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Iran’s Reaction to the Events in the Arab Countries: the Attempts to Consolidate Positions in the Region

By Anna GEVORKYAN
Researcher of the Centre for Civilization and Culture Studies,Yerevan StateUniversity
Yerevan

“The Arab spring” has forced the whole world to focus attention to the region, called theMiddle East.  The events, taking place in almost all countries of the region, one after another, have changed the situation in these countries and their place and role in the region.

After the heavy “rains” of the “Arab spring,” the outwardly stableIrantried to demonstrate to its own public and international community the steadfastness of its positions and influence in the region. To this end,Tehranqualified the events in the Arab countries as a struggle “for the sake of Islam” and continuation of the Islamic revolution inIran. Then, by means of visits and open letters,Tehrantried to establish a dialog with thePersian Gulfstates and to discuss the regional and, particularly, the mentioned events with them. As a result, not only the Iranian secular and spiritual leadership, but also the West started to speak aboutIran’s new and more influential role in the region.

Iranreacted to the events in the Arab world in a manner that many would qualify strange enough. It seemed that the totalitarian and theocratic state, suppressing each revolt in blood, cannot support the struggle against the ruling elites in the Arab countries.  Moreover, many experts insist that the revolts in the Arab countries occurred under the influence of the huge manifestations after the presidential elections inIranin 2009.  There was also the opinion, shared by many, that the wave of revolutions that broke out in December inEgypt, had been initiated two years ago inIran.

However, the Iranian authorities made a skilful diplomatic move. From the very beginning of the Egyptian eventsTehrandeclared its support to the uprising, noting that the rebel masses were fighting for Allah against the West. On February 4, 2011, the spiritual leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei, during his Friday prayer, personally greeted the Egyptian demonstrators and expressed confidence that their struggle against Mubarak resembled the Islamic revolution against the Shah of Iran. And although not only Muslims, but also Christians assembled in the Egyptian streets, fighting against dictatorship and for their own rights and security, the Iranian leader nevertheless declared their struggle God-pleasing.

This move is typical for totalitarian countries: to interpret the events just as required for such countries, or, more precisely, the regime. An interesting opinion was expressed in this context by the Professor Ali Gremae from theLondonUniversityduring a round-table discussion “The impact of the Arab events onIran” inYerevan. He said: “If these events had taken place 30 years ago, the Soviet Union, which was governed by such a totalitarian regime, as inIran, they would have been qualified as a struggle of the proletariat against the capitalism.” However, regardless the goal of the Egyptians, for which they are fighting: democracy, Islam or a new government, which was created after Mubarak’s resignation, the relations betweenEgyptandIranhave become much warmer than before. It is proved by the fact that two Iranian military ships have passed through theSuez Canalto the Syrian shores just after the formation of the new government, which was absolutely unbelievable during Mibarak’s pro-American rule.

On June 30, during the meeting with the leadership of the country, the Supreme Leader of Iran assessed as dangerous the trend of disregarding the role of religion, in particular, Islam in the current developments. According to him, the rebelled peoples experience the Islamic revival. Remarkably, during the same meeting the Supreme Leader of Iran treated the similar processes inSyriaas actions, organized by Americans and Zionists, which means that hereIransupports the other side, i.e. Bashar al-Assad’s government. In this case,Iranused double standards, for whichTehrancontinuously blamed theUSA: he supported the demonstrators inEgypt, but blamed and condemned the demonstrators in the streets of the Syrian towns, and only because Syrian President al-Assad is the closest ally toIranin the region.

On June 25, during the meeting with the Iraqi President Jalal Talibani in Iran Ruhollah Khamenei noted that the events in the Arab countries showed that the positions of theUnited Stateswere weakening in the region. He noted that as far as after the toppling of Saddam Hussein  the forces, executing the U.S. orders, have been neutralized, and the USA loses its positions in the other regions as well, then nothing prevents the peoples of Iran and Iraq from living in friendly and fraternal relations.

With the aim of improving the relations with the Council of Cooperation of thePersian Gulfstates, during the first two weeks of May the Iranian Foreign Minister Salekhi visited the Council member countries, where he discussed the events in the region and bilateral relations with each of these states.

Remarkably, during the events of the “Iranian spring,” one of the most influential representatives of the Iranian clergy Ayatollah Shirazi and the speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani sent open letters, demanding from the Arab countries, in particular Bahrain and Soudi Arabia, to stop repressing the peaceful population and demonstrators, fighting for their rights.  It is necessary to point out that 70% of theBahrainpopulation are Shiites, meanwhile the power is in the Sunnis’ hands, and the absolute majority of the demonstrators are Shiites. This means that if their demands are satisfied, i.e. to hold elections and incorporation of Shiites into the government, then it would be more than advantageous forIran. This is the reason why Ali Larijani asks the heads of parliaments of all countries to display a human approach and to demand that democratic reforms are carried out inBahrain. As for Ayatollah Shirazi, he called for overcoming the disagreements between Shiites and Sunnis, stressing that this confrontation was provoked by enemies.

All these events have not left unnoticed for the heads of western states and experts. And although it is apparent that in most of casesIranpresents the facts in the light of its own interests,Tehranhas really won from the processes in the Arab countries. I think, it is an indisputable fact. Numerous world newspapers have written about it; it is evidenced by experts and  even officials from the western countries.

The Editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine Fyodor Lukyanov said in Yerevan in May 2011, during the conference The Caucasus 2010, that Iran’s role is increasing in the region, but it can be described as rather potential, than real.

The U.S. Secretary of State said on April 15, after the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the NATO member states in Berlin, that although there were no facts to prove that the events in Arab countries had been provoked by Iran, after these events Iran is in much more advantageous situation.ClintonblamedIranfor its intention to derive benefits from the critical situation in the region.

On May 26, during the Big 8 summit, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed concern thatIran, using the situation in the Arab countries, would try to speed up its nuclear programs.

On February 19, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed his concern thatIran’s role had been available and increased in almost all countries in the recent time.

Thus, many inIranand outside the country are noting the increased positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region after the Arab events.Iranhas only to smooth its domestic political wrinkles in order not to allow them weaken the country from inside.

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