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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid