Iran, Turkey, Egypt must save Mideast from chaos and de­struc­tion: professor

Tehran Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Javad Heiran­nia

TEHRAN — Professor Farhang Ja­han­pour, part-time tu­tor on the Mid­dle East in the De­part­ment of Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford, tells the Tehran Times that Iran, Egypt and Turkey must set aside their dif­fer­ences in or­der save the re­gion from “chaos and de­struc­tion”.

Fol­low­ing is the full text of the in­ter­view:

It has just been an­nounced that King Sal­man has de­posed the Crown Prince Muham­mad bin Nayef and has re­placed him with his 31-year old son Mo­hammed bin Sal­man. What are the rea­sons be­hind the Saudi King’s de­ci­sion to de­pose the sit­ting crown prince and re­place him with his young son?

A: This is a very im­por­tant and po­ten­tially a dan­ger­ous move. Ever since the es­tab­lish­ment of the Saudi King­dom in 1902 by Ibn Saud there has been a fairly well es­tab­lished sys­tem of suc­ces­sion, with power pass­ing from a reign­ing king to the old­est liv­ing male mem­ber of the fam­ily. Muham­mad bin Nayef was ap­pointed deputy crown prince by the for­mer King Ab­dul­lah and con­firmed by the so-called Al­le­giance Coun­cil to suc­ceed King Sal­man, and he was also de­clared crown prince by King Sal­man when he came to power in Jan­uary 2015.

Muham­mad bin Nayef held a num­ber of im­por­tant posts, in­clud­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter and first deputy prime min­is­ter, and played a ma­jor role in counter-ter­ror­ism. Now, he has been abruptly re­lieved of all his du­ties by royal de­cree and Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has taken his place. The newly ap­pointed crown prince has also been named deputy prime min­is­ter and also main­tains his post as de­fence min­is­ter, as well as over­see­ing the econ­omy.

Should we think of the reshuf­fle as a soft coup d’état?

A: I be­lieve it is a soft coup d’état, be­cause it goes against the es­tab­lished norms in Saudi suc­ces­sion. Mo­hammed bin Sal­man is a young, am­bi­tious and power-hun­gry prince who has been re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of un­wise ad­ven­tures, such as the war against Ye­men that has killed and in­jured tens of thou­sands of in­no­cent Ye­me­nis, ag­gres­sive sup­port for Ji­hadi mil­i­tants in Syria and else­where, and lately the con­flict with Qatar. He has also been the au­thor of the over-am­bi­tious de­vel­op­ment plan, the so-called “Vi­sion 2030”.

At a time when a large num­ber of for­eign na­tion­als have been made re­dun­dant and ex­pelled, some with huge un­paid ar­rears, and when many or­di­nary Saudi ci­ti­zens are suffering the con­se­quences of aus­ter­ity, Muham­mad bin Sal­man has adopted a very ex­trav­a­gant life­style, com­pletely out of char­ac­ter with the Pu­ri­tan­i­cal Wah­habi ide­ol­ogy. For in­stance, while hol­i­day­ing in the south of France a few months ago, he saw a su­per yacht be­long­ing to a Rus­sian ty­coon, fan­cied it and bought it on the spot for 500 mil­lion eu­ros, more than three times its orig­i­nal price. He also owns lux­u­ri­ous private jets and many other ac­crue­ments of the su­per-rich.

Does this fam­ily coup have the sup­port of the U.S. and the UK?

A: I do not be­lieve that this was nec­es­sar­ily planned with the col­lu­sion or even ad­vance knowl­edge of the United States and the United King­dom. After the re­cent rift be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar, al­though President Trump openly took the side of the Saudis and ac­cused Qatar of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son of­fered to me­di­ate be­tween the two.

