By Javad Heirannia

Scholar urges Iran to launch ‘Ramadan diplomatic offensive’ in Qatar row 

June 12, 2017

TEHRAN - A professor of global thought and comparative philosophies says he thinks it is “essential” for Iran to launch a “Ramadan diplomatic offensive” to lessen the effects of the blockade on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and some other Persian Gulf Arab states and to “signal to Qatar full humanitarian and diplomatic support”.

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Arshin Adib-Moghaddam says “rregional states need to learn that they can’t secure their national interests in exclusion of each other.”

 Following is the text of the interview with Adib-Moghaddam, chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies:

Q: What are the real reasons behind the decision of some Arab states to cut ties with Qatar? What approach should Iran take in order to protect its national interests?

A: I see the crisis between the Persian Gulf states as a political farce, with major strategic implications for the region in general and Iran in particular. There have been repeated quarrels between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over Al-Jazeera, now one of the most successful news networks in the world (something that Press TV never managed to replicate). After the Arab Spring, Qatar and Saudi Arabia fell out over the support of Qatar to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the generous airtime that Al-Jazeera gave to the movements for democracy all over the Arab world. Obviously, Saudi Arabia has also been critical about Iran’s relations with Qatar, but the real question is why Qatar is singled out and not Oman which has even closer ties to Iran? One of the reasons is the competition of the two royal families.

“The people of the region have proved repeatedly that the new yardstick for politics is democracy, pluralism, human rights and social equality. Any state that does not adhere to those standards will be washed away by the currents of history.”Qatar is immensely successful. In repeated trips to the country, I have witnessed the success in terms of culture, education and business. Qatar acts like a huge contemporary beit al-hikmah for many Arab and regional intellectuals. It boasts a huge academic infrastructure which provides a deep, scholarly informed source of knowledge that Qataris can tap into. All of these features have allowed Qatar to considerably punch above its weight. The Saudis have none of these achievements and there is a good deal of envy about the influence that Qatar has on a global scale. Saudi Arabia acts like a jealous diva, that is left behind by history. In Yemen, in Syria, in Lebanon and in Iraq, Saudi Arabia is entirely marginal to mainstream politics. In Egypt the country is supporting a military autocracy that Egyptians rejected during the Arab Spring. The people of the region have proved repeatedly that the new yardstick for politics is democracy, pluralism, human rights and social equality. Any state that does not adhere to those standards will be washed away by the currents of history. I have discussed this in my “On the Arab revolts and the Iranian revolution” which was published by Bloomsbury a couple of years ago. The book sets out the mechanisms of power and resistance with reference to the recent events in the region.

 Moreover, I just came back from giving a policy speech at the 2017 Doha Forum where I set out a vision for peace in the Persian Gulf. There was real concern and suspicion towards Iranian designs for the region, some of it mixed with paranoia, which, nonetheless, need to be addressed through diplomatic means. The Saudi decision to boycott Qatar was precipitated by the vote of confidence given to King Salman by Donald Trump whose administration is geopolitically incompetent, as I have mentioned several times in the global media. It is framed by a policy of bullying and a neo-imperial language that is meant to inflate the importance of Trump as an important global actor at a time when he may be impeached in the United States because of alleged Russian meddling in Trump’s favour during the election.

“In Yemen, in Syria, in Lebanon and in Iraq, Saudi Arabia is entirely marginal to mainstream politics.”I am in no doubt that history will judge him even worse than George W. Bush who has almost entirely vanished from the public eye for a reason. Trump is already seen as the most illiterate and damaging President in the history of the United States. Everyone who knows me is aware that I don’t usually use such explicit language when it comes to world events. But the fact is that the Trump administration is on the wrong side of history. The biggest irony in this farce is that the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” is spearheading a boycott of a fellow Muslim nation during Ramadan. This decision to boycott Qatar questions the ability of the Saudi royal family to act as a force for peace amongst Muslim nations which is linked to their sovereignty over Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia has the duty to forge closer Muslim relations. This is linked to their claim to manage the haj for the ummah.  

 I think it is essential for Iran to launch a “Ramadan diplomatic offensive” to mitigate the repercussions of the conflict and to signal to Qatar full humanitarian and diplomatic support. In particular, Iran needs to liaise closer with Turkey which administers an important military base in Qatar. At the same time, I have always argued for close trans-Gulf relations that include Saudi Arabia. As I mentioned in my speech in Doha: In the 1970s, Iran and Saudi Arabia followed a modus vivendi in their relations, despite of Iran’s interventions in the Arab world, the Shah’s pro-Israeli policies, his support of Kurdish separatists in Northern Iraq with the help of the CIA and the Mossad, his attempt to annex Bahrain and his antagonism towards Nassir’s Egypt. Regional states need to learn that they can’t secure their national interests in exclusion of each other. Even Saudi Arabia and Iran share a common fate, if they want it or not. They are conjoined by geography, culture and religion. Any instability in one country will have detrimental effects on the other. We need ideas for peace, strategies of cooperation, theories of reconciliation. What about a Muslim Peace Studies Institute with a joint headquarter in Doha and Kish, for instance? 

Q: How far will the recent crisis go and should we expect Qatar to turn its back on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood? Should we expect an effort by Saudi Arabia to organize a coup inQatar if the country does not live up to the expectations of Riyadh?

“Trump is already seen as the most illiterate and damaging President in the history of the United States.”A: It is very likely that Qatar will try to mitigate the current conflict, but I don’t expect King al-Thani to compromise about the strategic preferences of the state. The Qatari leadership can’t suddenly change the core tenets of their regional policies under pressure from other countries, without losing a good deal of political legitimacy.

I mean this is the big analytical factor here: We are talking about a question of sovereignty. Saudi Arabia, under the influence of the Trump administration, is commanding the leadership of Qatar to fall into line. So this is a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the Qatari leadership and their control over Qatari politics. If Qatar would accede to the demands at this time, it would set a precedence for the future. Ultimately, it would be equal to giving up control over the country’s political conduct. No leadership can afford such submission without undermining the future of the state as legitimate and autonomous. The Qatari political elites are wise enough to understand that dynamic. 

“The biggest irony in this farce is that the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” is spearheading a boycott of a fellow Muslim nation during Ramadan. This decision to boycott Qatar questions the ability of the Saudi royal family to act as a force for peace amongst Muslim nations.”
As for the threat of a coup: Neither Saudi Arabia, nor the United States are remotely in the position to directly interfere in the domestic affairs of Qatar and to determine the political outcome, even if they would want to. What is important for Iranian decision-makers is to keep a cool head, to resist the temptation to use antagonistic language towards Saudi Arabia, and to facilitate closer regional cooperation.

Again, Iran is seen as a major problem by many leaders in the Arab world. This perception needs to change which requires changes in Iran’s discourse. Language is important in world affairs. A language of humanitarianism and empathy goes a long way. This is what I called the “Ramadan diplomatic offensive” and it goes back to what I suggested in several interviews and speeches on both sides of the Persian Gulf: The institutionalisation of peace and security throughout the region. The philosophy is out there, our politicians are well advised to follow.  


 

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