Iran and Political Earthquake in the Arab World

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageThe Arab world is witnessing a major transformation and domino-like developments at the beginning of 2011 which have thus far engulfed Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen. The main features of these developments include call for independence and rule of Islam, right of self-determination, looking for identity and emphasizing on the need for profound structural changes.

When studying possible influence of these developments on Iran, a number of important indices should be taken into consideration, which include future position of Iran in the region, future outlooks for relations between Iran and Arabs, prospects of Arab – Israeli peace, future outlook of political Islam, relations between Arabs and the United States, Iran’s nuclear issue and political structure of Iran. The fact that Iran has taken a positive approach to liberation-seeking movements in the Arab world is the key to understanding those movements, most of which are influenced by the model of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Iran maintains that recent freedom and independence-seeking movements in the Arab world will strengthen its position in the Middle East as a country not aligned with western states’ policies and will provide it with reliable new partners in the Middle East region. Iran believes that it has been the source of freedom-seeking ideas and calls for return to Islamic and national identity as well as justice in the whole region. On the other hand, Tehran’s relations with Arabs have been characterized by bilateral suspicion and recent developments in the Arab world are not likely to change that situation, especially when folkloric and popular structures on the two sides of the equation are taken into account.

The ongoing developments are also unlikely to affect Iran’s approach to Arab-Israeli peace process. Since these developments may change the balance of power between Arabs and Israel to the detriment of the latter, more attention may be paid to the Iranian approach to Arab-Israeli peace process.

Future outlook of the political Islam in the light of Iran’s role at international level and developments in the Arab world also needs more attention. Ongoing trends in the Arab world indicate that Arab nations are more conscious of the Iranian version of political Islam now. Popularity of the Iranian leaders in the Arab world, especially their opposition to the west, has been quite evident in recent upheavals in the Arab nations.

During the whole period following the Cold War, the balance of relations between Arab countries and the United States has tipped in favor of Washington. Therefore, when choosing between security-stability binary and democracy in the Arab world, the United States has preferred that binary over promotion of democracy in this part of the world. Therefore, recent developments are sure to increase Arab nations’ suspicion of the United States. The end result, in view of the current confrontation between Iran and the west, will be undoubtedly in Iran’s favor.

The west has been suspicious of Iran’s nuclear energy program during the past years. The Arab world’s viewpoint on Iran’s nuclear program has not been consistent. Recent developments, which emphasize on the realization of regional people’s rights in all areas, will have significant bearing on Iran’s approach to supporting the right of regional nations to peaceful use of the nuclear energy.

Iran’s political structure can also serve as role model for many Arab nations and can also be influenced by developments in Arab countries.

On the whole, recent developments in the Arab world should be taken seriously, especially in terms of Iran’s foreign policy in both Arabic and non-Arabic Middle East. The Arab world is on the verge of a historical upheaval which is at odds with the interests of big international powers. Iran, as a neighbor of the Arab world, will be both influenced by that upheaval and influence it. The new configuration in the region is harbinger of the emergence of an Islamic Middle East with a positive approach to resistance against the west and Iran will be a focal point of new regional discourses.

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