In fact, on 20th June, only one day be­fore the reshuf­fle, the State De­part­ment’s spokesper­son Heather Nauert is­sued a rather strange state­ment. In a part of that state­ment we read: “Now that it has been more than two weeks since the em­bargo started, we are mys­ti­fied that the Gulf States have not re­leased to the public, nor to the Qataris, the de­tails about the claims that they are mak­ing to­ward Qatar. The more that time goes by the more doubt is raised about the ac­tions taken by Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE. At this point we are left with one sim­ple ques­tion: were the ac­tions re­ally about their con­cerns re­gard­ing Qatar’s al­leged sup­port for ter­ror­ism or were they about the long, sim­mer­ing griev­ances be­tween and among the GCC coun­tries?”

This is a clear re­buke to Saudi rulers for not hav­ing produced any ev­i­dence for their claims against Qatar. I be­lieve that the only other coun­try that might have had a hand in this reshuf­fle is the UAE, or at least some UAE princes, be­cause UAE Crown Prince Muham­mad bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan is a close friend of Mo­hammed bin Sal­man and they seem to share many views and am­bi­tions.

What will be the ef­fect of the reshuf­fle on the rest of the GCC?

A: As you know, there has al­ready been a ma­jor rift be­tween Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and Bahrain on the one hand and Qatar on the other, with Oman and Kuwait play­ing a neu­tral role.

President Trump’s visit to Riyadh and his im­petu­ous rush to em­brace the Saudis as the leaders of the war against ex­trem­ism, which re­sulted in more than $400 bil­lion of promised spend­ing on weapons and other Amer­i­can goods, gave the Saudis the false hope that they could dom­i­nate the Arab world, and cer­tainly the GCC. How­ever, far from unit­ing the Arab world un­der Saudi lead­er­ship, President Trump’s visit proved to be the kiss of death to the GCC.

The GCC was formed shortly after Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion of Iran in or­der to bring the small Per­sian Gulf coun­tries to­gether in sup­port of Iraq. They con­trib­uted tens of bil­lions of dol­lars to Sad­dam Hus­sein, which iron­i­cally led to the Iraqi in­va­sion of Kuwait when the GCC mem­bers de­manded the re­pay­ment of their loans. How­ever, the GCC never man­aged to unite all the Per­sian Gulf lit­toral states, partly due to the fact that there is an im­bal­ance be­tween Saudi Ara­bia with a pop­u­la­tion of over 23 mil­lion na­tion­als and over eight mil­lion non-na­tion­als, and Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE with less than one mil­lion na­tive pop­u­la­tions each.

Re­cently, Saudi Ara­bia has not been con­tent with be­ing the lead­ing mem­ber of the GCC, but has de­manded to­tal sub­servience from oth­ers. The ag­gres­sive Saudi and UAE siege of Qatar has gone be­yond a mere tribal feud, has back­fired and is al­ready lead­ing not only to the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the GCC, but also to a rift be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and other Arab states.

On June 19, the elec­tronic Rai al-Youm daily news­pa­per car­ried the fol­low­ing re­port: “The hon­ey­moon be­tween Morocco and the Gulf States mainly Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE has ended on the back­drop of th­ese coun­tries’ con­flict with Qatar.” It went on to say that Morocco has dis­tanced it­self from Saudi Ara­bia in fear of a mil­i­tary ad­ven­ture against Qatar.

What will be the ef­fect of this reshuf­fle on Saudi Ara­bia’s stand­ing in the Is­lamic world?

A: De­spite the pre­ten­sions of Saudi leaders, Saudi Ara­bia does not pos­sess the his­tor­i­cal, reli­gious, in­tel­lec­tual or po­lit­i­cal clout to act as the leader of the Is­lamic or even the Sunni world. Its sig­nif­i­cance to the world has been due to its vast re­serves of oil, which is a dwin­dling as­set, as with greater use of re­new­able en­ergy, oil will soon lose the sig­nif­i­cance that it has en­joyed over the past century, and just like coal a lot of it will have to be left in the ground.

In the same way that after the con­ver­sion of Em­peror Con­stan­tine, Christianity moved out of Pales­tine, the cen­tre of the Is­lamic world also moved away from Ara­bia shortly after Prophet Muham­mad’s death. After the short-lived pe­riod of the Rashidun Caliphate, three of whom were as­sas­si­nated, un­der the Umayyads the man­tle of Is­lamic lead­er­ship moved to Da­m­as­cus, a ma­jor cen­tre of Byzan­tine cul­ture. Then, un­der the Ab­basids, who came to power with the help of Abu Mus­lim in Kho­rasan, the cen­tre of Is­lamic civ­i­liza­tion moved to Bagh­dad (which is a Per­sian word mean­ing God-given) near Cte­siphon, the for­mer cap­i­tal of the Parthian and the Sasa­nian Em­pires. Then, un­der the Shi’ite Fa­timid Caliphate, it moved to Cairo; and fi­nally to Is­tan­bul, the cap­i­tal of the Ot­toman Em­pire.

Cairo, es­pe­cially the an­cient Al-Azhar Univer­sity, has al­ways been re­garded as the main cen­tre of Arab Is­lamic cul­ture. At the same time, Iran has served as the cen­tre of Per­sian Is­lamic cul­ture, which stretched from Iran to the Sub-Con­ti­nent and even to the Far East. Per­sian was the lin­gua franca of the Mughal Em­pire, and Ira­nian mer­chants and Su­fis were mainly re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing Is­lam to the East.

In all those cen­turies, Ara­bia played no role in the Is­lamic world, ex­cept be­ing the cen­tre of the hard and ar­du­ous Hajj pil­grim­age. There­fore, the Saudi claim to the lead­er­ship of the Is­lamic world lacks any merit. In re­cent cen­turies, Ara­bia has been re­spon­si­ble for the most fun­da­men­tal­ist and mil­i­tant form of Is­lam that has been be­hind the rise of ter­ror­ist groups, from the Al Qaeda, to the Tal­iban, the al-Nusra Front and ul­ti­mately ISIS.

What will be the reper­cus­sions of th­ese changes in the rest of the re­gion?

A: The dis­ar­ray in the GCC and the scourge of ji­hadi ter­ror­ism, of­ten sup­ported by Saudi Ara­bia, must act as a wakeup call to the lead­ing coun­tries in the re­gion. As the heirs of the Ira­nian, Arab and Turk­ish cul­tures and civ­i­liza­tions, Iran, Egypt and Turkey, have some se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences with each other. How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East is so pre­car­i­ous that th­ese coun­tries must set aside their dif­fer­ences and must unite in or­der to save the re­gion from chaos and de­struc­tion.

Clearly, all of them need to make some com­pro­mises, but the al­ter­na­tive is extremely dire for all of them. If an­cient en­e­mies in Europe could set aside their dif­fer­ences and could es­tab­lish the Euro­pean Union, there is no rea­son why th­ese three an­cient cul­tures that have lived to­gether for cen­turies and mil­len­nia mainly in peace and har­mony can­not find a way of get­ting along and bring­ing the rest of the re­gion with them.

The mod­ern world does not tol­er­ate lead­er­ship by any coun­try. There­fore, any idea of sole Ira­nian, Egyp­tian, Turk­ish or Saudi lead­er­ship is an il­lu­sion. The only so­lu­tion is for all of them to co­op­er­ate with one an­other to cre­ate a Mid­dle East that is wor­thy of its an­cient cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tion.

I be­lieve King Sal­man’s de­pos­ing of Crown Prince Muham­mad bin Nayef and re­plac­ing him with his 31-year old son Mo­hammed bin Sal­man is a soft coup d’état, be­cause it goes against the es­tab­lished norms in Saudi suc­ces­sion.

In re­cent cen­turies, Ara­bia has been re­spon­si­ble for the most fun­da­men­tal­ist and mil­i­tant form of Is­lam that has been be­hind the rise of ter­ror­ist groups, from the Al Qaeda, to the Tal­iban, the al-Nusra Front and ul­ti­mately ISIS.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Iran

© PressReader. All rights reserved.