By M K Bhadrakumar
The turmoil in Egypt provides a rare backdrop to assess the base line in Iran's regional policies. Cutting through the rhetoric, what comes to mind is the great irony that Iran and the United States find themselves on the same side of the fence on developments in Egypt - alongside Turkey and Syria.
All four demand "regime change". Even more curious is the revisionist camp, which seeks justification for a retreat from the revolutionary situation to a reformist position in Egypt, makes strange bedfellows of Israel, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.
The US and Iran have both been taken by surprise at the sudden eruption of the pent-up anger in Egyptian society. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei candidly admitted that "this miraculous event ... has taken the breath out of two worlds: the West and the Islamic world."
Tehran estimates that Washington is reacting to events rather than calibrating or controlling them. From all appearances, Washington too harbors no suspicion that Tehran is involved in any deadly serious revolutionary business in Cairo.
Tehran disagrees with Moscow, Beijing
Iran has steered clear of conspiracy theories floated by the Chinese and Russian media that what is unfolding on the streets of Cairo resembles a "color" revolution. China's Global Times ran an editorial about the "new wave of color revolutions" sweeping into Egypt.
Russia's Novosti news featured an interview with a leading Arabist, Anatoly Yegorin, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science's Institute for Oriental Studies, who was confident that "it's the Americans who're pulling the strings [on Cairo streets] ... The situation is complicated, obviously, as the protesters are not the only force responsible for the unrest. An outside force with a vested interest in the Arab world is trying to solve the problems in the region in its own way."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted sharply to Washington's call on President Hosni Mubarak to quit: "Egypt is our strategic partner and a key country in the Middle East region. That is why we are not indifferent to what is happening there ... We do not consider it useful to produce any recipes from outside or deliver ultimatums - it is political forces in Egypt who should speak out."
Lavrov was speaking a day after US President Barack Obama's call that reforms in Egypt "must begin now". Russia and China also took exception to the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon's statement while on a visit to Berlin last Thursday calling for an immediate "transition" in Egypt and stressing that the unrest in Cairo should lead to "bold reforms, not repression".
China's UN ambassador Li Baodong reacted that the crisis in Egypt was an "internal affair that should be resolved by the people in Egypt" while Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin virtually ticked off Ban: "These are extremely delicate internal matters that should be left to the sovereign states. The UN should be dealing with its many tasks, which should not include poking fingers in the eyes of political leaders."
Again, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev phoned Mubarak on Wednesday to express the hope that the "political crisis would be resolved peacefully and swiftly" and "within the bounds of law". In sharp contrast with the "pro-Mubarak regime" stance taken by Moscow and Beijing, Tehran has adopted a clear-cut position that Mubarak must give up power and leave.
Unlike Russia and China, which have strong vested interests, Iran has nothing to lose and much to gain if a regime change takes place in Egypt, given Tehran's troubled equations with Cairo through the past three decades since the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Iran takes a 'secular" view
Nonetheless, the Iranian position is actually quite nuanced. Khamenei's Friday prayer remarks in Tehran last week gave the authoritative Iranian position. Khamenei placed the Egyptian uprising principally as a nationalist movement. In a startling reference, he invoked the legacy of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser.
Khamenei viewed the uprising predominantly in "secular" terms rather than through "Islamic" prism. He implied that the events in Egypt would have far-reaching geopolitical implications. If at all Khamenei claimed affinity between the aspirations of Iran's revolution in 1979 and the Egyptian uprising, it was not in terms of an Islamic affinity but from the perspective of the Iranian experience of revolutionary tactics and strategy.
He acknowledged: "It is not realistic or logical to expect that what happened during the great Islamic revolution in Iran 30 years ago to happen exactly as such in Egypt, Tunisia, or any other Islamic country."
On the whole, Khamenei saw the uprising as a "freedom-seeking movement", "an explosion of sacred anger" and even noted that the stance of the Egyptian army is going to be critical. The most interesting part of Khamenei's speech was his failure to hail the Muslim Brotherhood as a torch-bearer of the Egyptian nation.
What are the Iranian calculations? Iran seems to estimate that the US has far from crystallized a long-term vision for the "New Middle East". And Iran is careful not to do or say anything that Israel might seize to rake up the specter of an Islamic bogey. Second, Iran is quietly pleased that the US has openly thrown its lot with the Egyptian opposition and Washington cannot easily resile from this position in the near-term.
In short, Iran sees the US drifting with the flow of events and this raises Iran's comfort level, as at a minimum, it gives Tehran time and space to maneuver. Tehran does not seem to think that the regime in Saudi Arabia is in any imminent danger. Iranian statements have taken great care not to antagonize the Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf region. Amidst the Egyptian turmoil, Iran's new foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi even affirmed in the Majlis, the country's parliament, that his foreign policy priority would be to strengthen Tehran's ties with Arab regimes in its neighborhood.
Iran doesn't think that the "end state" in Egypt is yet visible. Khamenei's speech visualizes that Egypt is in a state of transition but how the "end state" is going to look like remains far from certain. As an old revolutionary, Khamenei would know certainly that revolutions have a bad habit of devouring its own children.
However, what concerns Iran most at the moment would be that the US acts as a restraining influence on Israel, whose likely reaction to the evolving situation in Egypt is not yet clear and may even take the form of some rash actions on the ground. Equally, a big question remains on the Iranian mind: Is the US stance over Egypt a mere flash in the pan or will it prompt Washington to rethink on the regional situation, especially its attitude toward the "non-state actors" Hezbollah and Hamas? The fact is, the Hezbollah-dominated new government in Beirut is more a product of Syrian-Saudi condominium than an Iranian concoction, while Iran's influence on Hamas also has its limits.
