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The smiling faces of the Iranian government

The Iranian regime’s bad reputation is not merely propaganda fabricated against it

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

The Iranian regime’s bad reputation is not merely propaganda fabricated against it, amid a political war which has been ongoing since the revolution against the Shah. It is actually the true face of a regime that has - for more than 36 years - exported conflicts, revolutions, violence and extremist and hostile ideologies against any state or movement that locally, regionally or internationally disagrees with it. This bad reputation has been a direct result of several malicious acts - abductions, assassinations and explosions - as well as making threats and funding groups to mobilize against several countries. This is in addition to the violent form of governance inside Iran itself as the regime pursued and excluded millions of Iranians who fled and currently live in exile.

These damaging moves, which have accumulated over time, have made Tehran’s governance resemble the likes of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the Assad family in Syria, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and Kim Jong-un in North Korea. This bad image is therefore not one “fabricated” by the regime’s enemies outside of Iran.

The Iranian regime’s bad reputation is not merely propaganda fabricated against it

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Iranian government has currently resorted to a new language and is sending clear hints about its desire to establish positive relations with its rivals in the Middle East. These hints made by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were quickly received by Iran’s rivals. Their reactions came as expected; in principle, welcoming the new sentiments, still however being doubtful on how serious these friendly intentions are. There’s a general belief that Tehran’s government is running a campaign to clear the air with its rivals, in order to end regional opposition of its nuclear deal with Western powers – particularly opposition from Gulf countries, Jordan and Israel as they think the agreement is good in principle, but masks Tehran’s true intentions. Of course those who oppose this nuclear deal do not all oppose it for the same reasons. Arab states think that Iran wants to calm the West and end sanctions imposed on it so it may resume plans to dominate in the region. Meanwhile, Israel thinks that Iran plans to resume its nuclear military program and fears that the agreement does not provide enough guarantees and will therefore not only pose a threat against its security but also against its existence. Some American politicians, including Democrats, are also doubtful of the agreement and oppose it.

In the past, Iran was clear in regards to its extremism as it ignored all what was said about its intentions and stances and carried on with its policies; however, today it fears that the interests of the Arabs, Israelis and Americans who oppose the nuclear agreement have become and interruption. We must note however that despite the fierce opposition against this deal, President Barack Obama’s chances of the deal passing Congress remain very high. All he needs is to gain the approval of just one third of either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Two smiling faces

To activate the nuclear deal, Iran is embellishing its policies and rhetoric towards other countries in order to reassure opponents that it wants to cooperate and turn the page and that it has become a new Iran: a country that’s politically moderate, cooperative on regional and international levels and religiously tolerant. To serve this purpose, the regime has pushed two smiling faces to the forefront, President Hassan Rowhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Both of them do not at all resemble the officials of the former government of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his grouchy ministers. However, we are aware that it is actions and not facial expressions which expose a politician’s true intentions. Bashar al-Assad for example is seemingly a jovial, elegant and polite man, yet his hands are stained with the blood of more than 250,000 Syrians.

In Iran, the president and the government do not actually rule as there’s a strict religious institution that makes decisions on important details. Knowing this institution, we have not witnessed any change in its hostile policy towards countries in the region and towards the Iranian citizens who oppose it. The image Iran is trying to present and the soft rhetoric it is addressing us with may just be for the aim of soothing tensions against the regime and against the deal. Its final goal may be to seal the deal, have it approved, then have all sanctions lifted.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 23, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.