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Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Removing the Religious Mask: Rethinking Iran’s Foreign Policy
Paper Proposal Text :
Dr. Said Rezaeiejan
Department of Political Science
University of Amsterdam

“Removing the Religious Mask: Rethinking Iran’s Foreign Policy”

Research on Sunni-Shia rivalry in general and Iran-GCC rivalry in paricular is bon ton. Religion is considered as a driving force which not only influences the foreign policy of the powers of the region like Iran and Saudi Arabia, but is indeed one of the determinants that shapes the foreign policy of these states. This thesis is further embraced by the media who have a great influence in determining the way we look at the region. At an individual level, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s emergence as a populist president from 2005 till 2013 in Iran and his use of an Islamic (Shia) and equally frequent nationalistic discourse has brought the country into a collision course with other countries in the region.
In this case study I argue against those who consider religion as an important variable in Iran’s grand strategy towards the Persian Gulf nations. The aim of this paper is threefold. In the first place I will argue that a realist perspective of international politics affords us the best tools to understand and explain state (Iran’s) behaviour in the Gulf region. Following Kenneth Walltz I believe that structural realism has important insights to offer and is set to explain ‘a few big and important things’ in international relations. Whatever religious factors may play a role at the surface of the political landscape in Iran and other Gulf countries, the region remains a system of independent political units without the presence of a central body above them. The result of such a self help system is a security dilemma which forces these states to think strategically about how to survive and not on the basis of religious conciderations. My second argument is (following Olivier Roy) that political Islam in Iran has failed. This means that where the Islamic Revolution has succeeded in Iran (in the sense that it is a théocratie constitutionelle, based and founded on Islamic principles), it failed to ‘spread the fire in the region’. Indeed, the argument here is that paradoxically the political victory of the (Shia) Islamic Republic has eventually led to his moral defeat with a legitimacy crisis as the result. Following these propositions my third argument is that religion is used by the Islamic Republic in an instrumental and tactical way and not strategically.