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The Iran We Lost

The Iran We Lost

Friday, 14 January, 2022 - 11:45

Many might consider this title controversial, but it has personal and public dimensions to this author. On a personal level, it is no secret that my relationship with Iran starts at home, with my father, his relations with the revolution’s leadership early on and his ties to state institutions. Later in my life, this relationship became academic and then political. The latter, the political, is the key that opens the door to controversies about Iran and its relationship with its Arab and Muslim neighbors. For this reason, now - after reassessing the personal and public dimensions of this relationship - I could say that I have lost Iran. It might be more accurate to say that there had never been a chance of winning it and admit that those who had taken a radical stance early on were right… Those who insist that it has been a losing bet since February 11, 1979 and that it had been misguided in the first place.

For some, betting on Iran at that moment had ethical, Islamic, and political justifications. As for the majority, they considered the bet misguided. The problem is that the reason for this assessment or description is the accumulation of crises with Iran and its bad behavior, which turned it from a rival to an enemy. Some put it in the same category as those that the overwhelming majority consider the “enemy.” What is bewildering is that Iran bears the responsibility for this hostility because of the suffering endured by the peoples of the region at its hands, as well as the difficulties that Iran’s destabilizing policies create for Arab cultural and political elites.

In the public’s consciousness, there are justifications for this stance. They start in Syria, which was destroyed and whose people were killed through the joint efforts of Tehran and the Syrian regime. As for ordinary Saudi citizens, Tehran is the source of the rockets targeting their country. And this applies to Iraqis as well, especially the Shiites, who believe that it is also Iran that threatens Najaf and its role. However, what Iraqis consider more dangerous is Tehran’s hegemony over their state institutions and the impediments it has placed to the emergence of a state. As for Yemen, its people consider the Houthi coup against legitimacy and the revolution of the youths to have been waged to achieve Iran’s strategic objectives.

From Syria to Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, hostility to Iran is pushing societies to consider its interference a form of occupation. That was apparent a few days ago in Beirut, where a group of political, social and cultural elites came together to establish the National Council to End Iranian Occupation. This council would not have been formed a decade ago. Even at the height of the March 8 and 14 split, Iran was dealt with either as a large regional neighbor or an adversary trying to impose a role for itself in the region. It is only after its influence over Lebanon became comprehensive that it came to be considered an occupation. No such council was set up against the regime in Damascus at the apex of Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon. Some members of the opposition labeled the role Syria played as one of tutelage, not occupation, in order to maintain ties of Arabist brotherhood and neighborliness.

As for Iran, which first made a presence in Lebanon through its support for the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, it would not have been labeled an occupying power had it not been for its exploitation of the resistance after having seized and monopolized it, eventually using it to subjugate the Lebanese after Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Tehran has failed to realize that those who consider it a rival, an enemy or an occupying power do not hold this view because they are involved in a foreign plot against it. Indeed, this view has become widespread because of Iran’s actions, with experience demonstrating that the nature of its regime overwhelms attempts at normalization. It is this nature that has slowed down normalization and pushed the region’s elites and peoples to live with the idea of having a difficult neighbor. With this neighbor, the religious and national, as well as the sectarian and ideological, overlap and contrast. And given the unlikelihood of developing a partnership on some issues and the specter of coming to a head on others, putting this neighbor aside is difficult and winning it over is impossible.

Thus, Iran the rival neighbor and not Iran the enemy occupies and dominates. However, like the other projects that this region has witnessed, it will leave very few positives and many negatives before disappearing. For this reason, we will not lose Omar Khayyam, Hafez Shirazi, Shajarian, Googoosh, Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, Sayyed Khatami and Sheikh Montazeri.

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