Friday 24 July 2015

Iran, The Power in The Making.

Abu Yusuf Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (ca. 800–870 CE) a well-known ancient Iraqi philosopher; a member of the Arab tribe of Kinda, in his address to members of the caliphate family, argued for the first cause of ‘oneness’.  He asserted that “bringing something to be” means imposing unity of a particular kind.  Here we are over 1200 years later the Arab world possibly still searching for this elusive “oneness”.  Cyrus the Great in 550 BC of old Persia, Islam and much-admired wisdom of the Ottomans failed to bring about such a union amongst the Arabs. Considering its economic seismic waves, the Iranian accord with the US could stretch as far as Turkey to include Iraq possibly and finally provide the elusive platform.  As well as of immense benefit to the smaller emerging states such as Dubai and Kuwait if wise enough to adopt a secularist approach, if abstaining from religious sectarianism, the presented opportunities would be no illusions.

So what gives now?  What holds for the future of the region?  This article attempts at an analysis of such crossroads and is embroidered with hope, to sustain reason over force and logic over irrationality.  Above all, hand over the privilege to tolerance to be the main agent.

While we wait for Iranian ‘democracy’ to determine whether to approve the historical accord reached while US Congress digests what is after all, to Iran, this deal would be a milestone achievement.  Although Iranian negotiators invested twelve years in this venture, as with all Arab and most Asiatic countries faced with potential rejection, ‘saving face’ is an essential provision to entail such a contingency.  The avoiding embarrassment of failure has obliged it to wait for US Congress to ratify the treaty and take the lead so to speak before the Iranian Parliament voices its endorsement.  Apparently, Congress has 60 days to review the nuclear agreement with Iran, struck in Vienna on July 14, and it will be at least 90 days before the United Nations resolution officially takes effect.  In the meantime, Iran will freeze all activities in the creation of nuclear fuels but acknowledges the continuation of research and development.  For now the agreement, that lifts the sanctions on Iran, is centring on the fundamental issue; Iran not to produce weapons-grade plutonium.  Although working within the confines of mistrust on both sides, all parties still found common ground to grant extensive concessions finally. To help it pass through severe congress restrictions on the amount of nuclear fuel production were placed on Iran for the next 15 years but left with enough capabilities to produce an Atom bomb within a year as “breakout time”, should it withdraw from the agreement.

Iran quest for superpower technology means the construction of nuclear energy with nuclear power capability, becoming only second to Pakistan in the Islamic world and first in the Islamic Middle East.  Ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the toppling of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with a radical theocratic regime under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran harboured an ambition to rekindle the once Great (Persian) Nation status.   The making of nuclear fuel, centrifuges, reactors, the Iraq war and its radical revolutionary council are all driven to achieve that aim.  Lifting of sanctions and the release of up to, (depending on which reports to believe), $100 billion will help in that endeavour. It will undoubtedly stand to favour the ironing out regional dislocating and polarising policies principally with Saudi Arabia, currently, while it also actively stretches its power of influence.

Iran has oil reserves of 150 billion barrels making it the fourth largest in the world, a spike in 1974 at 6 million barrels per day and gas reserves second in the world of about 1,046 trillion cubic feet (29.6 trillion cubic metres) or about 15.8% of world's total reserves.  As of 2011, some 66 Iranian industrial companies are carrying out projects in 27 countries. Iran has exported over $20 billion worth of technical and engineering services over 2001-2011. Its industrial portfolio extends from retail parks to air conditions, cement and construction, motor vehicles to electronics and computers.  While Saudi Arabia has oil based economy, on the primarily uses large foreign labour force.  With its anachronistic feudal fealty system, it is hard pressed to meet the challenge of modern technology and to lessen its dependence on oil.

Saudi Arabia’ collaboration with America in 2003 to destroy Sunni and authoritarian regime Saddam’s Iraq, had effectively, intentionally or otherwise, helped to eliminate, at the time, it's only political ally, together could have shared same identical sect religious bridges.  Backed with technological know-how and intellectual and relatively advanced economic presence Iraq, presupposing an ideal situation, would have presented a suitable partner coming packaged entirely in ingredients for regional hegemony.   Unfortunately, though, for now at least, Iraq's original position is decades into the future.

