By Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Due to historical, cultural and political reasons, relations among countries in the Middle East are bugged with numerous and a diversified set of differences as well as ethnic, religious, racial and other tensions. One of those deep-rooted tensions is the existing differences between Iran and Arab countries in the Middle East part of which, of course, stems from the Sykes-Picot Agreement and another part has its root in bygone past.
In order to allay these differences, Iran’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization, as the authority in charge of cultural relations between the Islamic Republic and other countries, organized the first round of dialog between Iran and the Arab world through a meeting held in cooperation with a set of prominent academic centers and institutions in Iran and the Middle East. By doing this, the organization intended to boost the role played by the elite and thinkers on both sides in order to pave the way for the assessment of the existing challenges with the goal of developing cultural relations and resolving those challenges.
The current formula for dialog between the two sides was drawn up and implemented at a time that the United States, under its new President Donald Trump, and the UK, under Prime Minister Theresa May, have been practically launching a new round of Iranophobia in the Middle East regardless of sensitive conditions that currently govern the region.
The meeting, which was attended by 85 scholars from various countries in the Arab world, was organized by people, who believed that dialog is the sole effective solution to existing differences and maintained that elites on both sides will more easily commit to necessity of dialog. As a result, they argued that this formula would enable all countries to live more comfortably in a common geographical expanse.
It must be noted that the background of relations between the two sides goes back to three centuries before the advent of Islam and they still consider dialog as an effective strategy, which has reliable social and cultural grounds, in order to promote peace and stability in the region and, of course, overcome all forms of extremism.
This is why Iranian leaders, in a bid to attract attention of leaders of the Arab world and regional nations, have been frequently pointing to the concept of reviving the growth of the Islamic civilization, and achieving this goal needs establishment of rational, philosophical, ethical, scientific and artistic relations between the two sides. History also attests to this fact showing what logical relationship existed between Iranians and Arabs during the middle of the seventh and through the eighth centuries A.D., which allowed for the Islamic civilization to thrive.
Although conditions have basically changed during the 21st century, the two sides can still define major components of their identity, at least at the level of their scholars, in a two-way manner free from common conflicts. By doing this, they will be able to replaced convergent approaches for divergent approaches that are based on ethnic, racial and other differences.
Although some people believe that tension between Iran and some Arab countries has reached such a high level that it is impossible to do away with it over short or medium terms, a review of history of relations between the two sides would reveal that similar conditions governed the two sides’ relations under the rule of the Umayyad caliphs. However, under their predecessors, the Abbasid Caliphate, Iranian and Arab elites emerged and started effective interaction, which brought about conditions quite different from what existed under the Umayyad rule. The result of that change was evident in the form of a clear civilizational progress in the Islamic world. Believing in these changes could be the first positive step that can be taken through interactive meetings based on dialog. In the meantime, offering an unbiased reading of history without focusing on challenging points can add to the number of convergent factors and cause, at least, the two sides’ elites to overcome factors that cause divergence.
Meanwhile, due to West’s colonialist policies, Iran needs continued relations with these countries in order to fill the existing information gaps about goals and regional policies of the Islamic Revolution and to remove ambiguity about Shia Islam and introduce dignified culture of Iran. In doing this, Iran should avoid condescending or seasonal approaches and take advantage of all its material and spiritual capacities.
It is clear that Iran’s task for creating and establishing relations with Arab countries would not be easy in view of the existing suspicions that surround relations between the two sides. In order to achieve its goal, Iran is faced with limitations removal of which would need bilateral and multilateral efforts along with Arab countries.
Unlike the seventh and eighth centuries in which relations among countries were based on political elites and scholars and pivoted around suitable governance, at present, grounds and networks for contacts between some Arab and Persian elites are not provided due to policies adopted by Arab countries. Absence of common academic circles, existence of conflicting approaches adopted by think tanks, and absence of friendship associations as major pivots of cultural and public diplomacy are among barriers on the way of bolstering relations among the two sides’ elites.
On the other hand, despite the past history, Iran is currently not faced with a single Arab world. There are various Arab worlds today each of which needs different planning and grouping and, of course, a different formula for interaction.
Absence of a common language is another limitation faced by Iran in its bid to establish contacts with elites from the Arab world. While Iran keeps stressing the need to revive Islamic civilization and indigenous development models, this issue is not of much importance to Arabs and they mostly believe in Western models of development.
Existence of divergence factors on both sides and in nations, which are committed to conflicting identity elements that are against each other, is another factor restricting this bilateral dialog. Such divergent behaviors, which are a result of politicization of culture on both sides, can reduce the lasting effect of dialog.
Despite all these limitations, a history of relations, which date back to 1,400 years ago, common geography, common religious and language commonalities, and most importantly, the age of communications in which access to culture of all societies is unbridled and easy, all give rise to new hopes about holding of future successful meetings for promoting dialog between Iran and the Arab world.