News / Middle East

Arabs Put (Slim) Hopes in New Iranian President

FILE - Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, May 30, 2013.
FILE - Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, May 30, 2013.
Reuters
The election of a moderate Iranian president could help rein in hostility between Tehran and its Arab neighbors, but many Arabs doubt he can end a sectarian confrontation that has been inflamed by war in Syria.

Hassan Rowhani, a Shi'ite cleric known for a conciliatory approach and backed by reformists, will have only limited say in policy determined by Iran's supreme leader; but with the Syrian carnage fueling rage among Sunni Arabs across the region, any gestures from Tehran may help contain it.

"We hope the new Iranian president will be a believer in a political solution in Syria," said one ambassador at the Arab League in Cairo. "All that we read about Rowhani might be grounds for hope - but there is a great difference between election campaigns and what is said once in office."

For the United States and Western powers, at odds with Iran for decades and now rallying with arms behind rebels fighting Syria's Iranian-backed president, fierce religious enmities in the oil-rich Middle East add to fears of wider instability.

In Saudi Arabia, whose U.S.-allied rulers lead opposition to what they see as Iran's drive to spread its power and religion, analyst Jamal Khashoggi said: "I'm sure for the Saudi leadership this is the best outcome of the elections."

He recalled that Iran's last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who visited Riyadh while in office from 1997-2005, had mended ties - but at a time of less ferocious disputes. Unlike now, Khashoggi said, "Iran was not meddling heavily in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen ... There were no Shi'ites killing Sunnis."

In Syria, where mainly Sunni rebels are battling Iran's ally President Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite establishment, who belong to an offshoot of Shi'ism, opposition activists saw little hope for change from Rowhani.

"The election is cosmetic," said Omar al-Hariri from Deraa, where the uprising began during the Arab Spring two years ago.

Muhammed al-Husseini, from the Sunni Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham in Raqaa, noted power in Iran rested with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The powers given to the Iranian president are weak these days," he said. "They are fake powers."

In Bahrain, whose Saudi-backed Sunni monarchy accuses Iran of fomenting protests among the Shi'ite majority on the island since 2011, Information Minister Samira Rajab said: "I think Rowhani is one of a team. And anybody who comes from that team will continue the same policy ...  We have no more trust in the Iranian regime after what happened in Bahrain."

Egyptian Caution

In Egypt, by far the biggest Arab nation, new rulers from the Muslim Brotherhood had lately launched a rapprochement with Iran but have now joined a Sunni call for jihad in Syria after Iran's Lebanese ally Hezbollah sent in its fighters last month.

Traditionally more open than the Saudi clerical hierarchy to conciliation across the sectarian divide, the Brotherhood still hopes for a change of heart in Tehran.

"We are looking forward to seeing how the winner is going to act," said Murad Ali, a spokesman for the Islamist movement's Freedom and Justice Party. "Will there be any change to the policies from the Iranians, especially concerning the Syrian crisis? We are in general open to cooperation with Iran ... However, we do have our concerns ... related to ... their interference in Syrian affairs."

On the streets of Cairo, however, sectarian passions are running high, piling pressure on Egyptian and other Arab rulers.

Outside the Al-Azhar Mosque, built 1,000 years ago by the Shi'ite Fatimid caliphs who founded the city but now a major seat of Sunni learning, construction worker Mohamed Abdelsattar, 35, said: "All Egyptians hate Iran after what has happened in Syria. What's happening there now is Shi'ites killing Sunnis."

Limousine driver Abdelaziz Darwish, 57, had low expectations of any change in Tehran. "All Iranians are the same," he said. "Shi'ites are more dangerous even than the Jews."

Standing by his fresh-juice stand, Khaled Fathi, 49, twinned his anger at Iranian involvement in Syria with suspicion of the welcome that Islamist President Mohamed Morsi gave earlier this year to Iran's hardline outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Iran makes problems for us all over the world," he said. "Iran is helping Morsi, I'm sure of it."

A group of Lebanese Sunni clerics, visiting Al-Azhar while attending the Cairo conference that has issued a call for holy war in Syria, voiced some hope for change from Rowhani, however.

"Maybe this new president in Iran will be better," said Sheikh Hassan Abdelrahman from the city of Tripoli, which has seen recent fighting between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi'ites.

"We came to Egypt to tell Mohamed Morsi that we reject Iranian actions in Syria ... But we are working for all religions to be at peace," said Sheikh Malik al-Jdeideh, also from Tripoli.

