May 23, 2006 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 277

Arab Media Reactions to Iran's Nuclear Project

May 23, 2006 | By H. Avraham*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 277


Iran's announcement on April 11, 2006 that it had succeeded in enriching uranium evoked mixed reactions in the Arab media. Many columnists expressed apprehension about Iran's nuclear program, and opposition to it. They argued that a nuclear Iran posed a threat to the Arab countries in general and to the Gulf states in particular, and that it was likely to spark an arms race in the region. Other columnists warned that a leak in one of Iran's nuclear facilities could cause grave ecological disaster, on the scale of Chernobyl. Additionally, President Ahmadinejad was described as a new Hitler threatening to unleash catastrophe upon the world.

On the other hand, some columnists wrote in support of Iran's nuclear program, arguing that it improved the balance of power against Israel, and that the international community could not implement a double standard regarding Iranian and Israeli nuclear capabilities. Some called on the Arab countries to follow in Iran's footsteps and obtain nuclear knowledge and technology, with which to fight the West.

The following are examples from the diverse reactions in the Arab media to Iran's announcement:

I. Opposition to and Criticism of Iran's Nuclear Program

*"Ahmadinejad (a New Persian Hitler) Challenges the World"

In response to Iran's announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium, Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian reformist author living in the U.S., published three articles harshly attacking both Iran's nuclear program and Iranian President Ahmadinejad himself. In the first article, Al-Nabulsi compared Ahmadinejad to Hitler, and warned Iran that it would share the fate of the Third Reich: "Iranian President Ahmadinejad's emotional speeches of incitement to the masses... remind us of the speeches of the Fuehrer, Hitler, on the eve of World War II, when he faced the oppressed German masses and delivered an hours-long speech to them, in which he challenged the world, threatened to invade Europe, and promised the Jews crematoria, ghettoes, and so on. The German masses parroted his slogans. This was done with the power of the political dictatorship... And what was the result? The [ultimate] collapse of the Third Reich, and the destruction and division of Germany.

"The same drama is being repeated today in Iran, as Ahmadinejad (a new Persian Hitler) stands and challenges the world... The fear is not of the [mere] acquisition of nuclear weapons and atomic energy - since the European countries have such weapons, as do Russia and Israel. What the world fears is that these weapons might fall into the hands of a truly unconstitutional and undemocratic dictatorship.

"The world is silent with regard to nuclear weapons in the hands of countries with constitutional institutions that do not make war-and-peace decisions in accordance with a leader's temper, a ruler's dream, or a cleric's fatwa, but by means of constitutional, rational, democratic, and modern institutions. This is why the world is silent in the face of Israel's nuclear weapons, for example, but goes berserk when North Korea and Iran possess these dangerous weapons, which could spark World War III, leading to the destruction [of the world] - all because of a fatwa by Ayatollah 'Ali Khamenei, the supreme spiritual leader of the Iranian republic, or a decision based on the midsummer night's dream of the North Korean dictator...

"The Iranians must learn a lesson from previous Arab leaders who entangled their peoples in wars, catastrophes, and defeats with boastful and emotional political speeches, and submitted to the calls of the masses in the streets in making 'suicidal' decisions that led to these leaders' [political] 'suicide,' the countries' destruction, and the loss of the people's future and of their children's future." [1]

In another article, titled "The Shi'ite Nuclear Bomb - is it the Awaited Mahdi?" Al-Nabulsi claimed that the future Iranian bomb is a Shi'ite bomb, a sort of "substitute for the legendary power of the Mahdi that [the Shi'ites] await, who will subjugate Asia and the Islamic and Arab world to the hegemony of a Shi'ite Persian empire by force of weapons, like the hegemony of the Sunni Ottoman empire, [which lasted] for an entire 400 years (1517-1918)..." [2]

In another article, Al-Nabulsi noted ten points of similarity between Al-Qaeda and a nuclear Iran, with regard to goals, modus operandi, means, and attitude towards the West. He concluded: "The danger posed by a nuclear Iran is much bigger than that posed by Al-Qaeda. This is because a nuclear Iran has weapons, a strong army, great economic means, and strong security apparatuses. Iran also has powerful allies, whether states or organizations - such as Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas movement, and Syria." [3]

*Al-Ahram: A Nuclear Iran Will Lead to an Arms Race in the Region

In an editorial, the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram warned that if the world did not respond appropriately to Iran's announcement, a nuclear arms race might result in the region: "Consent on the part of the international community and the U.S. to Iran's nuclear capability may lead to a misunderstanding on the part of other powers in the region. The Iranian experience will spur many powers in the region to develop a nuclear program, not only out of a desire to increase their regional and international standing by possessing nuclear capability, but [primarily] because Iran's development of nuclear capabilities will necessarily upset the balance [of power] in the region, particularly in light of the nature of Iran's relations with others in the region..." [4]

