MERIP on Iran, twice

MERIP has published two interesting articles on Iran in the last week. The first looked at the strategic Iran-Israel rivalry, arguing that posturing in both countries had to do with their self-image as the region's only real powers and their need to be counted as a player by the region's superpower, the US. The article contains some interesting info on the Iranian position on Palestine, for instance, where despite much posturing there has been relatively little real help (an anecdote of a 1979 meeting between Khomeini and Arafat is quite enlightening in this regard.) And of course some analysis of how Israel uses the Iran question:
From the Israeli perspective, rallying Western states to its side was best achieved by emphasizing the alleged suicidal tendencies of the clergy and Iran’s apparent infatuation with the idea of destroying Israel. As long as the Iranian leadership was viewed as irrational, conventional tactics such as deterrence would be rendered impossible, leaving the international community with no option but to have no tolerance for Iranian capabilities. How could a country like Iran be trusted with missile technology, the argument went, if its leadership was immune to dissuasion by the larger and more numerous missiles of the West?

The Israeli strategy was to ensure that the world -- particularly Washington -- would not see the Israeli-Iranian conflict as one between two rivals for military preeminence in a fundamentally disordered region that lacked a clear pecking order. Rather, Israel framed the clash as one between the sole democracy in the Middle East and an illiberal theocracy that hated everything the West stood for. Cast in those terms, the allegiance of Western states to Israel was no longer a matter of choice or real political interest.

Ironically, Iran too preferred an ideological framing of the conflict. When revolution swept Iran in 1979, the new Islamic leadership forsook the Pahlavi regime’s Persian nationalist identity, but not its yen for Iranian great-power status. Whereas the Shah sought suzerainty in the Persian Gulf and parts of the Indian Ocean, while hoping to make Iran the Japan of western Asia, the Khomeini government sought hegemony in the entire Islamic world. The Shah’s means for achieving his goal were a strong army and strategic ties to the United States. The Ayatollah, on the other hand, relied on his brand of political Islam and ideological zeal to overcome the Arab-Persian divide and to undermine the Arab governments who opposed Iran’s ambitions.

The second article looks at the growing movement to give women more equal rights in the Islamic Republic:
In early June, Zanestan -- an Iran-based online journal -- announced a rally in Haft Tir Square, one of Tehran’s busiest, to protest legal discrimination suffered by Iranian women. The demonstration was also called to commemorate two landmark events in women’s struggle for equality in Iran. The first was the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, when women agitated for emancipation. The second was the June 12, 2005 women’s rally for revision of the constitution of the Islamic Republic. According to Zanestan, the June 12, 2006 reprise would raise specific demands: a ban on polygamy, equal rights to divorce for women and men, joint custody of children after divorce, equal rights in marriage, an increase in the minimum legal age of marriage for girls to 18, and equal rights for women as witnesses. The protesters would call, in other words, for redress of the gender inequalities embedded in the dominant interpretations of Islamic law upon which the constitution is based.

Incidentally, a lot of this activism is made possible by the internet, blogs, etc...
Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.