The fundamentalist era is becoming stronger and more entrenched in the Middle East and around the world. In spite of the civil and modernization attempts of key countries in the region—such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE—cognizance of both the nature of history and the counterbalances of global powers requires a greater insight, a stronger awareness, and the ability to handle many conflicting details.
Four decades have elapsed, eight American presidents have come and gone, an international cold war has come to an end, and the international system has undergone a major change, yet the Iranian “theocratic” regime has not changed, nor has it responded to any containment attempts, active diplomacy, negotiations, or agreements that preclude its quintessential principles of “exporting the revolution,” imposing hegemony, and expanding its influence.
A quick and careful comparison reveals that only a few months ago, the Iranian regime was languishing under stiff US sanctions that forced it to reduce its regional activities. This went as far as the assassination of Iran’s most prominent military icon, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq. In parallel, the Iranian regime dreaded any terrorist acts or activities by its militias in Arab countries as officials in Tehran publicly disavowed anything that might be used as an excuse for striking at the regime. Today, the regime has rekindled all its hostile policies; expanded its nuclear facilities; mobilized its militias in Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine; and is seeking to brutally crush the uprising in Ahwaz while plotting to assassinate dissidents inside the US, as has happened recently in New York.
It is a high-speed journey from “humiliation” to “pampering” that summarizes many of the differences between the visions of the previous US administrations and the incumbent one with respect to the best way for dealing with the Iranian regime. What concerns us in the region is not the nature of the discord between Democrats and Republicans, but the impact of each’s strategy on our region, countries, and peoples. The current situation allows Iran a greater margin of action, activity, and influence, and will continue to do so in the future.
The famous slogan of the Iranian regime and its militias is “Death to America. Death to Israel.” However, all of Iran’s strategies, policies, stances, alliances, militias, and followers from political Islamic groups and violent Sunni religious organizations prove that one of its most important objectives is “targeting Saudi Arabia.” This is evident in the Islamic Republic’s constitution, in the late Khomeini’s will, and in Tehran’s discourse, as well as the rhetoric of Iranian figureheads and followers in Arab countries.
There is no heavyweight country in the world that is capable of stopping the Iranian regime from its expansionist and subversive policies except the United States. China has begun moving to establish iron-clad links with the Iranian regime. Russia is allied with Iran in Syria and elsewhere. As for European countries, they are unable of doing anything strategically important in the face of Iran as they are only standing behind the US and being driven by economic greed more than strategic awareness. The problem today lies in America’s willingness to provide several concessions to the Iranian regime.
There are major indicators for the return of the fundamentalist era in the region and the world, such as the return of the Muslim Brotherhood and many Islamic political groups with them, such as al- Sururiya, to influence and regain its power over societies, and the return of the Taliban to seize power in Afghanistan. Another major indicator is seen in the return of the Iranian regime to resume its expansionist policies and strategies that lost momentum during the Trump administration but did not cease altogether.
The relationship of the global left with Islamic fundamentalism is well-known, and anyone can easily notice it from the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood all the way to the Khomeini revolution. Also, it was the American liberal left that was behind the nuclear deal with Iran and is currently negotiating with Iran to resume that flawed and destructive agreement.
All the statements being made about what is taking place at the Vienna talks speak of differences that can be overcome, not of fundamental ones that are impossible to be resolved. The world, especially the countries and peoples of the region, will see the repercussions of this in the near future. We are all responsible for the consequences of our own decisions. We are confronted by disclosed policies and explicit strategies that do not require further scrutiny and analysis in order to understand and comprehend their future ramifications.
Very recently, the two projects antagonistic to the Arab states in the region: the “sectarian project” and the “fundamentalist project,” sought to build a political alliance with a number of Islamic countries in Malaysia and Pakistan, as well as an Arab country, with the aim of curtailing the role of “Saudi Arabia” in leading the Islamic world. The two projects failed in their endeavor, but such ideas may find a foothold in a “fundamentalist era.”
Obama’s political view of the Persians and the Arabs as two great nations is completely inaccurate. While it sees the Persians as a civilized nation, it sees the Arabs as the opposite. Albeit it is a very deficient view in terms of its awareness of history, nations, and peoples, and even the very philosophy on which it was based is faulty; the important thing here is not to argue with it and prove its fragility and fragmentation, but rather to be aware of its impact on any decision-maker who may base his stances and vision of reality and the future upon it.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia is no longer branded a terrorist group, according to US classification, and Lebanese Hezbollah is mobilizing its followers to prepare for any upcoming war with Israel, while Hamas is ready to burn the Gaza Strip at the first sign from Iran. Therefore, Israel seems the country most ready to confront the Iranian regime. Israeli strikes inside Iran against the nuclear project and its leaders and scientists, as well as through costly cyberattacks, alongside the Israeli attacks in Syria, where the continuous bombing of Iranian camps and Iranian-backed militias is taking place, are all indications that the awareness of the Iranian threat is not limited to Arab countries.
Iranian Shia fundamentalism was greatly influenced by Sunni fundamentalism, which was founded by Pakistan’s Maududi and Egypt’s Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Iran sponsored and supported al-Qaeda and ISIS, both of which are expected to resurface. When coupled with the return of the Taliban, the fundamentalist revival will be widespread and distressing.
The revival of the fundamentalist era will be accompanied once again by turning a blind eye to its real sponsor in Iran while putting pressure on Arab countries as they are held responsible for the consequences of fundamentalists’ crimes. The West will maintain its traditional position, i.e. refusing to sternly confront main players in Iran. The West had already branded these groups as terrorist organizations and hunted down their members and leaders, but they all found refuge in Iran and elsewhere, and, even more alarmingly, in some Western countries. These groups, by their very nature, do not give up; they seek, under various circumstances, to gain political influence with which they aim to bring down Arab countries and spread chaos and terrorism within them.
Finally, the major phenomena and transformations occurring in history require a keen eye and careful analysis to detect and comprehend them. However, the situation is not completely desperate, but a fox is not taken twice to the same snare.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.