The rise of Iran in the Middle East: between fiction and reality, By MohammadReza Djalili and Thierry Kellner
Iran’s growing power has recently come to the fore in the international media. Countless articles refer to the ‘new empire’ that Tehran, taking advantage of the chaos in the Middle East, is building. The Iranian government has taken this rhetoric and adop
Some foreign critics also note this increasing power with concern, as did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the US Congress. However, in contrast to this rhetoric, other commentators observe that Iran only has an “empire on paper.” How can we disentangle these conflicting visions? The Islamic Republic of Iran can count on several assets to bolster its regional clout, but the influence it seeks to wield is also subject to major limitations. In order to navigate the many and conflicting arguments that international media air vis-à-vis the Iranian “empire,” both Iran’s strengths and weaknesses need to be addressed in a coherent and systematic manner.
A stable state in a chaotic neighborhood
In a regional context marked by growing instability, Iran enjoys relative stability. This cannot be explained by any disposition toward self-restraint on the part of Iranians. The Iranians are the only people in the region to have accomplished two major revolutions in the 20th century (in 1906-1911 and in 1979), and the “Green Movement” of 2009 was a reminder of their capacity for mobilization. Nor can this stability be explained by the repressive capacities of the regime. What explains -- at least in part -- the stability of Iran is the long-term presence of the state. Like China, Egypt and a few other rare countries in the world, Iran has several thousand years of history. Unlike most of its neighbors, the Iranian state is not a new creation and does not suffer from the fragility that is sometimes seen in recently created states. In the modern age, Iran’s transition from empire to nation-state was an undeniable success. The existence of a very old state tradition and the creation of a modern, centralized state under the reign of Reza Shah (1925-1941) have given Iran the means that have enabled it to pass through periods of great upheaval such as the 1979 Islamic Revolution without undermining its unity and continuity.
‘Armed wings’ and representatives beyond its borders Since the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian regime has set up “armed wings” outside its borders. Taking