The eruption of the Iranian revolution since 1979, constituted a significant shift in the geo-strategic structure of a region with the Arab nation at its core.
This important event has heavily impacted the regional and international dynamics within the region. Additionally, the Arab interaction with this event was often a reaction that was not based on an objective analysis, which caused reactions ranging from unreserved support that considered the Islamic Republic as a genuine expression of Islamic identity, and a permanent revolution against colonialism for the defense of the oppressed, to an extension of a historical conflict, "Arabic-Shu'ubiy" or "Arabic- Persian" or "Shiite-Sunni", that projects the contradictions of contemporary interests and current concerns on the past.
For this reason, the Arab-Iranian relations need a rational vision based mainly on the Arab interest. With the interests of the Arab nation in mind, intellectuals and cultural elites should assume this momentous task in a calm and emotionally detached manner, using scientific tools of analysis rather than the impulsive reactions which typically accompany major events, especially those that carry historically ambiguous legacies.
To meet these needs, the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies organized a symposium, held on December 19 and 20, 2010 in Doha, Qatar entitled: "Iran and the Arabs: a review of history and politics". A selection of Arab researchers, who represent various schools of thought concerned with Iranian affairs, participated. They are as follows:
- Mohammad Al-Ahmari/Illusions and Realities in Arab-Iranian Relations
- Attaher Al-Amara/Moroccan-Iranian relations
- Talal Atrissi/Iran relations with the Arab Mashreq and Gulf states
- Burhan Ghalyoun/Towards a strategic vision of Arab-Iranian relations
- Sheikh Rashed El-Ghannoushi/Troubled Maghreb-Iran relations
- Mussa El-Ghareer/Arab-Iranian relations (Case Study:Syrian-Iranian realtions)
- Abd El-Ali Hamiddeen/from rupture to openness in Morrocan-Iranian relations: factors leading to rapprochement and future horizons
- Fehmi Huwaydi/History and religion in the relationship between the Arabs and Iran
- Wajeeh Kawtharani/The Arabs and Iran: between memory and history
- Neveen Mas'ad/Iran's international and regional relations and their impact on Arab national security
- Mazen Al-Ramadani/Iraq-Iran relation: the past present and the present future
- Mohammad Es-Said Idriss/Iran and Arab national security: a regional perspective
- Amal Saad Ghorayeb/Iran's commitment to the Palestinian cause: Ideology, national security and security of identity
- Fatima Smadi/Iran and the Palestinian resistance: the equation of ideology and interests
- Anwar Taha/ The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Palestinian cause
- Hussein El-Zawi/The Arab Maghreb and Iran: Challenges of history and vagaries in political geography
- Mahjoub El-Zoueyri/Iran and the Arabs--in the shadows of history and religion
- Waleed Abdelhay
- Rafeek Abdessalam
- Jamal Barout
- Hassan Al-Bazzaz
- Fares Brayzat
- Abdennasser Jabi
- Mustapha El-Hamarneh
- Hoda Hawwa
- Abdelwahab Kassab
- Mohammad El-Masri
- Michel Nawfal
- Ibtissam Al-Qutubi
- Samir At-Taki
- Mouayyad Al-Wandani
The following report was drawn up based on the scholarly papers presented and the open dialogue that ensued. It is first in a series of reports to be published by the center. The concluding remarks of the symposium are as follows:
1. Everyone acknowledged the presence of undeniable historic and contemporary ambiguities in Arab-Iranian relations. This requires the scientific deconstruction of these circumstances. Efforts are needed to rebuild these relationships in order to achieve Arab interests based on additional benefits or damage control.
2. The in-depth study of the power structure, political trends and forces in Iran points to a discrepancy between these forces and Arab interests. Iran's historically complex hostility towards the Arabs has at times cloaked itself in sectarianism, while at other times has donned a nationalist garb. Other Iranian forces, who view the Arab region through a purely pragmatic lens, seek to use the region in its conflict strategies with other international forces. Meanwhile, a third current shows an understanding and willingness to develop Arab-Iranian relations in an effort to contain the repercussions of the ambiguous historical legacy between both parties, although the containment itself is driven by the perspective of an Iranian interest.
