How will Tehran deal with the rise of Persian nationalism?

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What will the Iranian regime, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, do against the decline in religious sentiment among the population or against the government’s dwindling control over society? What will the overarching strategy for dealing with internal and external challenges look like when President-elect Ebrahim Raisi succeeds Hassan Rouhani in August? The challenges that the new government will face in the years to come are undoubtedly remarkable.

First, as Persian nationalism grows and challenges pan-Islamism, it is worth watching the regime pragmatically handle this trend while maintaining its Islamic doctrine. Second, there will be a strategic shift on the government side once US-led sanctions – based on the country’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal – are geared towards economic and military development in partnership with China and Russia. This, by some estimates, will allow Iran to become a regional hegemon within three years. Economic recovery is an immediate priority.

Experts I spoke to recently said the regime is currently facing a “legitimacy crisis” and needs to redefine itself – and is already in the middle of it.

Edward Luttwak, the veteran strategist and historian, said the clerical regime has, ironically, one would think, caused “secularization” across the country. “The regime is losing control of society,” he said. “If you want peace and quiet in Iran, just go to a mosque [because] they are all completely empty. you [the regime] lose control. “Mr. Luttwak added that if the regime continues to fund proxies overseas, ordinary Iranians will be provoked to take to the streets.

Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, said the regime knew it needed to redefine itself. “The Islamic Republic is moving towards Persian nationalism, relying on national pride and identity to connect with people,” she said. The conservative Islamic ideology, added Ms. Vakil, cannot currently be used to reconnect with the people because “this ideology is viewed as bankrupt and failed”.

According to Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister and former general secretary of the Arab League, the rise of Persian nationalism in the Middle East will create new dynamics and perhaps even make it difficult to reach an understanding between Iran and the Arab countries. where its influence is omnipresent. “[The Iranian regime] can be right [to adopt Persian nationalism] but they are also unable to continue their interventions in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, “emphasized Moussa.

Some experts assume that Iran will – at least for the time being – take a different path in order to become the main actor in the region. Andrei Fedorov, Russia’s former deputy foreign minister, told me that with the economy battered in large part due to the sanctions, the next priority for the new Raisi government will be to revive it. “What I know personally from my friends in Tehran is that they are not too ready now to enter into an open conflict with Israel. I’ve been told it will take them two to three years to get up before they can strike. “

In other words, according to Fedorov, there will be back door negotiations to avoid a direct conflict between Israel and Iran.

This may be why Israel – a sworn enemy of the regime since it was founded in 1979 – doesn’t seem too concerned about the US and Europe’s diplomatic sprint towards Iran in recent months. She is calm about the ongoing talks between the world powers and Tehran about its return to the nuclear deal because she has allegedly succeeded in infiltrating Iran in such a way that it can attack nuclear facilities and murder nuclear scientists at will, to prevent that Iran receives nuclear weapons.

After signing the agreement, it will take Tehran three to four months to restore economic ties with the EU. This is the starting point for the planned renewal and recovery. By most estimates, it will be around three years for Iran to realize its ambitions to become a regional center of power – both economically and militarily – which is a time that coincides with Biden’s presidency.

This is telling because Iran will seize the likelihood that the government will face more challenges over time – including Joe Biden’s not getting younger – and cement its position in the region. By then, the government will have lifted the oil sanctions, which will benefit its so-called rivals China and Russia. Meanwhile, China is building a strategic foothold in Iran, on whose oil it is dependent, while Russia is hoping for an end to military sanctions so that it can sell weapons to Tehran.

A richer and stronger Iran will be less afraid of the US and better able to carry out its aggressive projects in the region. During this time, Mr. Raisi will have cemented his power in the country using Persian nationalist sentiments to seek strategic revival. In this way, he will be able to absorb the popular hostility towards the religious leadership and their theocratic rule as he – presumably – prepares to succeed Khamenei as supreme leader.

By getting people to focus on economic development and Persian nationalism, it will divert their attention from theocratic authoritarianism and camouflage some of the regime’s overtly religious faces and, especially, distract younger Iranians with aspirations for change. In reality, however, the Islamic Republic will double its religious doctrine, the rule of the Supreme Leader, and the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards over the country’s foreign policy.

A wealthier Iran will also be able to support its “Persian Crescent” project, but in a less provocative way. It could use its proxies in the region to maintain its influence and control it by increasing the unrest and consolidating its interests. Iran may use some of its soft power, but it will not lose its doctrine or its regional and international strategies.

Tehran continues to try to involve the Arab countries, but wants them to admit that Iran will shape the security architecture of the region. But because it is looking for “calm”, it will try to do business with other regional great powers. The talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran will therefore continue under Mr Raisi.

The next president can stand on two legs, one Chinese and one Russian. Moscow will equip and modernize the military, while Beijing will cement a strategic partnership. Both powers will do so, knowing that Iran will never give up its nuclear capabilities.

How does the US fit into these long-term calculations and strategies? So far, the Biden government appears to be focused on achieving short-term gains, including strengthening its ties with Europe and managing the rise of China. In doing so, however, it loses its influence to China in the Middle East.

Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairman of the Beirut Institute and a columnist for The National

Updated: July 4, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.



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