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Soleimani’s Road and the Silk Road

Soleimani’s Road and the Silk Road

Monday, 17 January, 2022 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Days before the Iranian president’s visit to Russia and after his foreign minister’s trip to China, Tehran seems more interested in consolidating its eastward policy than the outcome of the negotiations in Vienna. Perhaps it considers that ties with China and Russia are a protective card in the Security Council, especially if committed to the time-wasting approach in the long confrontation with America. The card may also help it circumvent the sanctions.


Iran is perhaps aspiring to become China’s mandatory passage to the countries, where it has influence or a veto on decision-making.


In Moscow, President Ibrahim Raisi is expected to seek the renewal of the agreement signed by President Mohammad Khatami in 2001 for a period of twenty years. Some observers hint that Tehran is interested in going further in its Russian relationship, especially after turning a new page with Beijing and joining the Shanghai Treaty.


Tehran’s positioning in a triangle with Russia and China is not simple. Both countries have large and complex calculations that prevent them from committing to the Iranian bridge as an obligatory crossing to enter the region or some of its parts. A simple review of the Chinese and Russian relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the UAE raises the following question: Can Tehran go far with Beijing and Moscow without changing its behavior? The question mentions three tombs in three capitals.


How would a journalist feel if his profession allowed him to stand in front of three shrines in three capitals, tormented by memories of an imperial history or dreams of a future that can recover some of what was lost?


In Moscow, the visitor can stand in front of Lenin’s tomb. Waiting in line does not necessarily mean that the man still enjoys power. It is mostly the curiosity of tourists. But this does not negate the possibility that a communist, refusing to retire, will come to weep for the comrade who was betrayed by the days.


Another visitor can find reasons for consolation. He says that the country is now in safe hands, and that the decision-maker in the Kremlin is “Soviet” by passion and methods, and is doing everything in his power to turn back the clock.


An unbiased visitor needs no effort to ascertain that the man, who shook the early 2000s, was actually murdered. He was killed when his successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, dared to open the window, and the wind was quick to blow, wrecking the Soviet Union, Lenin’s party, and the empire that had entrusted the “comrades” to guard its dictionary, model and borders. There’s no reason to go further. Vladimir Lenin has become a page of ancient history. We are now living in the era of Vladimir Putin, who might later be called Vladimir the Great or Vladimir the Terrible.


In Beijing, the visitor can stand in front of the tomb of the “Great Master”, Mao Zedong. China survived a Soviet-style collapse. Mao escaped a fatal punishment like that of Lenin. This does not mean, however, that Mao is running the country from his tomb. Nor does it imply that this continent, touched by the fever of progress and production, still resorts to the ancient recipes of the “Red Book”, which was the fortress and key in the days of the founding leader.


The Red Book was pushed into retirement without an official decision. Its image was preserved, but it was prevented from obstructing the rise of the new China.


A man has saved the resident of the shrine and the country. It’s Deng Xiaoping. The companion of the great leader, who was aware of his weaknesses and adventures, which caused the birth of a people of victims and graves. Deng refused to sanctify things and bow before idols. For him, it was necessary to catch up with the era and combat poverty, hunger and backwardness.


He will not allow Mao to run the country from his tomb. It is impossible for the dead to lead the living. Deng saved his country from the explosion of poverty. He saved the revolution from an inevitable clash with hundreds of millions threatened with starvation.


The great Mao is just a page in history. The country, the party, and the gigantic factory are in the custody of a new leader, who can correct and edit, if he decided to open the “Red Book”.


The feeling is different if the journalist stands in front of Khomeini’s tomb in Tehran. Khomeini’s revolution was based on a dictionary that deviates from that used by Mao and Lenin. It is a dictionary that accuses its critics of infidelity and heresy, and the penalties for such accusations are well-known. The Iranian guide plays the role of the guardian of the revolution. He is more eager to “abort the sanctions” than to re-evaluate the policies.


Gorbachev or a leader with a similar thought did not emerge in Khomeini’s Tehran. Moreover, experiences have shown that the decision-making is held by the spiritual guide, and that some of the IRGC leaders are more powerful than the successive presidents. The statements of Iranian officials do not suggest that they recognize the need for modernization and reconciliation with the changing world.


The Iranian reactor is still sending out the same radiation. The people of the region summarize Iran’s policy with the title, “Exporting the Revolution.”


This impression is based on the four coups led by General Qassem Soleimani in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which disintegrated maps, deepened conflicts and launched others. The theaters of these coups did not witness victories that open the door to stability and prosperity. The outcome of Tehran’s policy exceeds its ability to manage or digest it.


With the visit of Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdollahian to Beijing a few days ago, came the announcement of the entry into force of the comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement, which was concluded for a period of twenty-five years.


Talks emerged of investments worth USD400 billion, of railways, ports, economic and tourism development, as well as defense cooperation. It is a new impetus for the “Belt and Road” initiative, which will also link Iranian interests to the Pakistan corridor.


Can Iran fully engage in this workshop with China without changing its behavior? Is it possible to carry out huge investments on the crater of a volcano? Can Iran simultaneously follow Soleimani’s path and the “Silk Road”? Doesn’t Tehran have something to learn from the Russian and Chinese tombs?


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