Tour d’horizon: An Iranian Optic on the Middle East and its Prospects

by Seyed Mohammad Marandi -University of Tehran

[Editors Note: We are presenting this paper in its entirety as we believe all of it is important information for our readers to have for the Persian Gulf tightrope that we all are on, by choice or not. Our editing was done purely to enhance the visuals and key issues being presented... Jim W. Dean]

Iranians - Marching into and Uncertain Future - Along With All the Rest of Us

Almost a year ago, in a well-remembered Friday prayer sermon delivered on February 4, 2011, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke at length, in Arabic, about the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

At the time, the Egyptian people were on the streets attempting to topple the Western-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

In his sermon, after praising the Tunisian people, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke of how Mubarak had humiliated Egypt by becoming an American pawn and an ally of Israel.

He also recalled the sharp pain that Egyptians felt when Mubarak helped implement the Western-imposed, inhuman siege of Gaza and when his regime worked in partnership with Israel and the United States during the 22-day onslaught against women, men, and children there in late 2008.

Ayatollah Khamenei

Ayatollah Khamenei went on to speak about the history and intellectual traditions that have given Egypt its unparalleled importance in the Arab world.

In this context, he described the movement unfolding in Egypt as both Islamic and freedom-seeking, with its potential for significant impact on the Middle East.

Noting that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had parallels to Iran’s revolution more than three decades ago, he also underscored that the situations are not all identical; each is unique, in accordance with different geographical, historical, political, and cultural conditions.

Claims that Iran is seeking to export its ideology or model of government to Egypt, he said, were dishonest attempts to keep the peoples of the region divided. He went on to warn that the United States has recognized it cannot keep its pawns in power, so it will attempt to “move its pawns around” to preserve its hegemony and should not be trusted.[i]

Sharp criticisms were leveled at Ayatollah Khamenei’s sermon in the West and by parts of the Arab media. Commentators attacked the idea that these movements constituted an “Islamic Awakening”, claiming they had nothing to do with religion.

It was an “Arab Spring”, they intoned; the revolutionaries were looking to establish secular liberal democracies, not embrace “theocratic” rule.

However, as time went by, it became clear that the Western political establishment, the Western media, and most Western “experts”—who had not anticipated the coming revolutions in the first place—were once again incapable of correctly understanding the situation in Egypt or correctly interpreting the broader region’s realities.

The Slow Wheel of Political Progress Turns in Egypt

Hence, their dismay with the results from the first round of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice coalition and the Salafist Noor coalition together received over two thirds of the votes, despite the fact that voting mostly took place in areas not normally considered to be religious strongholds.[ii]

It is already apparent how the parliament that will emerge from these elections is likely to steer the process of drafting a new constitution for Egypt—if it is allowed to do so by the country’s U.S.-backed military.

The Western (or Western-affiliated) Middle East “experts”, who were previously so adamant that these revolutions were secular in nature, now wonder how to read unfolding events. Some are putting on a brave face, expressing hope that, after a few years, Islamic parties will fail and people will vote for Western-oriented liberal parties—as if people in the region do not remember who backed and continues to back Arab dictatorships.

They do not seem to recognize that the social and economic crisis currently taking place throughout Europe and the United States has already raised serious questions about the nature and future of liberal capitalism, especially in the Middle East and other non-Western parts of the world.

Western elites’ difficulties in understanding the Middle East are exacerbated because their sources of information in the region are basically local secular elites—wealthy, Western-educated, and even Western-oriented Muslim intellectuals. Westerners collectively fail to recognize that such people are simply not representative of their societies.

Muslim Brotherhood General Guide Mohammed Badie

As in Iran, the large majority of Egyptians are religious. If past experience in Iran is something to go by, the Muslim Brotherhood will probably at some point split into two or more separate parties, which will then provide competing interpretations of how society should be run.

Hence, religious parties will probably be the dominant forces in Egyptian politics for many years to come—not just for one or two electoral cycles.

Indeed, if the Muslim Brotherhood does not meet popular expectations in the coming months and years, it is the Salafists who are likely to capitalize on this to expand their own influence over Egypt, not Western-style, secular liberals.

The Salafists’ strong electoral performance and substantial external funding positions them to declare, in the not-so-distant future, that it is time for “true Islam” to save the country.

This is something that Western countries should be deeply concerned about, as the ideologies of these Salafist groups have a great deal in common with those of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Of course, Americans and Europeans cannot complain about the Salafists’ religious intolerance or their externally-backed rise to power, because they are heavily financed by the West’s closest regional allies.

For reasons largely linked to self-preservation, Saudi Arabia and other Arab dictatorships in the Persian Gulf region are financing such extremist groups all over the Arab World and beyond. Over the past three decades they have radically affected societies in significant parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, creating a culture of intolerance and radically altering the local culture.

In sum—and notwithstanding the scorn directed at Ayatollah Khamenei’s observations a year ago—this is looking very much like the manifestation of an Islamic Awakening.

Many factors such as injustice, social inequality, despotism, and western domination contributed to the recent events, but they do not at all contradict the idea of an awakening.

For those who kept their eyes open, there were clear signs of this from the prevalence of Islamic slogans as well as the role of mosques and Friday prayers.

Significantly, the term “Islamic Awakening” has been used by Ayatollah Khamenei in his public statements as leader nearly two hundred times over the past two decades.[1]

He has repeatedly stated that Islamic movements are on the rise and that the region is heading for major changes that are, for the most part, in sharp conflict with Western interests.

Unlike in the West, the Iranian leadership, along with others in the region, has expected these events for many years and is thus much better prepared than Europe and the United States to deal with this reality.[2]

The Islamic Republic is rapidly expanding relations with rising political entities throughout the region. It recently held the First International Islamic Awakening Conference, with over seven hundred participants from a host of key regional movements.

In the Conference’s Inaugural speech, Ayatollah Khamenei told attendees what he believed to be the principles and slogans of the revolutions: independence, freedom, the demand for justice, opposing despotism and colonialism, the rejection of ethnic, racial, or religious discrimination, and the explicit rejection of Zionism.  All of these, he said, are Islamic values, based on the Qur’an.[3]

In the eyes of many Iranians, these extraordinary changes in the Middle East and North Africa—alongside America’s forced withdrawal from Iraq, its inevitable defeat in Afghanistan, the sharp social and economic decline in the West.

And the rise of new international players such as China, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa—will ultimately lead to a rapid decrease of American and European influence, regionally and globally.

From an Iranian perspective, this provides at least a partial explanation why the United States and the EU are now so explicit in their (so far unsuccessful) attempts to inflict severe pain on ordinary Iranians through “crippling” sanctions.[4]

While, in the past, it was clear that the objective of sanctions was to make average Iranians suffer—as the Wikileaks cables confirm[5]—there was at least a hypocritical attempt to portray these actions as humane and directed at the government.

Now, the incessant and shrill calls to assassinate and murder Iranian scientists, military officials, and politicians and to launch military strikes on the country reveals the existence of a disturbed mentality among many of the political elite in the West and in the United States in particular.

The recent flurry of absurd accusations made against Iran by the US, such as the so-called plot against the Saudi Ambassador to Washington,[6] the rehashed IAEA report presented by a deeply biased director general,[7] cyber attacks, and the attempts to impose sanctions on the Iranian central bank which politicians like Ron Paul consider to be an act of war,[8] is also leading many in Iran to conclude that the United States is currently too irrational for any form of meaningful dialogue.

The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that the IAEA report “had a set goal to deliver a guilty verdict”,[9] despite the fact that, as Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister elsewhere pointed out, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to show that Iran’s nuclear program is anything but peaceful.[10]

That is why, contrary to the dominant narrative in the Western media, the majority of the “international community”,[11] such as the 120 Non-Aligned Movement states, have consistently backed the Islamic Republic’s position on its nuclear program.[12]

Iranians well remember the American government’s duplicity when President Lula attempted to find a diplomatic solution to the refueling of the Tehran Research Reactor.

The reactor, which each year produces medical isotopes for hundreds of thousands of dying cancer patients, was running out of nuclear fuel. Western governments were preventing it from being refueled in order to put pressure on Iran, effectively playing with innocent lives.[13]

In April 2010, Obama sent official letters to the Brazilian president and the Turkish Prime Minister stating the conditions that would have to be met for the United States to accept an agreement.

When the conditions were met and Lula, Ahmadinejad, and Erdogan signed the Tehran Declaration, Obama shocked the three leaders by immediately rejecting it and pushing for a new UN Security Council resolution to increase sanctions against Iran.

Not only did Obama lie to the Brazilian and Turkish leaders and publicly humiliate them, but it later became clear that his letters to them had been intentionally written to mislead both Brazil and Turkey.[14]

It did not take long for history to repeat itself. In July 2011 the Russians put forth a new “step by step” proposal to resolve the nuclear issue. Senior Russian officials informed their Iranians counterparts that the proposal has the support of the United States and subsequently, despite reservations, the Iranians agreed in principle with the plan.[15]

It later became clear to the Iranians that the Americans had misled the Russians too and that they did not actually accept the Russian proposal.[16]

American actions make it reasonable for Iranians to conclude that the actual US objective is for the nuclear issue not to be resolved and that the real problem for the United States is Iran’s opposition to and resistance against American hegemony.

Contrary to claims made in the west, Obama has never seriously attempted to engage with the Iranians on the basis of mutual respect.[17]

The irony is not lost upon Iranians that they have had to experience four rounds of sanctions, even though they have never produced Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Yet the countries that have actually pushed for the sanctions—meaning the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany—actually helped provide Saddam Hussain with WMDs to use against Iranian civilians and combatants, as well as against the Iraqi people.

In other words, these countries were deeply implicated in crimes against humanity; they compounded their complicity by preventing the UN Security Council from even declaring that Iraq had used such weapons, much less condemning it.  Iran on the other hand, despite its capability, refused to produce or use such weapons.

Israel has long had nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, far more than needed for defensive purposes. Photo: Mordecai Vanunu from Dimona

In fact, the Islamic Republic has, to this day, never produced chemical weapons, because it considers them inhumane.

As war veterans and civilian casualties in Iran continue to die because of the WMDs provided to the former Iraqi regime by the West, it is an understatement to say that Iranians are angered by these governments’ continued attempt to strangle the Iranian economy.

More recently, the extraordinary capture of the unmanned American stealth plane by the Iranian armed f