At a Tokyo press conference, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit said that Iran had the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but that, at the same time, Egypt was against nuclear weapons in the Middle East: "We are opposed to introducing nuclear weapons into the region. Iran is a signatory to the NPT... Each of the member countries is entitled to use [nuclear energy for peaceful purposes]... What is important is that no country [develops] a military nuclear program, whether it be Israel, or Iran, or any other country." [5]

*Al-Arabiyya TV Director-General: A Nuclear Iran Poses a Threat to the Arabs

In an op-ed titled "For These Reasons, We Fear Iran" in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director of Al-Arabiyya TV and former editor of the paper, argued that the Gulf countries are the only ones likely to be targeted by Iranian nuclear weapons - which would give rise to a schism in the Arab world: [6] "It is inconceivable that Iran will drop the bomb on Syria and target Jordan or Egypt... It is incomprehensible that Iran will bomb Israel, which has a shield of missiles, tremendous firepower, and nuclear weapons artillery sufficient to eradicate every city in Iran. In addition, any attack on Israel would mean the immediate, wide-scale destruction of the Palestinians... This means that if this destructive weapon is used, the only option for a target is the Arab Gulf [countries]..." Rashed added, "Fear will plunge the region into an arms race that will serve no one in the region - only the arms dealers in the West, and particularly in Russia." [7]

In a similar vein, reformist Qatari intellectual Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the Faculty of Shari'a and Law at Qatar University, warned in the Qatari daily Al-Raya that the Gulf region was in great danger: "While the [entire] world, particularly the superpowers, are preoccupied with the Iranian [danger]... the Gulf region appears to be calm, stable, and quiet, as if the matter does not concern them. The region is... in great danger, and we are not lifting a finger!

"...No one believes Iran's claim [that its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes only] - not even Russia, its greatest ally, which is funding [Iran's] nuclear [program]...

"Aren't we entitled to be safe from the [nuclear] plants of Muslim Iran, and particularly [the plant at] Bushehr - which is closer to our countries than to Tehran. Can Iran guarantee that there will be no nuclear leak, [whether] as a result of human error or of technical error, that will turn the entire region into a hell?!...

"What is our sin, and that of our children and our grandchildren, who must live [in the shadow] of concern about Iran?... How can we be calm about Iran, when it still occupies the UAE's islands, and has a problem with every country in the region?!..."

Al-Ansari also criticized the leaders of the Gulf countries for not raising their voices about the Iranian threat: "Why don't our leaders meet to agree on a clear and decisive message to Tehran, as Mubarak did...? How long will our leaders continue on the path of looking the other way, and sycophancy?... Who will defend and protect the Gulf... except the U.S., the great guarantor of our security?! Can we be blamed for seeing [the U.S.] as our security...?!" [8]

*A Nuclear Iran Poses a Risk of Grave Ecological Damage

In an editorial, the Saudi government daily Al-Watan stated that the main danger of Iran's nuclear program lay not in the chances of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but in the chance of a grave ecological disaster that could be caused by a nuclear leak: "The main problem in the Iranian issue is concern for the environment and future dangers, in the event of a nuclear leak that could pollute the entire Gulf region. What increases concerns about an ecological disaster is Iran's reliance first and foremost on Russian nuclear technology. The safety of this technology cannot be trusted, particularly after the well-known Chernobyl disaster that caused radioactive ecological pollution in extensive regions of the world..." [9]

Along the same lines, Kuwaiti reformist Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, political science lecturer at Kuwait University, wrote in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad: "Has Iran the technological capability to ensure... that it will not create a disaster like the Soviet Chernobyl disaster? Of course [we do not expect] Iran to admit to its technological backwardness, which is evident to any sensible person on the planet Earth. Likewise, it will not admit to possible danger in the event of a nuclear leak from one of its plants. This is particularly so because it is planning to establish additional plants in the near future - which places the Gulf region at great risk of the destruction and mutilation of life."

Al-Baghdadi also expressed his apprehensions that an Iranian expert could sell nuclear technology to terrorists such as bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi. He added that Iran was thinking only of itself, and was not respecting the legitimate apprehensions of its Gulf neighbors. He also added that Iran lacks the technological capability required to handle a nuclear leak: "Iran must be prevented from carrying out this disastrous adventure... Iran is a country with limited technological capability. The price of its arrogance and its stubbornness will be paid by the people of the region, both with the health of generations to come and with the resources that they will waste to handle the disasters, which could be prevented now if Iran acts judiciously - or if it is forced to act judiciously, even by the harshest possible means." [10]

*Iran is Playing With Nuclear Power Like a Child

In an article posted on the reformist website, Egyptian reformist Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansour, a former lecturer at Al-Azhar University who was fired for his anti-Sunna views and today resides in the U.S., discussed Iran's motivation in developing nuclear weapons. He wrote that Iran was not threatened by anyone and its territory was not occupied, and that it was the Gulf that feared it, rather than vice versa. Further, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the U.S.'s entanglement in Iraq only gave Iran more power: "If this be the case, Iran does not need nuclear weapons to defend itself from the enemy that lies in wait for it - but rather to use them [to fight] 'the Great Satan' - the U.S. and its allies in the West. This is in accordance with the belief that the world is divided into the 'domain of belief' and the 'domain of unbelief,' [also called] Dar Al-Harb [i.e. the 'domain of war']...

