Iran’s Influence in the Middle East is waning

By allowing the profanation of early icons of Sunni Islam, the Shia regime in Tehran has created a profound crisis.

Time to unfollow. Iraqi President Fuad Masum (R) reviews honour guards as he is welcomed by his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani in Tehran. (AP)

2017/03/19 Issue: 98 Page: 16

The Arab Weekly
Ali al-Amin

Because of Iran’s policies in the Arab region, Shia inhabit­ants there have often become isolated minorities unable to blend in their national contexts while the regime in Tehran resorts to rewriting history and reshaping facts to suit its ideology and interests.

By allowing the profanation of early icons of Sunni Islam, the Shia regime in Tehran has created a profound crisis. At the same time, it has adapted Shia doctrine just enough to accommodate the beliefs of those who, even according to some well-estab­lished Shia scholars of Islam’s history, are the furthest removed from Shia ideology, namely the Alawites and the Zaidis. The purpose was to drive a deeper wedge between Shia sects and Sunni sects.

In Shia literature in circulation today, traditional references to the Alawite and Zaidi sects as sworn enemies of mainstream Shias have been removed. A great deal of energy is being expanded to fuel age-old and divisive debates between Shia Islam and Sunni Islam about the caliphate.

The Iranian leadership wel­comed the revolts in the Arab world but insisted on referring to them by the term sahwa — “awak­ening”. It wasted no time in sponsoring colloquia and festivals celebrating these revolts and inviting Arabs and Muslims to them. The real purpose of these actions was not to support the revolutions; it was a pernicious attempt to impose the label of Islamic awakening on them.

The Iranian regime’s infatuation with the Arab revolutions was short-lived. Having failed to subvert them to its ideology, it started branding them as terror­ism. In Syria, the Iranian regime clearly sided with dictatorship, the Alawite regime.

Yes, Iran failed to impose its vision on the Arab region. It failed in Iraq after the American pullout and its policies there helped create the monster called the Islamic State (ISIS). Iran failed in Lebanon, where its proxy, Hezbollah, refuses to accept the concept of state and continues to produce crises, threatening to ruin the country. Even in Yemen, Iran’s meddling produced only a sectarian divide and failed to unite Yemenis.

Today, the Iraqi Shia leadership is no longer keen on travelling between Baghdad and Tehran, as it did from 2003-10, to maintain its authority in Iraq. With the United States backing Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s government and his army in the fight against ISIS and improving relations with Saudi Arabia, Iraq no longer feels obligated to blindly follow the Iranian strategy in the region and is beginning to favour a more nationalistic approach.

Iran’s biggest moves were in Syria, where it spared no expense or effort to maintain its influence and support the dictatorship of the Alawite minority. No other country has invested so much and lost so much in the Syrian conflict. Iran has miserably failed to establish itself as the ideological and political reference there. In fact, it was Iran that called in the Russians and handed control to them.

Iran has misjudged and misread the Arab reality. Its influence in the region is waning and not by choice. Because of that, Hezbollah finds itself without the backing it once had. It has come to realise that its Shia-breeding environ­ment cannot sustain a very costly war. This realisation alone must suffice for it to steer away from stirring up trouble with Israel.

In Lebanon, there are telling signs of Christian rejection of Iran’s grip. Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi denounced Hezbollah’s armed action, saying it “has divided the Lebanese people”. “Hezbollah has broken the policy of neutrality adopted by the Lebanese state as stated in the Baabda declaration about the Syrian crisis,” he said.

It is clear that the Iranian crescent is losing ground in the Arab region. It is happening not so much because of external factors as it is because of Iran’s lack of understanding of the Arab region.

The crisis of the Iranian cres­cent, or Shia crescent as it is sometimes called, is about to get worse under the Trump adminis­tration. US President Donald Trump seems rather lenient with the Gulf countries. None of them was on his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the United States while Iran finds itself at the head of that list. This was probably done on purpose.

Ali al-Amin is a Lebanese writer.

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