Zakaria, Zarif and Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Two articles which pretty much share similar ideas and criticize American President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia because it is the “country of extremism and terrorism” were published around the same time.

In a column published in the Washington Post, Journalist and Author Fareed Zakaria repeated what he always said in his articles and television program when he defended former President Barack Obama’s policy of rapprochement with Iran at the expense of relations with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote an op-ed that was published in the New York Times and its logic was almost similar to Zakaria’s.

It’s normal for the Iranian foreign minister to defend his country and justify its bloody and extremist policies which have been adopted since Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. It’s his job to do so. As for Zakaria, most of those who praised his op-ed are Iranian media outlets in the region.

As Saudi Arabia pursues, jails and executes those with ties to terrorism, Iran is granting them top governmental posts and allowing them to participate in its forged elections and lead its armed troops that are deployed in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

An alliance against terrorism

Both columns mocked Trump’s visit and the Islamic summit and ignored the significance of the presence of more than 50 leaders from Muslim-majority countries. All Islamic governments actually met Saudi Arabia’s demand and only two did not attend: Iran and Syria. There’s no surprise here. Meanwhile, all other Muslim leaders went to the Saudi kingdom to confirm their rejection of accusing Islam and Islamists of the evil practices by lawless organizations.

Their attendance came as a protest that’s one of its kind. They also voiced their desire to cooperate with the US to fight extremism and terrorism. What happened in Riyadh is a semi-consensus to support Saudi Arabia in its project to bridge the gap with the West and prevent generalizations that lead to cultural and religious conflicts – the latter are exactly what extremists want and wish for. This is Saudi Arabia’s idea and project so what angers Iran and writers in support of it?

Like Zarif, Zakaria did not like the fact that the current American administration decided to cooperate with Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, to combat terrorism. They tried to focus on the idea that Saudi Arabia follows a conservative school of Islam and interpreted this by concluding that Saudi Arabia is thus responsible for religious and politicized extremism and terrorism.

This is a distortion of the facts on ground. Religious and social extremism can be seen in all religions and not just in Islam and it’s in fact present in Saudi Arabia. However religious political extremism is different and it’s new to Islamic societies as they only knew it after Khomeini assumed power in Iran. Khomeini inspired Sunni and Shiite religious groups to do like him and seek governance by power.

Unjustified accusations

As Saudi Arabia pursues, jails and executes those with ties to terrorism, Iran is granting them top governmental posts and allowing them to participate in its forged elections and lead its armed troops that are deployed in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the rest of Islamic countries have for 20 years now been confronting armed extremist groups and they killed many of the latter’s commanders in cooperation with the US.

In his op-ed, Zakaria cited one communication to exonerate Iran and accuse Saudi Arabia; however, there are dozens of Congress accounts and a long session (held in December 2016) in which intelligence officials and officials from the department of defense described Iran as the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.

An international consensus to combat terrorism is thus of great significance. Armed Sunni and Shiite groups must be fought so will Iran accept this principle? Will it accept to participate in this task? No, it will not because it’s publicly managing armed extremist religious groups whose members are more than 20,000 and whom it brought from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Zarif and Zakaria know this truth but their aim is to only defend the historical mistake which Obama made when he reconciled with Iran without lifting the sanctions through altering Iran’s hostile behavior against the region and other countries. The result was around 500,000 casualties in Syria alone.

This article is also available in Arabic
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. He tweets @aalrashed.

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