The ICC and R2P: Complementary or Contradictory?

Refereed Journal articles
Arif Saba, Shahram Akbarzadeh
Arif Saba, Shahram Akbarzadeh, Journal of International Peacekeeping
Publication year: 2020

The ICC and R2P share the goal of ending atrocity crimes. Nonetheless, they operate quite differently. Recently, there has been increasing support for bringing the ICC within the R2P toolkits, hoping they will complement each other to achieve their shared goal. The Security Council put this idea into practice to deal with the 2011 crisis in Libya. However, the invocation of ICC against the backdrop of an evolving military intervention under the R2P mandate highlighted significant risks to its integrity and legitimacy. This paper argues that the invocation of ICC to constrain violence and to hold accountable the Libyan regime for atrocity crimes eventually resulted in legitimizing military intervention and regime change under the R2P mandate. The Libya case suggests that neither the push for complementarity nor a full separation between the ICC and R2P benefits the ICC. There needs to be a balance between full engagement and separation. Such an alternative rests on the ICC avoiding entanglement with R2P’s military mandate, while maintaining close interaction with its non-military components through the Security Council. Lastly, the paper also points to areas in which the Council could play a more constructive role in cementing greater cooperation between R2P and the ICC.

Religionization of politics in Iran: Shi’i seminaries as the bastion of resistance

Refereed Journal articles
Naser Ghobadzadeh and Shahram Akbarzadeh
Ghobadzadeh, Naser, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. "Religionization of politics in Iran: Shi’i seminaries as the bastion of resistance." Middle Eastern Studies (2020): 1-15.
Publication year: 2020

Four decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a wealth of scholarship exists detailing the failures and achievements of the ruling clergy. Such lines of inquiry explore not only the economic, political and foreign policies of the clerical establishment, but also the performance of the ruling clergy in the religious sphere. However, an important matter that has attracted scant interest is the ruling clergy’s policies regarding the Shi’i traditional orthodoxy, that is, their fons et origo. Reminding readers that governmental-Shi’ism emerged as a marginal discourse within the Shi’i seminary in the 1970s, this paper explains how the ruling clergy waged a calculated campaign aimed at transforming the flexible, pluralistic and independent nature of the traditional orthodoxy into a system dependent upon the state and submissive to its government-centric reading of Shi’ism. We argue that the ruling clergy have succeeded in establishing and making state-sponsored institutions important players in the seminary and Shi’i establishment. However, they have failed to abolish the traditional orthodoxy in which distance and independence from the state have remained foundational features.

Pre-election polling and the democratic veneer in a hybrid regime

Refereed Journal articles
Dara Conduit, Shahram Akbarzadeh
Conduit, Dara, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. "Pre-election polling and the democratic veneer in a hybrid regime." Democratization (2020): 1-21.
Publication year: 2020

Hybrid regimes have consolidated on the back of techniques that balance strong regime structures with tokenistic pluralism. This democratic veneer is performed through pseudo markers of democracy such as weak political parties and semi-competitive elections, which aim to ratify regime legitimacy. How public opinion polling fits into authoritarian landscapes, however, is an aspect of hybrid regimes that remains less understood. Scholars of public opinion research in democracies believe that polling can contribute to constructing the world around it, prompting this paper to examine whether public opinion research – and pre-election polling in particular – contributes to the democratic veneer in hybrid regimes by constructing a perception of participatory democracy. It examines the nature and quality of pre-election polling undertaken in authoritarian Iran in the lead-up to the 2017 presidential election in order to make preliminary observations about the potential impact of polling on a regime’s pluralist credentials. It finds that while most polls were poor quality, no polling in an authoritarian environment is benign because the very process of asking citizens their opinions and publicizing responses creates an impression that individual opinions count, in an environment where the opposite is often true.

