engulfed by civil war. However, lack of cooperation from the Egyptian military with the country’s political system made Mubarak step down. Whether the decision to do so was made after negotiations with the United States or through dialogue with the April 6 Youth Movement, is another issue. The important point here is that the Egyptian military has been playing a decisive role in the country’s politics since the time of Ibrahim Pasha – the Ottoman-era ruler of Egypt. When announcing the severance of ties with Egypt, the late leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomein addressed the Egyptian military by saying, “You are free men of the Egypt who have proven your patriotism and your goal is to see Egypt following its political life with dignity. Do not obey this tyrant ruler.” This means that Imam Khomeini also attached importance to this military organization and its approach to politics.

Egypt is also facing challenges in foreign relations. The main crisis which Egypt may experience in foreign relations will pertain to not only the United States and Israel, but also to Saudi Arabia and certain other regional countries. This means that Egypt’s traditional and historical rivals are set to be the most important challenges to be faced by this country’s foreign policy. A rich and independent Egypt will be definitely different from an Egypt which may compromise with Israel and follow suit with the United States’ policies and this is a major source of concern for traditional political rivals of Egypt in the region. Egypt has its own identity as well as historical and civilizational roots. Therefore, an independent Egypt will certainly seek to tread the path of development and security. The main goal of the Islamic Revolution is to guarantee the power and might of the Islamic countries in the face of colonialism and the world’s hegemonic system. A powerful Egypt will be the future challenge of the hegemonic system because an Egypt free from Mubarak’s dictatorship and released from the arrogance of his modern kingdom, will be a free Egypt.

Iran and Egypt have many cultural, civilizational and historical commonalties which can be adopted as a firm basis for the expansion of bilateral relations. When it comes to globalization, we share many common cultural and political grounds with Egypt. In addition, we share the same ideas in terms of fighting terrorism and radicalism. Fighting the world’s hegemonic system and strong belief in non-interference of the United States and Europe in the internal affairs of the Islamic and other regional countries are other commonalities which can be taken as a basis for development of bilateral relations between Tehran and Cairo. Iran and Egypt have perhaps different viewpoints in relation to Israel, but those differences can be reduced to a minimum. At the same time, we have common positions with Egypt on the issue of Palestine and the need for the establishment of an independent Palestinian government. Both Iran and Egypt believe that the fate of Palestine should be determined through a referendum and by its people’s votes.

Finally, major factors that play a role in the political developments of Egypt clearly show that the country is in for a prosperous future which will be a good omen for the entire world of Islam, in general, and for Iran, in particular. To make the most of this situation, Iran must go back over its Middle Eastern policy and strengthen its relations with Turkey and Egypt in a bid to rearrange the foundations for new developments in the region. At present, we are certainly in serious political competition with Saudi Arabia. All security, defense and military organizations in Saudi Arabia are serving intelligence services that support radicalism in the region and this is a serious threat not only to Iran, but also to Turkey and Egypt. If the new government in Egypt decides to review its relations with Saudi Arabia, there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and certain other countries will try to export terrorism and Salafism to Egypt. The most important point, however, is that the future course of the region will be set by Turkey, Egypt and Iran and these countries should be able by working out new arrangements to overcome problems which are actually the bequest of past dictatorial regimes of the region.

Key Words: Middle East Policy, Iran, Democratization, Awakening Revolution, Egypt, Turkey, World’s Hegemonic System, Dictatorial Regimes  

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

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