|Seyed Mohammad Marandi
University of Tehran
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 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 trusted1.
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. 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.
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 reality4. 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’an5.
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 lives15. 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 Turkey16.
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 plan17. It later became clear to the Iranians that the Americans had misled the Russians too and that they did not actually accept the Russian proposal18. 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 respect19.
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. 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 forces, not only reveals the extent of Iranian military competence; it also exposes the extent of US hostility towards Iran as well as its sheer disregard of international law, including Afghan sovereignty20. What is the point of talking with the United States, Iranian’s ask themselves, when it carried out such provocative acts of hostility with such total unaccountability and impunity?
Many in Iran feel that, to a large extent, the Syrian public has also been made the target of sanctions and foreign intervention because of the West’s extraordinary hatred towards the Islamic Republic. In other words, Syrians must cease to earn a living, because their government, alongside Iran, stands in opposition to the Israeli regime’s apartheid policies. From almost the start of the troubles in Syria, Iranians were aware that external forces were involved, notwithstanding repeated denials by Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf, Turkey, and Western countries. As time passed, this has become even clearer, despite unending media propaganda21claiming that it is simply a struggle between unarmed street protestors and the Syrian army and intelligence services22. Indeed, the dictatorships of the Arab League are even having problems forcing their own monitors in Syria to tow the official line and now even a poll funded by Qatar, whose results have clearly been spun and completely ignored by the western media, reveals that the majority of Syrians actually support Bashar Assad23.
There is no doubt that the foreign anti-Syrian alliance is, responsible for arming groups, for the devastating car and suicide bombings, and, thus, for the many deaths—including the large number of sectarian murders, largely ignored in the Western media—that have occurred as a result. When American officials and the western media speak of Syrian brutality and constantly repeat unsubstantiated casualty figures presented by western funded Syrian NGOs24, it would be good for them to recall how many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq were killed during the insurgency against US occupation. The regular killing of civilians in Afghanistan and the regular drone attacks in Pakistan among other countries are, of course, ongoing tragedies.
Iran believed that the Syrian president should have been given a chance to carry out the reforms which were promised, but that from the start, Western governments and Arab dictatorships were adamant that reforms should not succeed under Bashar Assad. Hence, they attempted to overrun the legitimate internal opposition with an external one that backs Western military intervention25. While the Islamic Republic was critical of the treatment of peaceful protestors with legitimate grievances by Syrian security forces, Iranians knew that, unlike other Arab regimes, President Assad had and continues to have significant popular support. His stance against the Israeli regime, his support for resistance groups, and the fact that unlike other Arab leaders he lives a relatively normal lifestyle, gives him much more street credibility that Saudi, Jordanian, Bahraini, Yemeni, or Egyptian rulers26. On multiple occasions in recent months, enormous crowds have taken to the streets in simultaneous pro-Assad demonstrations in major Syrian cities; in contrast, none of the Arab dictators—including his current antagonists—have ever been able to muster such public support for themselves. Indeed, Iran believes that this is the main reason why cruel sanctions have been imposed on Syria: they are meant to do nothing but hurt the general public and cause discontent among the population. President Assad’s foreign adversaries recognize that he has significant popular support; hence, the Syrian people must be punished until this support is diminished.
As in Gaza and Iran, the goal is to punish people for backing political forces critical of the West. In the 1980s the United States had success with such a policy, as they removed the Sandinistas from power in Nicaragua by making life unbearable for ordinary people through sanctions and a bloody insurgency. While Iranians recognize that international law has been unfairly constructed to favor western powers, the increasing Western, Turkish, Saudi, and Qatari disregard for Syrian sovereignty—and even for their own UN Security Council resolution on Libya—is creating a strong sense of lawlessness and chaos. Add to this, of course, the regular and arrogant violation of Iranian sovereignty through drones and “crippling” sanctions as well as active support for anti-Iranian terrorist organization.
