Iran Between National Ideal and Political Expediency

Fathi El-Shihibi

The Islamic Republic’s latest volley of confused signals designed to simultaneously unnerve yet assure its neighbors are indicative of unclear vision for the future. When the Iranian politicians and military and naval commanders such as Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and navy admiral Habibollah Sayari threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of new sanctions and yet claim that their military exercises should not to be viewed as hostile acts but rather as gestures of solidarity and friendship that alone is an indication of a crisis of leadership and insight at the very top. Such confusion and uncertainty could lead to fateful mishaps with dangerous consequences (read my article “would Iran be attacked before the year is over”, middle east online, 12/22/2011). A nation thrives by rallying around a central universal ideal to which other nations aspire. When nations vacillate or waver regarding their proclaimed central ideal or ideals then such nations would gradually falter and eventually decline. Even though the Iranian regime which was established by the leader of the 1979 revolution Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini adopted the ideal of universal justice as being the cornerstone of the new republic however it has been wavering regarding its declared modus vivendi ever since. To start with the continued occupation of the three UAE (United Arab Emirates) United islands in the Arab (Persian) Gulf which include Tunb al-Kubra (the Greater Tunb) , Tunb al-Sughra (the Lesser Tunb) and Abu Musa, goes against Iran’s claim that it is championing other peoples’ aspiration to live free and therefore independent any sort of foreign influence or occupation. Despite the fact that the aforementioned islands were occupied during the reign of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in 1971 the Islamic Republic of Iran does not only reject relinquishing control over the islands but has been taking steps to enforce its unilateral sovereignty and drastically increasing its military presence on all three.
Along with such obvious imperial ambitions clearly shown in the Islamic Republic’s persistence to continue its occupation of the Islands, the country’s involvement in the Bahraini uprising is also suspect. Iran’s tacit involvement in the internal affairs of Bahrain and Iraq does not exactly coincide with the Bahrainis and Iraqis aspirations to create democratic institutions but rather to realize the Iranian regime’s agenda for the entire Gulf region. In this case I found myself in agreement with the notion expressed by Jordan’s King Abdullah II regarding the Shi’a Crescent. According to this notion Iran’s penetration into the Arab world begins in southern Iraq and then goes through Syria to southern Lebanon thus forming a crescent of Shi’a influence which is expanding to absorb surrounding Shi’a enclaves. Along with establishing such a crescent which I regard as a beachhead into the center of the Arab world Iran has been actively involved in the agitations among Shi’a minorities in the entire region including the Houthis Zaidi Shi’a in Yemen and the Baharma Shi’a in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia most of whom concentrate in the provinces of Qatif, al-Ahsa and Dammam.
My reason for bringing this up is that throughout modern history when a state blurs the lines between politics and religion such a state would most likely have a civil war on its hand which could actually happen in many Arab countries if Iran continues to create and widen the divide between Shi’a and Sunna Muslims. The examples of Ireland, Afghanistan and at one point Iraq should still be vivid in our minds. The same logic applies to blurring the lines between ethnicity and nationalism as happened in the former Yugoslavia where the Serbs created a coalition to subdue people of other ethnicities. The former Yugoslavia was also a place where the lines between politics and religion were also blurred thereby pitting the Eastern Orthodoxs of Serbia against the Muslims of Bosnia- Herzegovina and the Roman Catholics of Croatia. A similar scenario could happen if sates in North Africa including Libya, Algeria and Morocco do not pay heed to the existing antagonisms between segments of their populations including Arabs, Berber (Amazigh or Shluh), Tawariq and Tabu particularly in Libya. Such fissures could be exploited by foreign countries to create unrests and even ignite civil wars as happened in the Sudan which has recently led to splitting the country in half hence Northern and Southern Sudan.
This brings me to Iran’s role in today’s Arab World and particularly regarding the Arab Spring. While Iran is directly involved in the uprisings in Bahrain and Syria, the county seems to adopt a mostly hands off approach concerning the revolutions in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Iran’s direct involvement with its ally Syria which happens to be in the grip of the Alawite Shi’a minority is another instance of how the moral campus of Iran changes direction and points towards an expedient political agenda instead. News about the escalating violence on either the Syrian national TV or the Iranian al-Alam TV clearly share the same newsfeed which is the Syrian propaganda outlet. I am always at a loss when I watch the Iranian television’s anchormen rehashing lies and fabrications manufactured by the Assad regime and yet knowing full well that by doing so they are actually participating in covering up the atrocities being perpetrated by the Syrian regime against it own people. Despite being somewhat aloof regarding Libya’s February 17th Revolution however describing our situation as being a “War on Libya”, by the Iranian al-Alam Satellite TV as well as Iranian officials is intentionally misleading. News about Libya on al-Alam TV channel are always introduced with the headline “War on Libya” rather than being a war for Libya and the Libyan people. Such a headline makes it seems as if our country is being attacked by NATO air forces rather than being protected by them. This is another example of how the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran deliberately forsakes its ideal of universal justice for the sake of a narrow political agenda. Fathi El-Shihibi is a professor at Emmanuel College, Boston, MA 02115 USA.