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It's Iran's Moment Of Truth: The Iranian People Must Collectively Demand Administration Goodwill With Neighbouring States


02 March 2016

By Tariq A. Al Maeena

The Iranian people have a reason to rejoice. The lifting of the crippling economic sanctions imposed on them by the West has taken a toll on the daily routine of the common Iranian who had to get by with hardship. This group is actually the majority in Iran.

In the past, this group had often been swayed by the messages and hard rhetoric of their fundamental and religious leaders, who used such rhetoric to disguise their own failures in leadership and divert people's attention to imagined enemies elsewhere. Time and again, religion would be interspersed with politics, leaving much of the populace oblivious to the harsh realities of their leaders' failures.

In a rapidly shrinking world, where news is available at the touch of a button, such tactics have ceased to have the desired effect. The rising political conscience of the Iranian people was perhaps aptly demonstrated by the June 2013 presidential elections when the majority voted for the moderate Hassan Rouhani as the next President of Iran in a landslide mandate. The people of Iran were sending a message to their clerical leaders that they had had enough.

And Rouhani set to work for his electorate. He promised them that Iran would begin efforts to lift the economic boycott against the country by entering into a serious dialogue with the West on Iran's nuclear programme. In his first speech at the United Nations General Assembly, the Iranian president took the initiative by offering negotiations with the United States and other world powers over its nuclear programme. ''Our national interests make it imperative that we remove all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear programme,'' he emphasised, adding that Iran ''is prepared to engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence...''

Such talk was a far departure from the previously aggressive and bellicose stance that Iranian leaders had used. And true to his word, negotiations on reducing nuclear capabilities began with the representatives of the major western powers and an agreement was finally reached in 2015 that would eventually lift the boycott on Iran. The people rejoiced in the streets and there was much hope.

Recently, the sanctions have begun to be lifted with the unfreezing of billions of dollars in assets belonging to Iran that were held in the West. Iran's oil is set to flow again to customers worldwide and there appears to be widespread optimism in the country. But the path to normalisation of ties has not been without thorns.

Following the execution of a Shiite cleric, Nimr Al Nimr, by Saudi Arabia on grounds of subversion and treason against the kingdom, the Iranian religious authority was incensed. Describing Al Nimr as a ‘martyr', Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei charged that ''this oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, nor was involved in covert plots''. In his tweets, he added that ''the only act of [Al] Nimr was outspoken criticism'', and said that the ''unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr [Al] Nimr will affect rapidly and divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians''. Such messages were inflammatory enough to send a pack of angry Iranians to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad, where they ransacked the buildings and set them ablaze, all the while chanting anti-Saudi slogans.

Increased tensions

The Saudis were upset by Iran's interference in their internal affairs, insisting that the authorities had the right to carry out punitive measures against those who did not obey the rules and pulled back their diplomats from that country. Some other Gulf Cooperation Council countries followed suit, marking the beginning of increased tensions between neighbours.

But following the easing of the sanctions, there has been a perceptible retreat of rhetoric by the Iranian leaders. Khamenei last week condemned the attack on the Saudi Embassy, adding that it damaged the reputation of the country. ''Attacking the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was really bad and harmed Iran and Islam,'' Khamenei said.

While this may be Iran's way of extending an olive branch, its neighbours want Tehran to stop meddling in the internal affairs of their countries and to stop financing radical groups that encourage strife and terror. The people of Iran should understand that in their narrow perspective, their religious leaders attack anyone or anything not falling into their scope of things. Such a charter today is unfortunately also being adopted by Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and other terror groups.

The Iranian people must collectively demand that their administration gets back on the road to goodwill with their neighbouring states. This is their moment of truth. Such action will be safer and profitable for them and the region. Otherwise too much is at stake.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena
 

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