Meanwhile, the regional environment on the whole has shifted in Iran's favor rather dramatically in the past fortnight. The nuclear issue takes a back-burner. Fortuitously, Iran happens to head the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and would have a big say about the oil market in the current volatile situation. Again, No matter what "end state" emerges in Egypt, the events have brought Turkey, Syria and Iran closer together. The $30 billion trade agreement between Turkey and Iran signed on Monday gives a significant boost to Tehran's effort to break out of the US's containment.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who is close to the Saudi regime, visited Tehran on Monday. The secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Ekmedleddin Ihsanoglu, visited Tehran last week. Obviously, communication lines between Tehran and Riyadh are active and the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states would have reason to be gratified that Iran is not stirring up the revolutionary fervor.
In sum, Iran's priority lies in breaking through the US's cordon sanitaire in the changed regional environment and to build bridges with its Persian Gulf neighbors. The Tehran Times reproduced an article on Monday from Khaleej Times (Dubai), which argued that economic factors rather than "ideological movements" were the underlying cause of the uprising in Egypt. It implied that the Persian Gulf countries, which are oil-rich and affluent and have a far better economic situation than Egypt's, do not face any danger of a revolutionary upheaval for now.....
Is this real US Policy...??? or just some JStreet publicity stunt...?
In all of the discussion about the upheaval in Egypt, I have not yet seen any mention of one plausible hypothesis. Call it “Obama’s Payback.” Call it Obama’s Nixon Gambit. Call it what you will, but here are its parameters:
Obama sees withdrawing US support for the friendly autocrats on Israel’s borders as the only remaining realistic avenue to a settlement of the Palestinian problem.
After the public humiliation Obama endured at the hands of Netanyahu and the US Israel lobby in their head-butting on the settlements issue, he has given up on a direct approach to trying to get Israel to engage in serious negotiations toward an equitable two-state solution, including halting expansion into Palestinian land.
He has concluded, correctly, that Israel, backed by its Congressional majorities, its AIPAC lobbying powerhouse, and its massive financial support for pro-Israel politicians, will never agree to any terms that would create a genuine, two-state solution for the Palestinian problem. The problem will continue to fester to the detriment of US national interests in the Middle East for as long as Israel feels no real pressure to reach a solution.
A non-threatening Egypt has been key to Israel’s feeling of security, ergo to its intransigence...
Having failed and been publicly humiliated in his direct confrontation with the Israeli lobby in 2009, Obama has now decided to take advantage of the crisis in Egypt to teach Netanyahu a lesson: a US president has many ways to get payback for a public humiliation. One way is to pull the plug on support for our sock puppets in Egypt, Lebanon, and perhaps Jordan if it comes to that. The prospect of a Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, and of an Egypt where the Muslim brotherhood dominates policy toward Israel , may focus Israeli minds far more effectively than vacuous pleading from the US president...
Remember, it was only after Nixon went to China that Brezhnev agreed to arms limitations. Perhaps it will only be after Israel is surrounded by millions of hostile, angry Arabs, with no prospect of the US slapping them down with our hand-picked tyrants, that meaningful negotiations for a two-state solution will begin...
Of course Obama would never admit to anything as devious as this. But his actions are certainly consistent with this hypothesis, primarily greasing the skids for Mubarak’s exit with such puzzling haste. And in Obama’s view, seeing that Israel will never agree to any change to its policies as long as it has blind, unquestioning US support, the indirect pressure on Israel precipitated by the departure of our sock puppets on its borders may , in the larger scheme of things, offer a better chance to start a process that will lead to a final, equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
And that would benefit everyone....
" Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning..."
Winston S. Churchill, The Lord Mayor's Luncheon, Mansion House,
November 10, 1942.
Shows just how conceited Churchill was... Nine days later the Soviet Red Army launched Operatsiya Uran and three days later they had encircled the German Sixth Army.... That was the beginning of the end!
...The Greens may attack Ahmadinejad economically from the right, but just because Ahmadinejad is posturing economically to the left of the Greens, doesn’t mean that Ahmadinejad’s govt is not enacting reactionary economic policies.
It’s the left/right dance that we see often in the US. The republicans weaken the working class, and the Dems come in for a knockout punch when they are least expecting it. The democrats’ war policy is based on sanctions, UN resolutions, starvation, the Republicans come in for the knockout punch and invasion.
1. Reagan weakens workers and goes Union busting.
2. Clinton comes in and takes a bite out of Welfare
1. Clinton pushes UN sanctions on Iraq, bombs daily, isolates them
2. Bush comes in and goes for the knockout punch and invades.
1. George W Bush tries to attack Social Security but huge public outcry and has to stop.
2. Obama comes in and now is planning to make the SS cuts that republicans have tried for so long.
1. Obama pushing sanctions and isolation on Iran.
2. ….To be continued.
1. Khatami and Rafsanjani could not touch the subsidy reforms.
2. Ahmadinejad, with his populism and support amongst workers and poor, takes out the subsidies in place for 30 years with relatively little backlash.
What is interesting in iran, if prices rise and the lower classes start feeling the squeeze, a new opening will be created in Iranian politics for the youth pushing for more democratic freedoms and social freedoms to create a coalition with the the poor and working classes. Such a coalition has potential for big changes.....???