October 7, 2013


De-radicalisation of Iranian foreign policy (MAGED MANDOUR 7 October 2013, Open Democracy)

In terms of the ideological roots of the Islamic Republic, in his lucid study of Khomeinism, Ervand Abrahamia compellingly argues that the ideological roots of Islamic Republic is not religious fundamentalism, but rather it was influenced by writers that mixed certain religious elements of Shiism and secular ideas from the left, especially Marxism, most notably Maoism.

Khomeini did not attribute the development of his ideas directly to others, particularly if they were secular writers. However, it is easy to see the traces of the writings of other revolutionary thinkers, whose writings have a strong Marxist flavour on the ideological development of Khomeini, most notably, Jalal El-Ahmed, the ex-Tudeh writer who advocated a return to the Islamic roots of the country, and Ali Shariati whose works had a strong Marxist flavour. Some even argue that the ideology of the MKO, who later engaged Khomeini in a bloody struggle, had a direct influence on Khomeini. Khomeini divided society into the oppressed "Mostafeen" and the oppressors "Mostakbreen", a division that echoes the Marxist distinction between the bourgeoisie and the workers, with the revolution siding with the oppressed. In the end Khomeini had more in common with Third world, nationalist movements, than religious fundamental movements. 

Thus, the ideological and social base of the Iranian Revolution has produced a regime that is hegemonic, and representative of the aspirations of a large segment of Iranian society, combining the interests of the traditional middle class and the lower classes. The Republic is a more vibrant political polity than most regimes in the Middle East, even after the advent of the Arab Spring. However, this does not mean that the Iranian political order is completely democratic. It still maintains a significant level of coercion and oppression, as the struggle between the right and left wings of the Islamic Republic, the events of the Presidential elections in 2009, and the fate of Mousavi, the Imam's prime minister clearly show. Moreover, the Iranian regime has been following economic policies that have disenfranchised its older allies, privileging monopolistic Islamic foundations and overt and covert military and paramilitary economic activities. This has been reflected in the critique of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri of the increased role of the military, which might signal a change in the nature of the Iranian regime and its hegemony. However, up till now the Iranian regime remains mostly hegemonic.

How does this translate into the realm of foreign policy? Based on the above, one might predict that Iran will behave on the international front in a manner that would promote the aspirations of the Iranian nationalist movement in the region. Iran has attempted to follow policies that would break down Iranian isolation as a Persian, Shia state surrounded by Arab Sunni neighbours. In other words, it has attempted to create inroads into the Arab world by soliciting the support of the Arab masses and enhancing its Iranian soft power. Take the infamous denial of the holocaust by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the west, most commentators argued that this was due to the fundamental, anti-Semitic nature of the Islamic Republic. However, on closer examination one can see that this remark had another audience in mind, namely a domestic conservative audience, and the wider Arab masses in the Middle East. This was a realist, pragmatic approach that attempted to consolidate support for the Iranian regime at home and within the region. Rather than being a piece of irrational, racist, rhetoric targeted at western audiences, the main audience was regional and domestic. Iranian championing of Palestinian rights, as well as support for radical movements in the Middle East, like Hamas and Hezbollah, fall within the same category and the same rationale, namely to increase the power of Iran in the region motivated by pragmatic realist reasons, rather than ideological, fundamental motivations.

...Iran and the US are natural allies. Because American policy is to liberalize the Iranian regime, its people and America's have a natural affinity.
Posted by at October 7, 2013 4:49 PM

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