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Will money and openness change Iranians?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Most American discussions about the Iran nuclear deal are optimistic that it will end an era of confrontation. Some see it as similar to the opening with China in the 1970s, when the puritanical communist state turned into a flexible moderate one that has good ties with the United States despite the regime not changing. Many people hope Iran will change for the better - a new China - adding positivity and peace to the world.

Their wishes might come true, but this would require a change in the thinking of Iran’s leadership, which has cracked down on those advocating change. Extremists, who are anti-West and anti-modernization, have taken power. They have built high walls around the Iranian people, limiting their access to the outside world.

We have serious doubts that the nuclear deal and openness can change its behavior and politics.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Had the authorities decided to open up - allowing its citizens to travel abroad and foreigners to visit and work in Iran - the desired changes may have occurred, though it would likely have taken decades rather than a year or two.

Careful what you wish for

In Iran, most inhabitants are poor, cities are plagued with misery, and the long embargo has put all means of entertainment on hold. However, having a lot of money and leading a materialistic life do not necessarily change society for the better.

They could increase political, social and religious radicalism, contrary to the current belief that they would make people more civilized. We have many present-day examples from Muslim societies where huge financial resources have contributed to greater extremism than what prevailed during times of poverty.

Those of us in the region do not care about how Iranians handle their daily life, and do not have the right to tell them how to spend the royalties from the nuclear deal, or their new incomes resulting from cooperation with the West. We are the last to have the right to lecture them about openness and investing oil revenues. We have already lived the oil-wealth experience and mishandled it. It has ruined our social lives, and our understanding of development and progress.

What matters to us in American explanations of the phase to come once the nuclear deal ends is foreign politics and how the relationship with Iran will be managed. Tehran has spent billions of dollars on political projects in the Middle East under a clear, ongoing policy of exporting its Islamic revolution and imposing the Iranian model on other states.

This is our only problem with Tehran, which has become a source of concern for all countries in the region, as well as a cause of chaos and wars. We have serious doubts that the nuclear deal and openness can change its behavior and politics.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat.

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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.