A substitute is a dictatorial regime Sisi’s Egypt: in my opinion a poor choice.  An economy highly dependent on foreign aid accompanied with monthly deficits amounts to US$4 billion a quarter; will be a hefty joining fee to be paid in more ways than one. The country’s dependence on aid from America in the shape of cash and military hardware, from Qatar in the form of fuel donations and Saudi government subsidies, and politically remains highly unstable. It also means a possible tacit responsibility of mostly undeveloped and underdeveloped country with a mass population of 90 million mouths to feed and a GDP per capita US$1576 contrasts boldly with Iraq’s US$2439 even in the aftermath of two decades of social turmoil, wars and sanctions. Coming a close second to Egypt is the current rapprochement with Muslim Brotherhood; not long ago the Saudis declared it a terrorist organisation and discussions with Hamas, a rudderless group without any clear vision.

That said, Saudi Arabia need not feel susceptible to Political, religious or economic pressure.  The Regional assumed hegemonic position it now perceives need not superseded by the likely rise in Iran’s status.  It is understandable the wealthy and powerful Saudi family find it difficult to accept their country is moving out of political sunshine into the shadows of a new power.   Conversely, a schismatic religious outlook of one religion should not be enough cause for a bifurcated ideological theology nor should it be enough reason for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to lead a regional isolationist political policy.  Instead, its modus operandi, bearing in mind its very high income (Aramco, estimated worth $5 trillion), relative to its small population, is disproportionate which by this measure still qualifies as a mini-state; a new attempt at reform is long overdue. Barely a century old with minimum creative or innovative wealth, it is still minuscule. Its cooperation with Iran, an investment in its future, could bring about substantial benefits. An example is Turkey in 1920’s, holders of the Caliphate at the time, under Kemalist directions, secularised its state policies and joined the ‘modern’ world.  From a historical perspective, both Iran and Saudi Arabia can cut through the current religious rivalries and take heart from an ideological intake of WWII when the dichotomy of Capitalism and Communism enjoined to defeat Fascism.  It is old hat to steadfastly hold and obstinately cling towards two types of worship of one faith.  For the time being, Saudi Arabia has more in common with Israel than with Iran, a Muslin State.

Israel’s Netanyahu is obviously not happy with the deal.   Iran’s new promotion most likely provides the much-needed balance of power for the region which for decades enjoyed particular prominence by the military might of Israel- an unwelcome hegemonic Jewish state in the area.  Now with most of Arab Middle East in disarray, Israel’s power has never been greater. The fear of undermining its security is one reason it is reluctant to give up this strategic paramountcy over the area but has, before the agreement and after, employed bluff and counter- bluff.  This containment policy is akin to Cold War belligerence that kept communist ideals and the western powers at bay; preoccupied in scepticism and doubt throughout the post-war period to finally ending in 1989 with the disintegration of USSR.  Anticipating an American approval to the nuclear treaty and barring any Saudi aggressive posturing to the deal, no better time for Israel’s to enjoy its political isolation.

All the more reason for small neighbouring countries such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even further afield Lebanon to seek closer economic integration with Iran.  A solidifying cohesion may yet replicate The 'Golden Age'.  Iran has a population of 80 million and the others a fraction of that; it is evident who will benefit the most. On the whole, this deal can, with some measure of political arguments, prove highly beneficial to the entire Middle East including Turkey. Besides population, Iran has the resources and credentials of culture, history and realistic technological ambition that can immeasurably be of benefit to the region.  Moreover, with reason instead of force, they can efficiently and politically encircle Israel to bring pressure to bear on the plight of the Palestinians and their question.

Above all Islamic culture rather than their religion should be the formative threads that go into texturizing the matrix of regional unity. Either grab the opportunity now or to let an available utopian revolutionary aspiration become a symbol of a sinking foundation that will once again, lie where others before it: buried in the local baron deserts, or ‘run into the sands’ of Arabia.

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