العنوان هنا
Studies 28 May, 2013

Sudan and Iran: The Journey of Rapprochement in light of the Current Arab Landscape

Keyword

This study examines Sudan's relationship with Iran in light of the numerous Israeli air raids being launched against it, and explores whether the Sudanese regime has a preference for Iranian or Arab aid in resolving its political and security concerns, or whether it sees no contradiction in benefiting from both. Within this context, key issues are analyzed, including Hassan al-Turabi's dreams of an Islamic leadership, his transnational revolutionary tendencies, and the effect of his legacy on his disciples in their relations with Iran. The study also analyzes Iranian support for Islamists in Gaza via Sudan; the rise of Islamists to power following the Arab revolutions, and the potential emergence of transnational revolutionary ideas, as echoed in Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric, and the impact of this resurgence on the relationship between Arab states, and on Arab-Iranian relations.


Introduction

The Iranian Revolution broke out at the zenith of the Cold War, leading Arab Islamists to rekindle dreams of a "third bloc". On the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, Azmi Bishara writes: "the Jihad Movement was influenced, from its beginnings, by the principles of the Islamic revolution, like many other Sunni movements that were entranced by the revolution in Iran, including the Muslim Brotherhood."[1] It is possible that Arab Islamists endorsed the Iranian Revolution as a result of both parties' enthusiasm to create an effective Islamic bloc that could stand up to the Western model, and be free from Western domination.[2] Haydar Ibrahim Ali also writes that the Sudanese Islamists' enthusiasm for the Iranian Revolution was expressed, in their early years in power, through a rapprochement with the Islamic Republic and a desire to benefit from its experience as the only available, realistic model for an Islamic state.[3]

In this preface, it is important to point to Iran's nationalist, geostrategic, and sectarian components, dimensions that are often overlooked by Iran's Arab Islamist allies, who tend to see Iran exclusively from the viewpoint of a unifying "Islamic brotherhood," without taking into account the broader picture. Iranian history, doctrine, and geostrategic vision all point to the fact that Iran deals with its regional surroundings as a complex centrifuge. This is best exemplified by Talal al-Atrissi's assertion that the new Iranian identity assimilates to the nation, Islam, and the world, simultaneously and with a high level of complexity.[4]

Olivier Roy argues that Iran's failure to infiltrate the Sunni world has prompted it to act as a regional power along very similar lines to the behavior of the late Shah,[5] which proves that nationalist, religious, sectarian, ethnic, and rational interests all lead to confusion within Iran's complex nature. As Azmi Bishara notes, Iran is domestically investing in an inclusive Iranian identity, though it does not completely neglect its Persian imperial past,[6] which has, for the most part, been characterized by its tendency to expand and conquer. Thus, Mahjoob al-Zweiri argues that the history of the 20th century has proven that religion and identity remain strongly present in Iran and that even the establishment of a secular monarchy, such as that of the Shah, was incapable of effacing the Shia religious identity with its Persian nationalist overtones. [7]

On the same topic, Wajih Kawtharani notes that the relationship between Arab nations and Iran is based on a multitude of perspectives, on both sides, that vacillate from Islam, to nationalism, to sectarianism to a relationship that is shaped by geopolitical, economic, and demographic considerations. Kawtharani adds that none of these perspectives is exclusively accurate, as the shape of the relationship between Arab nations and Iran is incessantly colored by new issues:

Sometimes (the relationship) is based on an Islam that assimilates the nationalist factor; in other instances, it is centered on a notion of nationalism that is based on Islam, and it may even be based on a form of chauvinistic nationalism that denies Islam, or on a strictly instrumentalist perspective that not only views the state's interests and its geopolitical sphere as part of its "national security," but also appeals to both Islam and nationalism. The general picture is sometimes composed of a complex mixture of all these factors."[8]

Some Islamist movements in the Arab world, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Islamic regime in Sudan, view Iran as an important Islamic ally that constitutes a source of support in the ongoing battle against Western hegemony.

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* This paper was published in the first issue of the journal Siyasat Arabiyya (pages 58-71), a peer-reviewed journal specializing in political science, international relations, and public policy that is issued once every two months by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

[1] Bishara, "The Arabs and Iran: General Remarks," p. 24.

[2] Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, p. 118.

[3] Ali, Fall of the Civilizational Project, p. 35.

[4] Atrissi, The Difficult Republic, p. 24.

[5] Roy, Failure of Political Islam, p. 176.

[6] Bishara, "The Arabs and Iran," p. 10.

[7] al-Zweiri, "Iran and the Arabs," p. 70.

[8] Kawtharani, "The Mutual Awareness between Arabs and Iranians," p.166.

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