"The West has every right to fear Iranian nuclear activity, because it understands the mentality of tyrants in general, and in particular the mentality of the clerics who rule arbitrarily in Iran - a mentality that views the greatness of jihad in killing millions of innocent people, both Iranians and people belonging to the enemy, on the basis of [the statement by Second Caliph 'Omar ibn Al-Khattab]: 'Our dead are in Paradise and theirs are in Hell'... [11]

"To this very day, Iran is preoccupied with the death of Al-Hussein at Karbala, with what took place at Bay'at Al-Saqifa, and with the Battle of Sifin. It still believes that the essence of its religion is to come to the aid of 'Ali ibn Abu Taleb against his rivals Abu Bakr, 'Omar, Othman, and Mu'awiya. [12] This, in its eyes, is the foundation of the religion and the foundation of this world, not merely past history.

"When [Iran] is preoccupied with distant history, turning it into a contemporary matter of religion, policy, and belief... it is in fact playing with nuclear power like a child playing with electrical wires." [13]

II. Support for Iran's Nuclear Program

*A Nuclear Iran Saves Islam's Honor

In her weekly column in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Syrian Minister of Expatriate Affairs Buthayna Sha'ban wrote: "Those in the know understand that this step by Iran is a tremendous scientific and technological step, previously taken by other nations, such as India, Korea, and China. So is all this fuss because this time it is a Muslim state that has obtained nuclear know-how and technology, and has stepped onto the track that will elevate it to the level of a country advanced in this sphere?...

"One of the wars being waged by all the powers of the West against the Muslims is the war on the front of thought, science, and technology; its aim is to prevent the Muslims from possessing the tools of knowledge and advanced technology... The backwardness of the Muslims, and among them the Arabs, in science and technology is the fundamental cause of the West's disdain for them, of the insult to the places holy to them, and of the occupation of their lands. Most of the West's policy towards them is summed up today in besmirching their name - as individuals, as peoples, and as regimes - [by accusing them of] terrorism and extremism, and any other pretext in order to attack them, to deny them the products of science and knowledge, to continue to occupy their lands, to plunder their treasures, and to treat them unequally in international circles.

"The saving of the honor of Islam... [depends on the Muslims'] acceptance of the scientific and cultural challenge, using thought, logic, and vigorous goal-oriented efforts. The U.S. has described Iran as [a country] on the path of provocation; [indeed], there is no doubt that this is the path that the Arab and Islamic nations must take..." [14]

*The World Discriminates Between Israel and Iran on the Nuclear Issue

An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Watan called to place Israel at the top of the agenda for international reaction, and to avoid discrimination [against Iran]: "It would be fitting for the international community to look for the reason that led Iran to strive to attain nuclear capability... before it begins to take harsher stances. The U.S. and the international community, in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination, should set Israel at the top of the agenda, so as to expose its nuclear capability. This is because ignoring [Israel's nuclear capabilities] will lead Iran to become more stubborn - and this is not good for the region or for its peoples." [15]

'Ali Al-Safadi, columnist for the Jordanian government daily Al-Dustour, wrote in a column titled "The International Lack of Balance Regarding Iran and Israel": "What the international [arena] demands from Iran is not demanded from other countries, particularly from Israel. The West, which is keenly opposed to Iran's nuclear program... helped Israel build its nuclear artillery, which is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the region.

"Why is Israel permitted to do what is forbidden to Iran? Why isn't Israel faced with the Security Council resolutions, and why isn't Chapter Seven of the U.N. convention used against it? The ban on uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons proliferation is logical and accepted when implemented on all countries, without exception, and when there are international laws that are binding on all countries of the world..." [16]

Former Jordanian religious endowments minister Kamel Al-Sharif, who is today secretary-general of the World Islamic Council for Da'wa and Relief and chairman of the board of directors of the Jordanian government daily Al-Dustour, argued that the danger of a nuclear Iran is hypothetical, while the danger of a nuclear Israel is real: [17] "The danger [posed by] Iran is hypothetical; maybe it will happen, and maybe not. In contrast, the danger [posed by] Israel exists in the field, and we witness it daily in the form of bombs, missiles, tanks, armored vehicles, and the killing of women and children..." [18]

