What is President Barack Obama leaving behind for his successor in the White House? Well, the situation in the Middle East looks a bit worrying after the lifting of international sanctions on Iran.
Practically, the international community has rehabilitated Iran, shown trust in its leadership and political stances and overlooked all its international, regional and even domestic transgressions committed by a regime that practices its own brand of “democracy”. It is a regime whereby the government doesn’t govern, but is rather led by a “Supreme Guide” who guides, directs and commands in liaison with a militia named “The Revolutionary Guards”.
However, one must not belittle the achievements of Iran’s “non-governing government”. Ever since Hassan Rowhani was elected president, a new set of realistic priorities emerged in Tehran, which is totally different from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s strident dogmatism.
PR has become the hallmark of the Rowhani era in political, economic, media and security/military matters as approved by the “Guide” and “Revolutionary Guards”. Among the shining stars of this era is the Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif and his team of “diplomats”, intelligence experts and dealers-fixers active with foreign lobbies, especially in the U.S.
However, there are those who claim that such a significant shift has not been achieved by Rowhani’s election but rather his election was very much part of its script. The dealers-fixers working for the Iranian regime in the U.S., UK and other major Western powers were not implanted and nurtured after the election of the new president, but have been active in influence buying and connection building for decades.
Long time coming
The seeds of “rehabilitating Iran” were sown some time ago. In fact, it is enough to remember the “Iran-Contra” deal in the days of the bitter vitriol between Ronald Reagan’s Washington and Ayatullah Khomeini’s Tehran whereby all talk of the “Great Satan” was totally forgotten.
In such a context, the Rowhani presidency becomes exactly the much needed development to affect a strategic change in the geo-political scene of the Middle East. Somehow this is not much different from the emergence of ISIS, an organization born in unfamiliar circumstances with a weird chemistry and dubious actions.
True to form, here comes Iran to present to the world its credentials not only as a “partner” in economic development and rewarding investments but also in fighting terrorism and defending and promoting human rights – including minorities’ rights!
Iran’s sectarian discourse, translated on the ground by “exporting the revolution”, started a process of building extremist, and later armed, sectarian affinitiesEyad Abu Shakra
The latter claim could not have been sold had it not been for two facts. Firstly, Iran’s diligent investment in its “tentacles” abroad. Secondly, its understanding of politics is based on interests and not on principles and morality.
These two facts have always been part of Tehran’s thinking since 1979 and have allowed the current pragmatic leadership to benefit from services provided by politically influential figures in many global capitals. The next step that followed was convincing the public in America and Europe that Iran was a “useful” partner in several areas unlike its regional adversaries, and a player who knows how to play the “game” even if it has to resort to outbidding those adversaries in upholding the virtues of Islam, revolution and confronting imperialism and Israel.
The “Arab Spring” has come to reveal a very important truth, one needs to confess. The Arab world neither anticipated it nor was aware of its dimensions and costs. Indeed, until this moment, and despite the momentous events that shook and continue to shake the Arab countries affected by that “Spring” Arab public opinion still seems divided over where it is leading and is confused as what to do.
This situation has allowed the three major non-Arab powers in the Middle East – Israel, Iran and Turkey – to flex their muscles and declare their “right” to defend their “vital interests” in the region as Arab authority disintegrates. As far as Israel is concerned, the Likud and its extreme right-wing coalition partners now feel free to destroy any chance of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians that would ensure the right of self-determination.
On another front, Sunni-Shiite polarization has now reached the stage of demographic cleansing and state partitioning as we see is taking place in several parts of Syria and the Diyala Province in Iraq. Iran’s sectarian discourse, translated on the ground by “exporting the revolution” in speech and actions, began a process of building extremist, and later armed, sectarian affinities.
The reaction to such a venture was merely a matter of time. In fact, it came in more than one form, such as the ascendancy of conservative Sunni parties in several Arab and Muslim countries including hitherto secular Tunisia and Turkey and the emergence of extremist Sunni groups claiming to confront Shiite political and military hegemony in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
For Iran, the founding of sectarian militias was an important step in “exporting the (Iranian brand of the Shiite) revolution”, more so after its ambition led to the First Gulf War (The Iraq – Iran War).
Later, Tehran’s strategy succeeded thanks to Hezbollah’s successes in Lebanon, Iran’s penetration of the Palestinian arena through Hamas and investment in “resisting” Israel and even winning over leftist and nationalist sectors “orphaned” by the collapse of the USSR and the signing of Camp David agreement.
In any case what is now taking place in the Middle East has been made possible by a very helpful political climate, especially in the U.S. where Washington’s policies need no clarifications.
Obviously, American and Western business and political interests have strongly contributed to the decision of “rehabilitating” Iran. However, this is happening against a background of human tragedies, demographic changes, failing states, costly ethnic and sectarian animosities and rancor.
Still, the West would not mind all this as it has decided to treat ISIS as a phenomenon that sums up all the Sunnis of the region, and bet on Iran as an ally in its global war against Sunni terrorism exclusively! This policy may succeed in the short term, but is doomed in the end because it is the surest way of nurturing extremism and bigotry.
This, exactly, is the Middle East that will throw more of its refugees into Europe and that Barack Obama will leave behind to his successor.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 19, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.