During the symposium, many were following the third trend, calling for the building of bridges, and identifying points of agreement with the second one since the strategic outlook implies that any clash between Arabs and Iranians, or the use of the Arab region in the international confrontation with Iran, will not have positive outcomes for Arab states.
3. An essential part of the dispute with Iran emanates from Arab-Arab disagreements which prevent the formation of an Arab position (or stance) that might be a basis for dialogue with Iran. The absence of an Arab position defending joint Arab interests and security has created a void which has enabled Iran to define its national interests at the exclusion of others. This leads to interventionist and hegemonic policies motivated by memories of a burdened past and informed by a distinctly Iranian perspective of the future which does not take account of either Arab interests, or the identity of the Arab State and its citizenry, as demonstrated by the case of Iraq.
4. The ideal strategy for the relationship with Iran lies within the gradual, quiet, and studied conversion of a zero sum relationship to a non-zero sum relationship based on the progressive broadening of common interests, and the marginalization of divergent interests. The researchers paid special attention to the dialogue with Iran, calling for a collective Arab dialogue that is not confined to bilateral relations with each Arab state. This requires the formulation of a minimum set of joint Arab interest and security.
5. The research studies presented confirm the necessity to call on Iran to adopt a clearer and more balanced approach, with regard to its policies in Iraq on the one hand, and to reduce its intervention in internal Arab affairs on the other. In order to reach these policies, the Arab side should show more understanding for Iranian concerns, especially in light of ongoing Iranian anxiety caused by international threats, manifested by the blockade, sanctions, neighboring U.S. military bases, and Arab positions towards to these threats.
6. a. It is impossible to dissociate the hostile American position towards Iran from the latter's support for resistance, regardless of the motives, whether they are the outcomes of the state's pragmatic ideology or the revolutionary ideology.
b. In the context of the withering away of Arab support for the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance, in many cases, the Iranian position, which was supportive of resistance, degenerated into intervention in the internal affairs of the concerned Arab states and societies.
c. The Iranian state's vision of its national interests led to an overlap between its stance on Iraq and Afghanistan with the US stance, and to positions and policies which contradict its widely known standpoint on resistance to occupation.
7. The instability of the Arab-Iranian relationship cannot be extricated from the ease which characterizes the US' intervention in Arab affairs as well as the resultant lack of autonomy in some Arab decision making which is consequently stripped of national sovereignty.
8. As far as the relation between Arabs and Iranians is concerned, the Iranian challenge faced by the Arab region can develop in a positive direction, but could also turn into a threat to Arab interests. There is no doubt that such a threat can be averted if Arabs adopt a more guided policy which contains those political forces in Iran that are less favorable towards Arab states by means of a policy of cultivating ties with other forces in the Iranian political arena. Needless to say, it is necessary for Arabs to reach a decision that is independent of foreign influences that seek to form an Arab anti-Iran front.
The participants in the symposium acknowledged the complexities The participants in the symposium acknowledged the complexities and difficulties that they will have to face when they attempt to formulate a diagnosis and action plan. Nevertheless, they insisted on embarking on this task given their role as the cultural elite in society.
9. The participating Arab researchers and specialists agreed on the necessity to take the Iranian public opinion and its concerns into account, and the need to convey positive positions towards Arab causes. Ignoring the Iranian public opinion, may inspire the formation of a negative position towards Arab causes similar to what occurred in other countries which Arab relationships have been confined to government officials.
10. Despite the preoccupation with the Arab-Iranian relationship and its strategic significance, the number of Arab experts in Iranian affairs is incommensurate with the importance of this topic. Arab scholars should be encouraged to carry out additional in-depth studies of Iranian state and society insofar as this expertise can play an important role in guiding Arab decision-making, and immunizing Arab public opinion from the external media's emotional manipulation. Media manipulation seeks to incite the Arab public against regional powers like Iran and Turkey, despite the strategic threat posed by such policies to the Arab nation above all else.