Sectarian atrocities in Syria, and the open appearance of Iran's Lebanese allies on the battlefield, has forged an unusual degree of unity among major Arab governments following the wave of revolt that shook the region and notably replaced U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt with the Islamists of the Brotherhood.

Gulf Tensions

Iran's new influence in Iraq - after the 2003 U.S. invasion replaced the Sunni Saddam Hussein with an elected, Shi'ite-led government - had already put Saudi Arabia on the defensive. And Tehran's nuclear dispute with the West and Israel has alarmed oil-exporting neighbors, who fear a war, with all the upheaval it would bring.

One Arab League ambassador said Gulf states hoped Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator, might help to defuse that tension.

But a Gulf envoy at the League said Rowhani would have little power and was unlikely, in any case, to differ in his views: "They all aim to export the Iranian revolution to neighboring states and interfere in the Gulf states and Syria and Lebanon."

For Shi'ites who live in Sunni-ruled states, and often complain of being unfairly branded as agents of the Persian-speaking power, any reduction in tension would be welcome.

Khalil Ebrahim al-Marzooq of Bahrain's opposition al-Wefaq party, which speaks for many Shi'ites, said the election might bring warmer ties across the Gulf that would help his community.

"When relations are better," he said, "it gives the government no excuses to deprive the people of Bahrain of their rights."

"If this sectarian war going on in the region can cool down or stabilize, that will help to improve the relations between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites here," said Jafar al-Shayab, a former elected official in the mainly Shi'ite Saudi district of Qatif:

Khalil al-Anani, a senior fellow at Washington's Middle East Institute currently in Cairo, said Rowhani's ability to induce the Iranian leadership to take the heat out of its standoff with the Sunni Arab powers was unclear, but of vital importance.

"Mending Iran's relations with Arabs would require Rowhani to secure strong support from other influential power centers in Iran ... which is unlikely in the short term," he said. "The question of whether Rowhani can be another Khatami is important and crucial for both Iran and the Arabs."

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

update Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
June 16, 2013 4:09 AM
Arabs are arming the extremists in Syria just like they did in Afghanistan by arming the Taliban and the Al-Qaida. I really like to know why on earth the U.S. wants the hardline islamic extremists in Syria who are in collaboration with Al-Qaida to topple a secular government in Syria which is respecting the rights of religious minorities and the Syrian women who don't want to be restricted by sharia? So I think it is not Iran who should explain its actions but rather the arab countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia should be the ones explaining their actions.


by: ChangeIranNow from: US
June 16, 2013 3:34 AM
When you’ve been in solitary confinement for years and suddenly you’re let out into the exercise yard by a new guard, you’re liable to feel pretty grateful and happy, but the truth is you’re still stuck in prison with no hope of getting out. I mean, Rowhani’s election is like Stockholm Syndrome where everyone feels happy the guy got elected and just forgot about all the miserable suffering they’ve had under the warden, in this case Khamenei. Don’t think for a minute Rowhani is calling the shots. He’s going to be the nice, pleasant front guy and compared to Ahmadinejad, he’s downright charming. At the end of the day, don’t forget who’s pulling the strings on this puppet. Check out the facts at: http://ow.ly/m4A7Z


by: Dr. Malek Towghi (Baluch) from: Michigan, USA
June 16, 2013 12:35 AM
Regardless of the intellectually and morally bankrupt Arab position, the US should not do to this third reformist president of Iran what it (the US) did to the earlier two reformists namely president Rafsanjani and president Khatami who sincerely wanted reconciliation with the West, particularly with the US. Our one-sided, arrogant and jingoistic policies were responsible for their failure and embarrassment.

The fact is that Iran needs the US goodwill and the US in order NOT to remain hostage to the Sunni obscurantism needs Iran. (I was born in a Sunni family and was raised as a Sunni.) The election of Mr. Rowhani as the president of Iran has revived the hopes for reconciliation. In order to encourage the beginning of a new process for the normalization of relations with the (Shi'a) Islamic Republic, the least the US can do is to suspend the application of the new sanctions scheduled to be imposed on July 1, 2013 or so -- and also take it easy on Syria. Now that Ahmadinejad is gone we might be more at ease with President Hasan Rowhani as a partner in efforts to stop the carnage in Syria.

At a certain stage during the talks we should be willing to apologize for what the US and the UK did to Iran in the early 1950s. Having done so, we may expect Iran to regret the take-over of our embassy in Tehran after the fall of the shah.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid