Iran: Friend or foe of Arab regimes?

Pumped up nationalism is a diversionary tactic to save Arab countries from their common enemy: democratic aspirations.
Hamid Dabashi
Reports from Cairo Indicate that soon after the commencement of the Saudi-led military strike against Yemen, Arab countries are about to form a unified army. According to a New York Times report on March 29, «The Arab states … had agreed to form a combined military force to counter both Iranian influence and Islamist extremism, a gesture many analysts attributed in large part to their drive for more independence from Washington.»

The move has nothing to do with «independence from Washington». The ruling regimes in these beleaguered Arab regimes do nothing without approval from Washington.

The ostensible cause of this unified Arab force is to defeat the Houthis in Yemen.
Sisi: Arab nations to create joint military force

«A two-day Arab summit ended Sunday,» according to reports, «with a vow to defeat Iranian-backed Shia rebels in Yemen and the formal unveiling of plans to form a joint Arab intervention force, setting the stage for a potentially dangerous clash between US-allied Arab states and Tehran over influence in the region.»

That «clash» is a subterfuge. It is far more like a collusion rather than a clash of interests.

Combative posture

The Saudi-led military strike against Yemen and the prospect of many other Arab countries joining Saudi Arabia in this escalation of violence in the region is not to oppose Iran but to emulate Iran in disguising their brutal internal repression of opposition and revolution into external combative posture.

The claim that this army is to confront Iran and to fight against ISIL is a red herring, intentionally misleading, designed to distract from the real intention of this escalating militarisation.
Sisi attends closing session of the Arab Summit [Reuters]

Retrograde regimes, illegitimate ruling juntas, and beleaguered ruling families are far more concerned about the rise of democratic demands in their own homelands than fighting a foreign enemy beyond their borders.

In doing so, the ruling Arab regimes are not opposing Iran. They are emulating Iran. They are changing the game away from internal instability to an external state of war.

What these Arab regimes are doing is to change the game and in the guise of fighting Iranian influence in the region in fact repress their own nations.

This is precisely what the ruling regime in Iran has done not just since the rise of the Green Movement in 2009, but in fact since its very formation more than 30 years ago: manufacture an external enemy to crush internal opposition.

The pumped up ‹Persian-Arab› nationalism or ‹Shia-Sunni› sectarianism is a ruse, a subterfuge, a vicious diversionary tactic to save the ruling regimes in Arab countries and in Iran from their common enemy: the will of their people for democratic aspirations.

The same formula is now being emulated by the beleaguered Arab regimes frightened out of their wits by the Arab Spring.

Who is the host of these Arab regimes mobilised to «oppose Iran»? None other than General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the leader of the military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government.

«The challenges facing our national Arab security,» declared Sisi on this solemn occasion, «are grave, and we have succeeded in diagnosing the reasons behind it … [The meeting was] pumping the blood of hope in the arteries of Arab cooperation.»

What cooperation? Cooperation against the Arab revolutions, not against Iran.

Revolutionary mobilisation

What other countries are joining Saudi Arabia? Every single country in this coalition stands to lose from the waves of revolutionary mobilisation and democratic demands across the Arab and Muslim world. In forming a unified front against Iran they are taking a page straight from the book of the ruling regime in Iran in its brutal repression of its own opposition.

Both the ruling regime in Iran and those of Arab countries have a single common goal: to divert and derail the revolutionary posturing of the Arab revolutions and massive demand for civil liberties in Iran most evident during the Green movement.

The pumped up «Persian-Arab» nationalism or «Shia-Sunni» sectarianism is a ruse, a subterfuge, a vicious diversionary tactic to save both the ruling regimes in Arab countries and in Iran from their common enemy: the will of their people for democratic aspirations.

In enabling the ruling Arab regimes achieve this goal, Iran is not their foe, it is their most sincere, most ardent, friend – in fact their ideal type, their inspiration.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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