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17 January, 2016

What the Iran deal means for the Arabs

The lifting of sanctions against Iran has been greeted with varying degrees of jubilation and scepticism in the region.

Sunday, Jan 17, 2016

Manama: The lifting of the international sanctions against Iran following the announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Tehran had complied with the deal aimed at scaling down its nuclear programme has been greeted with varying degrees of jubilation and scepticism in the region.

For the Iranians, it was a very special day.

“I thank God for this blessing and bow to the greatness of the patient nation of Iran. Congrats on this glorious victory!” Iranian president Hasan Rouhani posted on his Twitter account.

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Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, said the occasion should be celebrated by all.

“It is now time for all - especially Muslim nations - to join hands and rid the world of violent extremism,” he said.

Most newspapers in Iran carried celebratory front pages while media users celebrated with fanfare what they regarded as a day of triumph for their policies and their patience.

Some said that Iran should keep on moving forward and that it should not bother to take into consideration any concerns now that it is “150 billion dollars richer”.

US policy makers trumpeted the concept that the world was safer after the deal was reached and implemented.

“Today ... the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world are safer because the threat of the nuclear weapon has been reduced,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

However, in the Gulf, the pronounced fanfare did not seem to have impressed the Arabs.

“Kerry claims that the world is safer today. It seems that Kerry believes that he is playing the role of the good guy in a Hollywood movie where the good guy wins,” Abdullah Al Shayji, a professor of political science at Kuwait University, said.

“President Barack Obama and the mullah regime in Iran are claiming they have triumphed after seven years. We now have an Obama-US-Persian alliance sponsored by Kerry and Zarif. It is obvious that Obama had bet on Iran since his election to the White House. He never disturbed Iran and never put its terrorist arms on the terror list or bombed them,” Al Shayji said.

He added that Obama fulfilled his dream for which he worked for seven years just months before leaving the White House.

“I had warned that the Obama-Gulf Summit at Camp David had no guarantees. The ball is in our field now and the rules of the game have changed,” he added.

In Saudi Arabia, 140 religious scholars warned against a “Safavid plan” targeting the Middle East, saying that the “arrogance and insolence” of the mullah regime in Iran had reached alarming levels.

Arabs today use the term ‘Safavid’, a reference to the Safavid Empire in Iran (1501 - 1722), to impute hegemonic motivations to the current Iranian regime and to suggest that Iran is plotting to reestablish the country’s former imperial borders.

The scholars, in a statement issued on Saturday, said that Iran was seeking hegemony by “supporting criminal regimes, mobilising sectarian armed militias in conflict zones, and misusing sects and minorities in political calculations”.

The scholars said Iran was bidding to influence the implementation of the deal based on its own potential, on the wealth of the countries under its control, and on the money taken from the people under religious claims.

The statement called on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to be wary of infiltrations at the intelligence and political levels and to set up a military, economic, religious and media counteroffensive to halt the “Iranian project” in the region.

The scholars heaped praise on countries that have severed or downgraded their diplomatic relations with Iran following the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions and the blatant interference in Arab countries.

Several Arab countries have severed diplomatic relations with Iran as they denounced Tehran’s interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries and the twin attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the general consulate in the northern Iranian city of Mashhad.

Gulf political analyst Mohammad Jaber said the latest developments in the region were aimed at weakening the stances in the Gulf in particular and in the Arab world in general.

“It is obvious that many researchers and decision makers in the West today view the Arabs as a heavy political burden, particularly amid all the tensions in the region, and they believe that by working closely with Iran would help them at least reduce problems,” the analyst in Bahrain said.

“Iran relied on lobbies well established in the West to sell the version that it wanted to the people there, always presenting itself as the best alternative and a true solution to the problems in the region. Many Westerners were ready to take the Iranian arguments without any form of verification or doubts and to indulge in the bashing of the Arabs. Today, we are witnessing the marriage of the strange bedfellows since the West focused on its own interests and disregarded the concerns of the Gulf countries that have long suffered from Iran’s hegemonic plans,” he said.

Hassan Ahmad, another analyst in Bahrain, said that Iran succeeded in presenting itself as the viable alternative to the agonies plaguing the region.

“For instance, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a recent tweet said that the increasing number of asylum seekers was a consequence of terrorism, which was making the region unsafe and unstable. He then whitewashed Iran’s role and allayed the concerns of the West about the situation by stating that Iran was ready to combat violence and extremism. Such words are music in the ears of Westerners,” he said.

“Of course, beyond the play on sentiments, there is the crucial business dimension. For the West, the lifting of sanctions means new opportunities for lucrative contracts through trade and investments,” he said.

By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief

Gulf News 2016. All rights reserved.