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

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - Mo­ham­mad-Reza Djalili and Thierry Kellner, “The rise of Iran in the Mid­dle East: be­tween fic­tion and re­al­ity,” Turk­ish Re­view 5, no. 5 (2015): 384-393.

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

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