This article examines Iran’s ‘forward-defence’ strategy, in particular its deployment of proxy forces in the Syrian conflict. Iran’s expanded presence in regional conflicts is regarded by its adversaries as indication of hegemonic intent, while Tehran posits its regional posture as a defensive response to security threats. We argue that Iran’s ‘forward-defence’ strategy offers practical benefits, shaping strategic realities, and performative benefits, allowing Tehran to propagate a discourse of military fortitude. On balance, however, the strategy has fed suspicions of Iran’s intentions and increased hostility towards the Iranian leadership, thus is likely to be counterproductive.
The concept of soft power was developed at the end of the Cold War to examine international influence through non-coercive means. In recent years, a growing field of research has drawn on this concept to examine the role of religion and culture in the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states. The existing research tends to view soft power from the perspectives of states that project such influence, not the impact of these policies on target societies, and tends to overlook the relationship between hard and soft power strategies. To address this gap, we draw on an original survey data and face-to-face interviews to evaluate Iran’s influence in Afghanistan. This study examines the response in Afghanistan to key pillars of Iranian soft power projection: the role of shared language and culture, religion and Tehran’s Third Worldist ideology of resistance against Western powers. This research finds that Iran’s soft power projection strategy is undermined by structural hard power imbalances between the two countries and Tehran’s contradictory policies towards Afghanistan.
Registered women’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Islamic Republic of Iran occupy a critical space in the socio-political landscape. They are neither government insiders nor anti-regime activists, instead advocating for incremental change within the constraints of the system. Drawing on interviews with NGO leaders, this article sheds light on the objectives and activities of five registered women’s organisations as they work in the so-called ‘moderate’ political climate of the Rouhani government. The findings show that although the NGOs provide education and training, essential services, and recreational activities for women, they steer clear of seeking fundamental changes to laws on women’s rights. This approach is predicated on security considerations. NGO activists are keenly cognisant of state sensitivities and the risk to their work, registration and liberty. The NGOs’ reluctance to seek fundamental changes to laws concerning women’s status reflects palpable anxiety amongst activists over the possibility of political backlash. Rouhani’s ‘moderate’ politics do not appear to have relaxed tensions between the government and civil society, which were at their peak under his predecessor. The focus of contemporary NGOs on achieving behavioural, attitudinal and procedural change is significant, and has the potential to make a real difference in women’s lives.
States use elements of their culture to promote their influence in countries of strategic importance to them. Despite a growing body of literature on soft power, there is a shortage of literature on Iran’s influence in its neighbourhood. How is Iran viewed in Pakistan? This article is based on in-depth interviews and an online survey with informed participants in Pakistan. Our findings demonstrate that while many participants view Tehran’s policies negatively, the majority see Iran in a favourable light. This article found that Iran’s multi-pronged strategy connects with pre-existing trends and pressure points in Pakistan at different levels. As a majority-Shi’a country, Iran has become a point of reference for the Shi’a community in Pakistan. Its anti-American rhetoric corresponds with an anti-US current in Pakistan, and Tehran’s invocation of Persian culture and poetry resonates with a nostalgic view of Persian culture amongst Pakistan’s educated elite.
The book deals with President Hassan Rouhani’s conceptual approach to foreign policy. It discusses the main pillars of thinking underpinning Rouhani’s administration and the school of thought associated with it, with a focus on issues pertaining to development as well as international relations.
The signature of the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” in 2015 showed the Iranian commitment towards the international requests on guarantees and transparency on its nuclear enrichment program. The book analyses the actual impact of the nuclear deal on the Gulf regional politics, with especial emphasis on the Iran-Saudi Arabia balance of power and the internal implications at political and economic level. It will assess the success or failure of the nuclear deal JCPOA as a foreign policy tool and it impact for Iran and the region.
The book also analyses Iran’s relations with other gulf Arab states, Latin America, Africa and its ‘war on terror’ along with its allies Syria and Iraq.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.