Pakistan caught between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Refereed Journal articles
Zahid Ahmed and Shahram Akbarzadeh
Zahid Ahmed and Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Pakistan caught between Iran and Saudi Arabia’, Contemporary South Asia, Published online June 2020.
Publication year: 2020

Pakistan claims to maintain neutrality in the Iran–Saudi rift. Sustaining this approach, however, has been problematic against a backdrop of intensifying Iran–Saudi rivalry. Pakistan’s choices suggest a tilt towards Saudi Arabia. Based on extensive fieldwork in Islamabad, this paper focuses on the meanings and uses of neutrality in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The paper argues that Pakistan cannot be neutral due to its stronger cultural, economic and defence ties with Saudi Arabia but it promotes this rhetoric due to a combination of demographic, geographic and geopolitical factors. Islamabad’s claim of neutrality serves the dual purpose of the national interests in relation to domestic and foreign affairs. Based on its economic, sectarian and geopolitical realities, Pakistan desires a neutrality in the Iranian-Saudi rivalry but it is very difficult because it has strong and multifaceted relations with Saudi Arabia. Based on the assessment of Pakistan’s foreign policy choices, we argue that Pakistan continues to lean away from Iran towards Saudi Arabia.

Understanding Pakistan's Relationship with Iran

Refereed Journal articles
Ahmed, Zahid Shahab, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. "Understanding Pakistan’s Relationship with Iran." Middle East Policy 25, no. 4 (2018): 86-100.
Publication year: 2019

Scholarship on Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors predominantly focuses on India, Afghanistan and, most recently, China. Little research is conducted on relations between Pakistan and Iran. This is an obvious gap, given the cultural and religious links between these two neighbors that share a 909-kilometer border.1 Their relationship is often viewed as peripheral to Pakistan’s relations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan.2 A prominent source on Pakistan’s foreign policy, Abdul Sattar’s Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2016: A Concise History, does not even dedicate a subsection to Iran.3 Furthermore, little attention has been given to the impact of domestic factors on Pakistan’s foreign-policy choices. Although some scholars have explored the role of identity,4 the interplay between domestic considerations and external behavior remains understudied. As will be argued below, this dynamic has a significant bearing on Pakistan’s policy on Iran and sheds light on behind-the-scene dynamics that are often overlooked.

The Taliban: a new proxy for Iran in Afghanistan?

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Niamatullah Ibrahimi: ‘Taliban: A New Proxy for Iran in Afghanistan?’ Third World Quarterly. Published online Dec 2019
Publication year: 2019

Iran has pursued a highly contradictory policy towards Afghanistan. On the one hand, it became a significant beneficiary of the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the US-led military intervention in 2001 in Afghanistan. The new Afghan government established cordial ties with Iran, allowing it to expand its political, economic and cultural influence in the country. Yet Iran has also provided significant support to the Taliban in its campaign to violently upend the political, social and economic processes in the country. This article examines the underlying domestic and regional security dynamics that contribute to this contradictory behaviour. It offers an assessment of how tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic, as well as Tehran’s growing threat perception following the rise of the Islamic State – Khorasan in 2014, impact on Iran’s policy towards the Taliban. The paper argues that Tehran views the Taliban as an instrument to disrupt the influence of other actors in Afghanistan. The instrumentalisation of the Taliban, however, is likely to be counterproductive for Iranian security in the long run as it contributes to Afghanistan’s instability and insecurity and undermines Iran’s own long-term interests.

The Kurds in Iran: balancing national and ethnic identity in a securitised environment

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Costas Laoutides & William Gourlay (2019), Third World Quarterly, 40:6, 1145-1162, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2019.1592671
Publication year: 2019

The Kurdish population in Iran feels disenfranchised and excluded from the political system. Based on an original survey of Iranian Kurds, it is revealed that Kurds lack trust and confidence in the central government and do not exhibit any emotional connection with Iranian identity or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Overwhelmingly, survey respondents put their Kurdish identity and affiliations as the primary point of reference. This emotional and political disconnect with Iran poses a serious challenge to the incumbent regime. It is an affront to the official rhetoric of ethnic unity and Iranian solidarity that is reinforced by Islamic principles under the Islamic Republic of Iran. This has led the incumbent regime to opt for a security response to a clearly political challenge. However, as the survey data in this research reveals, the securitisation of Iran’s response to its Kurdish population is only widening the gap, and aggravating the situation. The securitised approach to Kurdish aspirations for inclusion and acceptance is a counterproductive strategy with significant risks for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Iranian Kurds’ transnational links: impacts on mobilization and political ambitions

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Costas Laoutides, William Gourlay & Zahid Shahab Ahmed (2019) The Iranian Kurds’ transnational links: impacts on mobilization and political ambitions, Ethnic and Racial Studies
Publication year: 2019

This paper examines the impact that cross-border contacts and ideals of transnational Kurdish community have on Kurds in Iran. Incorporating survey and interview data from Iranian Kurdish academics, journalists and activists, it analyses how events in the broader Kurdistan region, and the notion of Kurdayetî – pan-Kurdish identity – are perceived by Kurds and how these phenomena affect the Kurdish issue. Within the context of long-standing political grievances, the findings highlight an atmosphere of distrust pervading the relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Kurds, and reveals that as Kurds find it difficult to identify with the Iranian state they turn towards their cross-border ethnic kin. Yet, despite increasing cross-border interaction and recent advances for Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, internal and external dynamics curtail Iranian Kurds’ political ambitions and preclude secessionist impulses.

Sectarianism and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation

Refereed Journal articles
Zahid Ahmed and Shahram Akbarzadeh, Territory, Politics, Governance. Published online August 2019
Publication year: 2019

The effectiveness of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was challenged after the suspension of Syria’s membership in 2012. There were already indications of Iranian–Saudi rivalry on the issue of Syria’s membership, but the 2016 summit held in Turkey became the stage for a very public dispute between the two states. This was not the first time that the OIC had been undermined by interstate rivalry. Formed in 1969 to project an image of political unity among Muslim states, it has often been challenged by the identity politics and geopolitical competition of its member states. This paper studies the factors that contribute to interstate tensions within the OIC and its approaches to addressing it. By examining a series of OIC events during the period 2012–18 through the lens of critical discourse analysis, it argues that identity politics in the form of sectarianism have been employed, more overtly since the Arab Spring, by both Iran and Saudi Arabia to promote their geopolitical agendas with direct implications for the coherence of OIC. The rivalry not only threatens to fracture the OIC but also makes the notion of Muslim unity nothing more than a mirage.

Routledge Handbook of International Relations in the Middle East

Edited research books
Akbarzadeh, Shahram, ed. Routledge Handbook of International Relations in the Middle East. Routledge, 2019.
Publication year: 2019

This handbook examines the regional and international dynamics of the Middle East. It challenges the state society dichotomy to make sense of decision-making and behavior by ruling regimes. The 33 chapter authors include the world’s leading scholars of the Middle East and International Relations (IR) in order to make sense of the region. This synthesis of area studies expertise and IR theory provides a unique and rigorous account of the region’s current dynamics, which have reached a crisis point since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

The Middle East has been characterized by volatility for more than a century. Although the region attracts significant scholarly interest, IR theory has rarely been used as a tool to understand events. The constructivist approach in IR highlights the significance of state identity, shaped by history and culture, in making sense of international relations. The authors of this volume consider how IR theory can elucidate the patterns and principles that shape the region, in order to provide a rigorous account of the contemporary challenges of the Middle East.

The Routledge Handbook of International Relations in the Middle East provides comprehensive coverage of International Relations issues in the region. Thus, it offers key resources for researchers and students interested in International Relations and the Middle East.

UN paralysis over Syria: the responsibility to protect or regime change?

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Arif Saba: ‘UN paralysis over Syria: the responsibility to protect or regime change?,’ International Politics. Published online May 4 2018.
Publication year: 2018

The Syrian conflict, now in its eighth year, is a bitter example where a sovereign state and the international community have manifestly failed in their responsibilities to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. What factors have prevented the international community from fulfilling its obligation under the principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to save Syrian civilians? This paper argues that the contradiction between the protection of civilians and regime change has undermined international confidence in the principle of R2P and tarnished it as a tool for US foreign policy agendas. This argument is developed by a review of R2P’s conceptualisation followed by examining its implementation in Libya. This study concludes that the conceptual confusion and the Libyan experience have broken the international consensus on R2P and paralysed the United Nations in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. More specifically, the UN Security Council’s disagreement over the means to protect Syrians has made R2P itself an impediment to its operationalisation.

The Responsibility to Protect and the Use of Force: An Assessment of the Just Cause and Last Resort Criteria in the Case of Libya

Refereed Journal articles
Arif Saba and Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Responsibility to Protect in Libya’, International Peacekeeping, Volume 25, Issue 2 (2018), pp. 242-265.
Publication year: 2018

There is a widespread assumption that, given the imminent threat of mass atrocities against the Libyan civilians – especially in Benghazi – and in the absence of non-military alternatives, military action against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi was a justified and necessary response. This paper challenges this widespread assumption. It argues that on the eve of NATO-led military intervention, there was no ‘clear evidence’ to suggest that the Libyan regime was on the verge of committing mass atrocities against civilians. This research also documents the range of political and diplomatic options open to the international community to engage with Gaddafi, all of which were sidetracked in favour of military action. Despite the brutality of Gaddafi’s rule, military intervention in Libya did not meet the Responsibility to Protect’s (R2P) ‘just cause’ and ‘last resort’ criteria. Far from being a successful application of R2P’s most coercive pillar, the Libyan case was a manifest misapplication of R2P’s military component. An objective analysis of the Libyan crisis during February and March 2011 should have prevented the use of military force.

The Politics and International Relations of the Middle East: Crisis Zone

Scholarly books
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Kylie Baxter
Routledge: London.
Publication year: 2018

The contemporary Middle East has been defined by political crises and conflict. The interplay of internal and external factors have set the region on a path of turmoil and crisis with devastating outcomes for its people. The absence of political accountability and representation, and policies pursued by the United States to keep US-friendly regimes in power have been two key factors that have contributed to the seemingly insoluble Middle East politics.

This book provides a detailed exploration of the forces, internal and external, that have shaped today’s Middle East. The book follows a chronological order and provides context to major political milestones.

Topics explored include:

• Imperialism in the Middle East

• The formation of the State of Israel

• The Arab–Israeli wars

• Palestinian politics and the failure of the ‘peace process’

• The Iranian Revolution and pan-Shi’ism

• Superpowers in the Middle East

• The US-led ‘War on Terror’

• The Arab uprisings

• The Syrian War and the rise of the ‘Islamic State’

• US–Iran relations

This study puts recent developments in historical context, and will serve as a core reference tool for students and researchers of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations.

New Opposition in the Middle East

Edited research books
Dara Conduit and Shahram Akbarzadeh
Conduit, D., Akbarzadeh, S. (2018) New Opposition in the Middle East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication year: 2018

This book uses a Contentious Politics lens to examine patterns of contestation since 2009 and 2011 among the Middle East’s most important opposition actors. The volume is comprised of seven chapters that ask questions in relation to the responsiveness of opposition groups to their political environments, the long-term legacies of authoritarianism, and whether the post-2009/2011 political environment is better or worse for Middle Eastern oppositions. It interrogates the ways in which oppositions have morphed in relation to this changed operating environment, subjectively interpreting the costs and benefits of contestation in order to maximise political opportunities. To some oppositions, changes in the power balance between regime structures and opposition agents led to unprecedented opportunity for political action, while for others, structures were galvanised to restrict opposition activities. In total, the volume shows that even though the Arab Uprisings and Green Movement achieved few of their overt goals, the events unleashed smaller shifts across the region that have led to a fundamental change in the politics of contestation amongst the region’s oppositions. These patterns echo experiences in other parts of the world, including the coloured revolutions in post-Soviet states, and the political environment in Chile after Pinochet.

Negotiating Popular Mandate and the Sovereignty of God in Iran

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh, James Barry
in John L Esposito, Lily Zubaidah Rahim and Naser Ghobadzadeh (eds), The Politics of Islamism (NY: Palgrave, 2018), pp. 159-178
Publication year: 2018

Iran’s political system benefits from dual sources of legitimacy, which seemingly enables Iran’s ruling clergy to proclaim their system to be the ultimate representation of a perfect political system, one that brings Islam and democracy together. Questioning this propaganda-laden claim, we suggest that this duality has embedded an inherent contradiction between the theory and practice of an Islamic Republic. Indeed, it is for this reason that elected and appointed offices in Iran have been continually embroiled in tense relations since the inception of the Islamic Republic. Elaborating on the country’s electoral rules and procedures, it is suggested that despite the vetting of candidates by the appointed Guardian Council, Iranian elections are highly competitive and revolve around issues of national importance such as the economy and social issues. This chapter offers a detailed investigation of the challenges that have arisen from the inherited contradiction between divine and popular sovereignty, which has gained considerable credence during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency. This inherent contradiction at times appears to tilt in favour of popular sovereignty. However, that is only because the political elite are acutely aware of the fact that without the illusion of popular rule, the regime could very well be cast aside, mirroring the fate of the Pahlavi regime. It is argued that Rouhani’s achievements do not address the contradiction between divine and popular sovereignty, but rather illuminate the astute political calculations made in the top echelons of power in order to create a semblance of popular rule. This chapter argues that the Iranian system of government is based on a clear hierarchy of authority in which divine sovereignty in the form of velāyat-e faqih hovers over the empty shell of democracy.

Human Rights and Agents of Change in Iran

Edited research books
Barlow, R., Akbarzadeh, S. (2018). Human Rights and Agents of Change in Iran. London: Palgrave MacMillan
Publication year: 2018

This volume extends debates on the interaction between universal human rights and the political experiences of Iranians, through a conceptual analysis of ‘theories of change’. It assesses the practical processes by which individuals, organizations and movements can reform or impact the structural, theological and political challenges faced in the Iranian context.

Contributors to this volume investigate how structures, institutions, and agents in Iran maneuver for influence and power at the state level, through the law, in international corridors, at the grassroots, and by implementing multiple and complex methods. The chapters provide distinct but interrelated analysis of key drivers of change in Iran. A number of those operate primarily through top-down approaches, such as the political reform movement, lawyers pursuing legislative change, and international human rights monitoring bodies. Others take a bottom-up approach, including local movements and campaigns such as the women’s movement, the labor movement, the student movement, and ethnic minority groups.

By prompting drivers of change to think about causation, influence, sequencing, prioritization, roles and relationships, a theory of change ultimately makes the work more effective. Through rigorous analysis of these issues for drivers of change in the Islamic State, this volume is an important contribution to human rights in Iran. In an era of escalating tensions in the Middle East, it amplifies voices of reform and freedom, filling a crucial gap in our understanding of this region.

Great Power-Middle Power Dynamics: The Case of China and Iran

Refereed Journal articles
Conduit, Dara, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. "Great Power-Middle Power Dynamics: The Case of China and Iran." Journal of Contemporary China (2018): 1-14.
Publication year: 2018

Iran is expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China and Iran had a track record of cooperation long before the announcement of BRI, developing a highly asymmetric Great Power-Middle Power partnership over the course of three decades. This article asks whether BRI will enable China and Iran to transcend the limitations faced by most Great Power-Middle Power relationships on the basis of Iran’s enhanced strategic economic and geographic value. It is argued that while BRI could benefit from stronger China–Iran ties, Iran’s international posturing has proven a significant hindrance to China, highlighting that entrenched patterns of engagement in Great Power-Middle Power relations are not easily shifted, even in the face of immense economic incentives.

Afghanistan – Challenges and Prospects

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh
Shahram Akbarzadeh in Bose, Srinjoy, Nishank Motwani, and William Maley, eds. Afghanistan–Challenges and Prospects. Routledge, 2017.
Publication year: 2017

After decades of turmoil a new phase is opening up for Afghanistan, in which a new generation comes to the fore as many of the key players from earlier phases, including foreign interventionist powers, leave the scene. Although this new phase offers new possibilities and increased hope for Afghanistan’s future, the huge problems created in earlier phases remain. This book presents a comprehensive overall assessment of the current state of politics and society in Afghanistan, outlining the difficulties and discussing the future possibilities. Many of the contributors are Afghans or Afghan insiders, who are able to put forward a much richer view of the situation than outside foreign observers.

Iran's Uncertain Standing in the Middle East

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Iran’s Uncertain Standing in the Middle East’, The Washington Quarterly, Vol.40, No.3 (2017), pp. 109-127
Publication year: 2017

The Small Gulf States

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Iran and the GCC Sheikhdoms’, in Khalid S. Almezaini, Jean-Marc Rickli (eds), The Small Gulf States (London: Routledge, 2017). pp. 89-106
Publication year: 2017

The Small Gulf States analyses the evolution of these states’ foreign and security policies since the Arab Spring. With particular focus on Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, it explores how these states have been successful in not only guaranteeing their survival, but also in increasing their influence in the region. It then discusses the security dilemmas small states face, and suggests a multitude of foreign and security policy options, ranging from autonomy to influence, in order to deal with this. The book also looks at the influence of regional and international actors on the policies of these countries. It concludes with a discussion of the peculiarities and contributions of the Gulf states for the study of small states’ foreign and security policies in general.

Providing a comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the unique foreign and security policies of the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) before and after the Arab Spring, this book will be a valuable resource for students and scholars of Middle East studies, foreign policy and international relations.

Impacts of Saudi Hegemony on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Zahid Ahmed: ‘Impacts of Saudi Hegemony on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)’, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, published online: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10767-017-9270-x
Publication year: 2017

The events of the 2016 summit of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Turkey demonstrate how Saudi Arabia’s role within the organization has been transformed from leadership into a hegemonic one, a process that has been unfolding over five decades. As a strong voice in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia has employed a range of diplomatic strategies, in accordance with its national interests, to influence the OIC and its member states. Based on the analysis, this paper argues that Saudi Arabia has been able to exert hegemonic control over the OIC due to the organization’s structural make-up, its reliance on Saudi funding, as well as dominance in bilateral affairs with majority of the OIC members.

Why does Iran need Hizbullah?

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Why does Iran need Hizbullah?,’ The Muslim World, Volume 106, No. 1 (2016) pp. 127-140.
Publication year: 2016

The Muslim Question in Australia: Islamophobia and Muslim Alienation

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘The Muslim Question in Australia: Islamophobia and Muslim Alienation’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Volume 36, No. 3, 2016, pp. 323-333
Publication year: 2016

Islamophobia has become a significant problem across the Western world. Australia is no exception. The emergence of far right groups and a political environment that allows anti-Islamic discourse has created an increasingly unwelcome environment for Muslims, even though multiculturalism has long been a fundamental marker of Australian daily life. The rise of Islamophobia has been damaging to Australia. This paper explores the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments in Australia and the increasing marginalization of Muslim youth, showing that Islamophobia not only breaks the bond between Muslim youth and Australian society, it also polarizes relations within Australian Muslim communities.

State Identity in Iranian Foreign Policy

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh and James Barry: 'State Identity in Iranian Foreign Policy,’ British Journal of Middle East Studies, Volume 43, Issue 4 (2016), pp. 613-629
Publication year: 2016

This article examines the role of corporate identity in Iran’s foreign policy making. Drawing on interviews with Iranian stakeholders and an analysis of Iran’s political developments, this article surveys the three key elements of Iranian nationalism that shape Iranian foreign policy: Iranism, Islam and Shi’ism. This article finds that each of these is crucial in explaining the apparent contradictions in the approaches of several significant Iranian leaders, especially in cases where Iranism collides with religious values. By highlighting how each component is at once unique but still intrinsically linked to the others, this article demonstrates how Iran’s foreign policy choices can be understood in relation to its corporate identity.

Rouhani’s First Two Years in Office: Opportunities and Risks in Contemporary Iran

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Dara Conduit
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dara Conduit: ‘Rouhani’s first two years in Office, opportunities and risks in contemporary Iran’, in Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dara Conduit (eds), Iran in the World: President Rouhani’s Foreign Policy (NY: Palgrave, 2016). pp. 1-17
Publication year: 2016

President Hassan Rouhani surprised onlookers in June 2013 by winning the first round of the Iranian presidential election outright. Rouhani had campaigned on a platform of moderation, promising to form a “government of prudence and hope,” and raising expectations of an imminent shift in Iran’s international engagement.1 On the campaign trail, Rouhani broke a number of political taboos. He criticized media censorship in a live television interview, questioned the need for heavy-handed state security, and declared that the 2009 postelection protests were “natural and popular.”2 These statements were seen as potentially significant given that the two reformist candidates from the 2009 election (Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi) remained under house arrest, accused of carrying out a foreign plot against the Islamic regime.

The Arab World and Iran: A Turbulent Region in Transition

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh
Shahram Akbarzadeh: 'Iran's Syrian Foreign Policy Objectives', in Amin Saikal (ed), The Arab World and Iran: A Turbulent Region in Transition (NY: Palgrave, 2016). pp. 127-145
Publication year: 2016

US Foreign Policy and Iran is a study of US foreign policy decision-making in relation to Iran and its implications for Middle Eastern relations. It offers a new assessment of US-Iranian relations by exploring the rationale, effectiveness and consequences of American policy towards Iran from the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution to the present day.

As a key country in a turbulent region and the recipient of some of the most inconsistent treatment meted out during or after the Cold War, Iran has been both one of America’s closest allies and an ‘axis of evil’ or ‘rogue’ state, targeted by covert action and contained by sanctions, diplomatic isolation and the threat of overt action. Moreover, since the attacks of 11 September 2001, Iran has played a significant role in the war on terror while also incurring American wrath for its links to international terror and its alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme.

