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A Need for a New Arab-Iranian Bloc

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On Iran's Presidential Elections:

A Need for a New Arab-Iranian Bloc

Iran, regarded as the last country in the world witnessing a revolution that changed its society and foreign relations, is also the only country with a Muslim majority which witnesses a distinctive combination between its Shiite Islamic frame of reference and democratic procedures, the most important of which is holding periodic elections to choose its leaders.

It is also the state whose politicians have developed a new and unique balance between legislative, executive, judicial and religious institutions. This balance is seen by those who develop the system as a guarantee of maintaining and implementing the Islamic frame of reference and ensuring the prosperity of Iranian society.

There will be presidential elections next month. Of course, it is not the president who sets Iranian domestic and foreign policies. There are also the Supreme leader, The Majlis of Iran (the Parliament), the Guardian Council of the Constitution, the Supreme National Security Council, The Expediency Discernment Council of the System, and others.

Certainly, Iran is not a democratic society based on free competition between political forces. At the end of the day, the supreme leader is the number one man, and the goals of the revolution and ideology of the system are what the supreme leader–as well as all institutions established by the revolutionists– seeks to carry out. There is no room in Iran for ideas that are incompatible with this revolutionist legitimacy except only in so far as the system is embellished. However, there is another fact, which is that the system periodically renews itself by means of renewing its political elites in some sort of elections.

Furthermore, the regime is one of few regimes that are facing enormous challenges. It adopts an ideology based on a religious frame of reference in the time of a secular liberal hegemony. The political system is based on an Islamic frame of reference among states with Muslim majorities that have nevertheless chosen to keep away from that frame of reference and whose role is gradually diminishing in a world that recognizes only blocs. Iran has also nuclear ambitions and a desire to appear as a prominent regional power in an area militarily and politically controlled by the American power.

The new president will face a number of challenges which he himself will be the first political force to speak about and confront. One of these challenges is that of the relations with the Arab Gulf states. The settlement of the outstanding issues with those states is a matter of paramount importance regarding Iran's relations with the states of the region and their allies, the most important among which is Egypt.

This settlement is related to the settlement of the file of the occupied Emirati islands peacefully and offering guarantees against further Iranian interference in the affairs of the Arab Gulf States. The periodical Iranian declarations which interfere in the Bahraini affairs and call into question its Arabism or the legitimacy of its political system have also to stop.

Ignoring these two matters will never help Iran with its demands that U.S. troops depart from the Gulf. Every beginner in the study of politics can immediately recognizes that who support U.S. presence in the Gulf will depict Iran– as Iraq formerly was– as the source of potential danger to Gulf states that are militarily incomparable to Iran. What binds Iran and these Arab countries together has to be bigger and more significant than the islands or the old allegations that Bahrain belonged to Iran. I mean by these bonds: regional neighborhood, Islam, the common security interest, and maybe common economic interests in the future.

Certainly, Iran has the right to refuse the American presence in the Gulf. However, the new president has to ensure the governments and peoples of this region and remove any feelings of worry regarding Iran's goals in the region. In fact, the security of the region is that of Arab Gulf states and Iran together, without any attempt of hegemony or control from any party. Easing tensions with Egypt is one thing that will help eliminate these feelings and pave the way for merging Iran in the regional system.

As for the Iraqi arena, the new president must be aware that the continuous interference in the Iraqi affairs is likely to keep the tension in the Arab-Iranian relationships, especially with the Arab Gulf region, Jordan and Egypt. Iraq is not a marginal state so that it can be imagined that it is possible to control it and manipulate its politicians in the way that happens now in Baghdad. Furthermore, there will come a day when Arabs of the Gulf and Egypt believe that they must face the rising Iranian influence in Iraq. All this leads to instability of Iraq, which must be reflected some day on the stability of Iran itself.

Domestically, the new president will deal with an economy that relies on oil revenues and foreign investors. Therefore, dealing wisely with the international community concerning the nuclear program is essentially necessary for dealing with internal economic and social files. Any new economic sanctions after the Security Council Resolutions 1696 and 1747 may influence the economy and investment in a country where 90% of the citizens get their incomes from the state and that still suffers from high rates of unemployment and inflation.

Iran, as an oil state, cannot live isolated from the world. It has to be fully prepared for dealing with the decline in oil prices and the effect this has on all the social programs formerly begun, but left unfinished, by president Ahmad Najad. In addition, serious programs for fighting corruption and nepotism are perhaps matters that Iran's next president will bear in mind, especially in the light of the reports which accused Najad of appointing associates of his in posts they were not up to and granting the Revolutionary Guards big contracts without public tenders.

The file of human right may play a role in the new president's agenda. International human rights organizations are escalating their criticism of Iran's human rights record, especially in relation to the discrimination against women and minorities, the execution of minors, and the oppression of the opposition.

There are European lessons which Iran and Arab states need to learn well. Despite its linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity and long history of conflict and wars, Europe is politically and economically integrating. European democratic governments are competing to serve their peoples' interests in a world that knows only the language of integration and alliances. In our region, mutual interests must be more significant than historical considerations and doctrinal or ethnic conflicts.

There are strong common interests that may gather Arabs and Persians some day. In order to achieve this, these countries need responsible, accountable governments that work in the interests, and for the prosperity, of the peoples. A regional bloc of Iran, Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia Iraq and Syria, and maybe Turkey, can guarantee a real future for the states of the region and keep them away from division and foreign interference.

 

Islamonline 19 May 2009

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