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Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. Sabit also works as a writer and producer of historical documentaries. Close.

Mahmoud Sabit

Cairo, Egypt

Mahmoud Sabit is a historian and an authority on Egypt’s 19th century political reforms. more »

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Iran's Own Manifest Destiny

Cairo, Egypt - Middle East nations perceive the U.S. and the West trying to dominate the region through economic, political and military means. Iran's nuclear challenge to the West then becomes a welcome relief for many.

Iran is probably buying time for its nuclear fuel enrichment program, determined to develop nuclear weapons. However, these may not be ready for five or ten years depending on which expert you listen to. Iran has a right to develop this nuclear energy program, though as signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons.

Does Iran need nuclear power? Yes. It makes sense for the country to rely on nuclear power for its internal needs, and then to rely on petroleum for export earnings. But an Iran with nuclear military capability is bad news for Arab governments. Here is why:

Iran is an ideological rival to other powers and is a rival in terms of regional influence. For the first time this regional influence comes not through population size, scientific advancement, military prowess, cultural ascendancy or outright imperial hegemony. In historical terms, countries with regional power have derived strength from the forces listed above and have centered in two, sometimes three regions.

From earliest antiquity, rivalry was between Egypt and Mesopotamia, which included Babylon, the later Abbasid Caliphate, and most recently Saddam Hussein in his aspirations at regional power. At times, the third contender for this power position has been Asia Minor: The Hittites, and the later Ottomans, and on occasion, most recently during the Roman period. A fourth contender: the Parthians. The Parthians, originated and controlled the territories that encompassed Persia, now modern Iran. Parthia had control of the once fertile Mesopotamian 'land between two rivers,' modern Iraq. They were able to project their influence and their challenge over Rome's eastern empire. In fact, they were the one traditional civilization that Rome could not defeat. Islam defeated Parthia's successor state, the Sassanid Empire. Persia has not really projected itself into the region since that time. Historically, once Persia controls Mesopotamia, they became dominant participants in the political events of the Middle East.

This may seem to be a rather quaint journey into ancient history for many readers in the West, but for the Arab governments of the region, they consider this 'ancient' history in their traditional foreign policy and strategic concerns.

The re-arrangement of Iraq's political leadership has amplified their concern. Iraq seems to be leaving the orbit of the Arab world and heading toward a Shia'a Iran. With Iran possibly working towards military, nuclear power, this becomes very bad news indeed.

What is equally bad news is that, in contrast to the Arab governments, a growing segment of their population supports Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and becoming a regional superpower. It is this dichotomy that is of serious concern to Arab leaders. The war in Lebanon has emphasized the point to Arab populations that their own governments, those considered allied to the United States, have no power to influence U.S. strategy in Gaza or in Lebanon. This is exacerbated because of the fact that Israel possesses a substantial nuclear arsenal yet not a murmur of protest is uttered by the U.S. or its Western Allies; in addition, a long list of United Nations Resolutions against Israeli actions are shelved but the resolutions against any Arab country are piously and implacably imposed.

Arab populations have seen Lebanon, which was considered a pro-western democratic country, heavily bombed by Israel with the tacit support of both the U.S. and its Western European allies. They logically conclude that a double standard is being applied: that Arabs and Muslims are considered a lesser breed, attitudes that are suspiciously analogous to those attitudes shared by an earlier generation of colonial masters. These populations have witnessed the attitudes of the West's Israeli friends, which are no different to those of the former white settler states in colonial Africa. The analogy becomes more convincing.

By surviving the Israeli military, Hezbollah reinforces Iran's nuclear challenge to the West. Arab armies in the past were unable to stand up to the Israeli military machine, but Hezbollah could. The uninitiated Iran then begins to look like a good bet too.

A nation's population concerns itself with its own safety. Arab populations have seen that being part of international organizations and conventions that are meant to safeguard a nation's sovereignty, a nation's territorial integrity, and its civilians in time of war or under occupation do not seem to apply. It's a return to the rule of the jungle. At such times it's best, in the opinion of Arab populations, to ally oneself with the biggest tiger in your corner of the jungle. That is now Iran.

For Iran, abandoning its nuclear program in exchange for Western benevolence would mean their abandonment of their aspiration to be a future regional superpower. Only by becoming the alternative superpower ally with the Middle East will their perceived long-term aspiration for security be realized. In addition, Western benevolence has little value. Western meddling and Western dishonesty will continue. The continued drumbeat of support for Israel continues. The perceived subjugation of the region, which will eventually include Iran, continues. Therefore, Iran may want to acquire an independent deterrent to pursue its own manifest destiny rather than relying on the U.S. and the West to continue their own version of it.

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