*It is the U.S. Policy of Blocking and Dictates That has Led Iran to Escalate its Activity

Mazen Hamed, columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Watan, argued that it was U.S. policy that led Iran to develop missiles and nuclear weapons: "How should [Iran] act when the American cannon overlook it from the long border with Iraq and Afghanistan? How should it act when it is surrounded by the American navy and threatened by air, sea, and land? How should it act when its allies in Syria and Lebanon are besieged at home and abroad? What should the Iranians do, now that their country has become the main party in the 'axis of evil?' What should they do, in face of [a prospective] attack on their military and nuclear facilities, about which they read every day? What should they do in light of the plans to incite against [the Iranian] revolution [i.e. regime], which are aimed at [bringing about] regime change, which they read about every day?

"In light of all this, it is natural for Iran to turn to defending itself and creating the means that will enable it to block or prevent such invasions, if they occur..."

Hamed added: "...It was the [U.S.] policy of blocking and dictates that has led Iran to escalate [its activity] and to provoke in such a grave and surprising manner, whatever the price, and it is the continuing [U.S.] policy that has led to [Iran's] missile and nuclear achievements..." [19]

*A Pity That Arab Countries are Not Going Nuclear

Ureib Al-Rintawi, columnist for the Jordanian government daily Al-Dustour, congratulated Iran on its nuclear achievements, and criticized the Arabs for "marching in place" and not even coming close to obtaining nuclear capability: "...Congratulations to Iran on its accomplishments under very difficult regional and international circumstances, and congratulations to its leaders and its sources of [religious] authority... To hell with our failed initiatives to 'turn the Middle East into a WMD-free zone.' These initiatives convince no one - not even the initiators and promoters themselves. This is because they come from a position of weakness and constitute a request for a handout, while there is room only for the strong and their political, economic, and military capabilities...

"But we [Arabs] will continue with our hobby - more precisely, with our preferred profession - [that is,] in panting after the illusion of misguided projects and slogans that float in a vacuum. We will spend more years and decades in stagnation and marching in place...

"There is no doubt that the fact that Iran possesses a complete nuclear fuel cycle will develop a feverish regional race to obtain nuclear energy for peaceful and military purposes. But it is a pity that none of the Arab countries stand out as a candidate to enter this area..." [20]

*Hanna Avraham is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), May 3, 2006.

[2], April 23, 2006.

[3] Al-Raya (Qatar), May 9, 2006.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 16, 2006.

[5] Reuters, May 16, 2006, Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), May 17, 2006.

[6] In October 2003, Al-Rashed published a similar article titled "Yes, We Fear Iran's Uranium." See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 586, "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Iran's Nuclear Weapons a Threat to Arab And Islamic Countries," October 10, 2003, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Iran's Nuclear Weapons a Threat to Arab And Islamic Countries.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 18, 2006.

[8] Al-Raya (Qatar), April 17, 2006.

[9] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2006.

[10] Al-Ittihad (UAE), April 25, 2006.

[11] 'Omar ibn Al-Khattab, who was to become the Second Caliph, was responding to the statement by Abu Sufiyan at the Battle of Uhud in 625, "War tends to one side and then to the other; today is in exchange for the Battle of Badr." Abu Sufiyan was commander of the army of Meccans that fought Muhammad's army, and the father of First Umayyad Caliph Mu'awiya. The Battle of Uhud is considered a partial defeat for the Muslims, even though it ended without an obvious victor.

[12] Al-Hussein, the son of the Fourth Caliph 'Ali ibn Abu Taleb, was killed together with his family at the Battle of Karbala (681) by the Second Umayyad Caliph Yazid ibn Mu'awiya. Bay'at Al-Saqifa was the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr taken by the Muslims in the Al-Saqifa Hall in Al-Madina after the death of Muhammad in 632, thus appointing Abu Bakr First Caliph. The Shi'ites claim that Abu Bakr, the Second Caliph 'Omar, and the Third Caliph Othman usurped the caliphate from 'Ali ibn Abu Taleb, who, they said, should by rights have been First Caliph after the death of Muhammad.

The Battle of Safin (657) was between the forces of Fourth Caliph 'Ali bin Abu Taleb and the forces of First Ummayid Caliph Mu'awiya ibn Abu Safiyan.

[13], April 12, 2006.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 17, 2006.

[15] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 14, 2006.

[16] Al-Dustour (Jordan), April 16, 2006.

[17] Kamel Al-Sharif commanded the Muslim Brotherhood units that fought in the 1948 war.

[18] Al-Dustour (Jordan), April 16, 2006.

[19] Al-Watan (Qatar), April 14, 2006.

[20] Al-Dustour (Jordan), April 13, 2006.

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