In an extraordinary Wall Street Journal interview, the pro-Western Syrian National Council’s spokesman, Burhan Ghalioun, revealed clearly where things stand. He effectively said that if the Syrian state is overthrown, the new regime would relinquish the Resistance against Israel and would move politically towards the “principal Arab powers”, meaning the current Arab dictatorships27. Therefore, while there is no doubt that the Syrian government has major deficiencies and that excessive force has been used by army soldiers and security service members, leading to the deaths of innocent people, Iranians do not believe that the US, EU, Qatari and Saudi led attempts for regime change in Damascus are being carried out for the sake of freedom or democracy. If only for self-preservation, these absolute monarchies will, with the aid of their Western backers, try to deter any meaningful move towards democracy near their borders, at all costs. Hence, the continued US support for the Jordanian king, the Egyptian military28, the Yemeni regime, the Saudi occupation of Bahrain, and the Al-Khalifa dictatorship29. The United States has a policy of deterring democracy in the region, so why should anyone believe, they have a sincere interest in freedom for Syrians?
There is evidence indicating the United States has been viewing sectarianism as a potential tool for weakening its adversaries for quite some time now30. This fits well with the current situation in Syria. The fact that Turkey, which seems to be showing Neo-Ottoman tendencies, has allowed Abdulhakim Belhadj (who was close to both the al-Qaeda leadership and the Taleban) to meet with leaders of the so called “Free Syrian Army” in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey is mind boggling.31 In addition, Salafi clerics close to the insurgency repeatedly incite religious, racial, and sectarian violence, such as the well-known Saudi cleric Saleh Al-Luhaidan, who said a third of the Syrian population should be killed so that the rest could live.32 The foreign-backed extremists even murdered the son of the Syria’s Grand Sunni Mufti,33 just as their allies killed many Sunni clerics and sheikhs in the Anbar province in Iraq.
Whether the Syrian regime survives in its current form, reforms itself, or falls is not really the central issue—though in Tehran it is widely believed that President Assad will survive this crisis and most probably remain in power. What is striking is how the Americans and Europeans simply do not learn from history. One would imagine that, after the September 11 attacks, they would have learned a thing or two about blowback. If extremist ideologies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, funded by the Saudis and other oil-rich Arab regimes, can create such immense difficulties for Western countries, imagine the problem when their sphere of influence reaches North Africa, India, Nigeria, Central Asia, and Turkey.
It is important to note that, contrary to Western propaganda, no Iranian leader has at any point advocated the dismantling of Israel through military annihilation. Despite the often willful distortion of the Iranian president’s words in the Western media, the Islamic Republic’s position has consistently been that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is a colonial entity entitling a particular group of “chosen people” exceptional rights while denying those rights to the majority of the native population, thereby leaving the regime without any legitimacy. Iran’s stance against Israel is based on what it sees to be an important moral principle.34 The Islamic Republic followed the same principle in its opposition to apartheid South Africa, at a time when Western countries backed the regime. From the Iranian perspective, the only way for the Palestinian issue to be resolved is for the Zionist ideology to be relinquished, so that Muslims, Christians, and Jews can live as equals in the land of Palestine. If the Palestinian people as a whole, including refugees, come to an agreement with Israel, the Islamic Republic would respect the Palestinian decision and refrain from interference. Nevertheless, on moral grounds it will not recognize the Israeli regime as legitimate. Of course, the extremist ideologies promoted by wealthy Arab dictatorships have a very different view of religious diversity and coexistence.
Hence, it is in the interest of the declining Western powers to take a more rational approach towards regional issues and a more reasonable approach towards the Islamic Republic. Any attempt to hurt or humiliate Iranians will simply harden Iran’s stance and have an opposite effect, whereas reason and respect can lead to a solution acceptable to all sides. As things stand; however, the Islamic Republic has no option but to make conditions more difficult for the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf region.
It is also in the interest of those so-called “Iran experts” in Western countries who consistently distort reality inside Iran to behave more responsibly.38 Their constant caricature of Iranian society as well as their unfounded claims of fraud in the 2009 presidential elections,39 have largely served the interests of unwise advocates of confrontation within the United States who need to “delegitimize” the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the American public. Iranians know quite well that a country engaged in perpetual war—where even establishment figures such as Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, and Octavia Nasr are silenced, where academics are denied tenure for their political views,40, where people are imprisoned for making television channels like Al-Manar available to the public,41 and where innocent citizens are regularly harassed by the FBI and IRS or arrested on trumped-up charges, simply because they are anti-war, anti-Wall Street or because of their sympathy for Palestinians, Lebanon, or Iran42—has little right to speak about Iran. Those who do so anyway should at least have the decency to wait until the last Iranian gas victim dies.
Tour D’horizon: An Iranian Optic on the Middle East and its Prospects
8 Februarie 2012 de mihaibeltechi