GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Why can\'t we be friends? Bridging the sectarian divide between Iran and the Gulf
Paper Proposal Text :
A recent statement made by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a high-ranking Iranian cleric and former president, that the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi\'a is meaningless, caused much amazement among Iran-observers. The statement was believed to undermine the legacy of ayatollah Khomeini\'s political Shi\'ism and as such the legitimacy of the Iranian political system. This paper argues that, contrary to what most observers assumed, Rafanjani\'s statement is much in line with Iranian political discourse, which has from the birth of the Islamic Republic onward tried to bridge the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi\'a. In recent years this discourse of Sunni/Shi\'a reconciliation has been used actively by Iranian foreign policy makers in an attempt to create common ground between Iran and the Gulf States. It was used by high ranking Iranian representatives on visits to the Gulf region – visits which intensified since the early years of Ahmadinejad\'s presidency in an attempt to improve regional ties. This paper discusses the attempts among Iranian foreign policy officials to improve ties with the Gulf region, with a particular focus on the discursive context of these attempts, as well as the reception among the Gulf countries. Often meeting with persistently negative perceptions of Iran\'s identity and intentions, Iranian attempts to bridge the divide between Iran and the Gulf had mixed results under Ahmadinejad. (Warnaar 2013) Will Iranian foreign policy makers be more succesful under Rouhani, who has tried to create a more positive international image for Iran?