US Foreign Policy and Iran will be of interest to students of US foreign policy, Iran, Middle Eastern Politics and international security in general

Iran in the World: President Rouhani’s Foreign Policy

Edited research books
Dara Conduit, Shahram Akbarzadeh
NY: Palgrave, 2016
Publication year: 2016

This book evaluates President Hassan Rouhani’s foreign policy during his first two years in office, looking at the case studies of Armenia, Azerbaijan, the UAE, Turkey, and Syria, as well as the Iran-US relationship. President Rouhani came to power in Iran in 2013 promising to reform the country’s long-contentious foreign policy. His top priorities were rehabilitating the Iranian economy, ending the nuclear dispute, rebuilding relations with the US, and mending ties with Iran’s neighbors. It is argued here that while President Rouhani has made progress in the Iran-US relationship, in nuclear negotiations and some bilateral relationships, his broader success has been hampered by regional political developments and domestic competition. Further, it is contended that his future success will be guided by emerging regional tensions, including whether Iran’s neighbors will accept the terms of the nuclear agreement.

Iran and Turkey: not quite enemies but less than friends

Refereed Journal articles
Shahram Akbarzadeh, James Barry
Shahram Akbarzadeh and James Barry: ‘Iran and Turkey: not quite enemies but less than friends’, Third Word Quarterly , Vol 38, No.4 (2016), pp: 980-995
Publication year: 2016

The rise and subsequent erosion of friendly relations between Iran and Turkey was a result of their regional ambitions. While Turkey had long seen its secular system as presenting an alternative to Iran’s Islamic ideology, the alignment of their regional interests facilitated a rapport between the two states in the first decade of the twenty-first century. However, the Arab Spring proved divisive for this relationship as each state sought to advocate its model of government and secure a leadership role in the Arab world. The war in Syria widened the divide, as Iran’s long-standing support for the Bashar al-Assad regime could not be reconciled with Turkey’s desire to see President Assad out of office. Using a close reading of Persian and Turkish sources, the authors will analyse the Iran–Turkey divide, focusing specifically on how the Iranians have portrayed it as a clash of civilisations, citing Turkey’s so-called ‘neo-Ottoman’ ambitions as the primary cause.

Iran in the World

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh, Dara Conduit
Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dara Conduit: ‘Charting a New Course? Testing Rouhani’s foreign policy agency in the Iran-Syria relationship’, in Shahram Akbarzadeh and Dara Conduit (eds), Iran in the World: President Rouhani’s Foreign Policy (NY: Palgrave ,2016). pp. 133-154
Publication year: 2016

Iran and Syria have enjoyed one of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East, with the relationship surviving the Iran—Iraq war, decades of international sanctions, and the Iranian nuclear dispute. The alliance took on new significance after the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011 when Iran, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provided decisive diplomatic and materiel support for the Syrian regime. The largesse of this support suggested that for many in Tehran, the Iran—Syria alliance remained as important in 2011 as it was when it was established in 1979. The election of the reformist President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 appeared to complicate this calculus, with speculation emerging that he would temper Iran’s support for Syria. In practice, however, Rouhani’s response to Syria has been muted, reflecting an attempt to placate the international community while simultaneously preserving Iran’s most reliable regional alliance. In doing this, Rouhani has also inadvertently revealed the deeply polarizing impact that the Syrian crisis has had on the Iranian political elite, as well as the limits of presidential power in Iran.

Afghanistan and its neighbors after the NATO withdrawal

Scholarly book chapters
Shahram Akbarzadeh
Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘A new phase in relations between Iran and Afghanistan’, in Amin Saikal and Kirill Nourzhanov (eds), Afghanistan and Its Neighbors after the NATO Withdrawal (London: Lexington, 2016). pp. 35-48
Publication year: 2016

The planned reductions in NATO troop numbers in Afghanistan through 2015 and a final withdrawal at the end of 2016 brings up numerous pressing questions about the security and national interests of not just Afghanistan, but of the broader region itself. The problem of a chaotic Afghanistan-or of an outright Taliban victory-is of great concern to not only immediate neighbors such as Iran, Pakistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics to the north, but also to those countries in the region with Afghanistan-related security or economic concerns, such as China and India. Further abroad, Russian, American and European interests and plans for dealing with the fallout from Afghanistan must also be taken into account as these major powers have enduring interests in Afghanistan and the region. This volume puts the prospects for short- and mid-term security dynamics at the core of the analysis, with each case being placed in its proper contemporary historical, economic, and political context. The book will offer a truly comprehensive, nuanced, and timely account of the security situation in and around Afghanistan