GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Iran’s influence in the Gulf after the ‘Arab Spring’: failed strategy or successful Saudi containment?
Paper Proposal Text :
Despite the fact that the Iranian foreign policy has remained under the Leader’s sphere of control and that the president has limited capacity in the foreign policy decision making process, it is possible to identify a two tracked Gulf policy in Ahmadinejad’s period since he assumed in 2005:
- On one hand, diplomatic rapprochement in order to be recognized as a main regional actor by Middle Eastern countries and to try to build mutual confidence to reduce US presence in the gulf.
- On the other hand, the Enhancement of the issue of the “persianity” of the Gulf is one of the main pillars of his policy.
However, the emergency of the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011 generated a new wave of regional tension for the Iranian establishment, and a new ‘cold war’ started between Iran and GCC states, mainly Saudi Arabia, in order to gain supremacy and benefits from the new conflictive situation resulting from the demonstrations and regime changes in the Gulf and the Middle East.
In Iran, while the opposition tried to connect the Arab Spring with the Green Movement, calling for a supportive demonstration on 14th February 2011 (the same day of the first Bahraini upraising), the Leader Khamenei declared that the events in Arab states were the reminiscence of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, officially naming the revolts as ‘Islamic Awakening’, and reproducing the same ideological and religious challenge posted by Khomeini 32 years before.
At the regional level, the majority of neighboring states started to fear, like in 1979, the revolutionary influence and political intentions of Iran. However, the Islamic Republic, like in 1979, has been unable to become a model for the ‘Arab Spring’ movements, neither to help the Shia groups in Bahrain, nor to support the Syrian government in bringing to an end the popular uprising. The red line drawn by Saudi Arabia has prevented any possibility of direct Iranian intervention in Bahrain, despite the broad coverage from the Iranian media in Farsi, Arabic and English. The other important battlefield for Saudi Arabia-Iran regional power dispute is Syria, where it seems that the Ahmadinejad government has changed its initial support to al-Assad by a more negotiating position.
While Khamenei has maintained the static ideological principles of the Iranian foreign policy established by Khomeini in 1979, Ahmadinejad has been trying to follow his own agenda with limited success, as well as Khatami and Rafsanjani did before him. Both presidents tried to lessen the tension with Saudi Arabia through diplomatic means, and mainly Khatami through confidence building measures, but none of them were able to enhance the relations, and the Iranian foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia did not undergo profound changes.
The main hypothesis of this paper is that the ‘Arab Spring’ has had a negative effect on Iran, and that the political consequence of the Arab Spring has been a failure of the Iranian foreign policy in getting benefit from the revolts and a dramatic decrease of Iranian regional influence. Whether this failure was caused by the success of the containment policy implemented by Saudi Arabia or by the rigidity of the ideological principles of the Islamic Republic foreign policy, is what I want to discuss in this paper. My main conclusion is that despite the fact the Ahmadinejad foreign policy tried to follow its own agenda, the ideological principles of the revolution, sustained by Khamenei, overtook the Iranian discourse since February 2011, paving the way for a ‘counter Iranian’ discourse. The same principles which guided the ‘export of the revolution’ policy in the 1980s and the call to overthrow the monarchical regimes in GCC, guided the Leadership discourse on the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011. However, the discourse could not be translated into effective measures to support the Syrian regime or the Bahraini Shias because of the international pressure against Iran, and the direct intervention of Saudi Arabia in both conflicts seemed to stop the Iranian influence.