Iran and Arabs in Post-Mubarak Middle East

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImagePossible influence of recent popular uprisings in the region, especially ongoing developments in Egypt, on relations between Iran and regional Arab countries has given rise to different viewpoints among political experts who follow future outlooks of relations between Iran and Arabs in post-Mubarak Middle East.

On the whole, there are three general views on future outlooks of Iran’s relations with Arabs. The first viewpoint maintains that Iran’s relations with Arabs, regardless of what is happening in Egypt, will continue to pivot around suspicion, misunderstanding and pessimism as a result of identity-based and ethnic considerations. The second viewpoint maintains that relative improvement in Iran’s relations with Arabs will be possible under new conditions which stem from strategic and geopolitical equations as well as regional and international necessities. There is also a third view which believes that many variables will continue to affect Iran-Arabs relations which should be taken collectively when analyzing the extent and depth of future ties between Iran and Arab states. The third view seems to be more ideal and fair as it provides better grounds to come up with a general picture of future outlooks of Iran’s relations with regional Arab states following the fall of Mubarak.

Given Egypt’s high influence on the Middle East developments, domestic changes and foreign policies of Egypt will affect relations between Arab countries and Iran. A systemic process should be used to understand how Iran’s relations with Arabs may be influenced by Egypt under new regional circumstances.

First and foremost, due attention should be paid to root causes of the existing pessimism between Arabs and Iranians. Most of all, the pessimism stems from historical confrontations and interventions by foreign powers in regional interactions which have led to security issues and increasing militarization in the region. The role of historical variables is age-old and needs long discussion, but interventions by big powers is somehow new and dates back to a few centuries ago and, more accurately, to a few decades ago whence interactions and confrontations between these two regional actors have been at their height.

Reactions shown by Iran and Arabs to freedom-seeking movements in the Arab world have not been alike. In reaction to recent developments in the Arab world, Iran has been part of a regional political alliance which supports political developments aimed at establishing democracy in the Arab world. Other members of the alliance include Turkey, Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah and freedom-seeking movements in Palestine, Iraq, and Qatar. Viewpoints of allied countries supporting aforesaid developments have been in contrast to another regional alliance which consists of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Libya.

Another important variable affecting Iran’s relations with Arabs under new regional conditions is efforts made by both regional actors to take the helm and steer regional developments. It is premature to give a forecast of whether an Arab actor or Iran will be the most influential in setting the course of regional developments. However, special attention should be paid to Iran’s high capacity for inspiring other countries as well as potentials in Iran’s foreign policy and strategic views of Tehran on the Middle East developments such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, political Islam, regional mediation and the resistance axis.

On the whole, relations between Iran and Arabs in post-Mubarak Middle East are greatly related to outcomes of developments in Egypt and freedom-seeking movements in other Arab countries. Possible role of Islamist currents and other actors aligned with Iran and interactions between regional actors and big transregional powers like the United States will also leave their mark on future relations between Iran and Arabs. If misunderstandings between Iran and Arabs were resolved and the way were paved for more profound cooperation between Iran and major regional actors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, and Iraq in the new Middle East, this would greatly change power structure and equations and have a great impact on emerging regional and international discourses. This will, undoubtedly, serve the rights and interests of regional nations, reduce interventions by transregional powers, and clear the way for the reconstruction and reengineering of the existing regional order.