March 3, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2837

Two Conflicting Views of Saudi-Iranian Struggle for Hegemony in Arab World

March 3, 2010
Saudi Arabia, Iran | Special Dispatch No. 2837

On January 17, 2010, Turki 'Abdullah Al-Sudeiri, editor of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, published an article commending the Saudi king for his initiatives in the Arab world, which, according to Al-Sudeiri, have turned Saudi Arabia into a leading country in the region and into the country most courted both by the Arabs and by the West. On the following day, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which is close to Syria and Hizbullah, published an article by columnist Hassan Khalil in which he claimed that the balance of power in the region is shifting in favor of Iran and Turkey, with Syria serving as the nexus where their interests meet. The two articles represent the struggle for hegemony in the Arab and Muslim world – between the pro-Iranian, resistance-supporting camp and the Saudi-Egyptian camp.

The following are excerpts from the two articles.

Al-Sudeiri: Saudi Arabia Leading Arab World; Courted by Both Arabs and West

Al-Riyadh editor Turki Al-Sudeiri wrote: "Last week, over the course of five days alone, Saudi Arabia hosted five senior officials: the Chinese foreign minister, an American presidential advisor, the German vice-chancellor and foreign minister, the Omani foreign minister, and the president of Syria. An even greater number of senior officials, Arab and non-Arab, visited the kingdom between December 11, 2009 and January 10, 2010. A total of 27 visitors arrived on various diplomatic missions – and that is without counting nine others, from the Gulf states … who came to pay tribute to [Saudi Arabia].

"A review of the Arab situation over the past 50 years reveals that, for some time, the Arab world was split between Moscow and Washington. [During this period] it was the leaders of Arab countries who went [to Moscow and Washington], and not the other way around…

"The collapse of Communism changed the face of the international arena, but the weak status of the Arabs remained unaltered. Despite its great size, the Arab world's political and technological [abilities] did not develop. It was Israel that [developed politically and technologically], thereby gaining international influence and prestige.

"[Today] Saudi Arabia is continuing the phase of independent policy, and wants others [to follow its lead]. Initiatives taken by King 'Abdallah Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz have doubled the kingdom's importance… and brought about a change in the Arab reality – from the Beirut Summit, through the London Conference and New York Summit, and up to the Kuwait Summit, where [the king] removed barriers [which had caused] strife, while stressing the importance of maintaining unity in the Arab ranks…

"The statements made by Khaled Mash'al [in Riyadh on January 4, regarding the supreme importance of Arab involvement in the Palestinian reconciliation process, and of Saudi security and sovereignty] are significant proof of the beginnings of a change, or at least a departure from the disputes [that have heretofore existed between the pro-Iranian faction] and the moderate majority represented by Saudi Arabia.

"The strengthening of ties with Syria, the mitigation of rivalries in Lebanon, and the changes in the attitude of the international community, which [now] welcomes the Arab world as an economic, technological and eventual political partner – were [all] enabled by the gateway opened by King 'Abdallah, through which he has led the [Saudi] kingdom. By contrast, Iran and Israel are both [conspicuous] in their isolation."

Khalil: Iran and Turkey Are a Rising Force; Syria Is the Meeting Point of Their Mutual Interests

The day following the publication of Al-Sudeiri's article, Hassan Khalil, columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is affiliated with Syria and Hizbullah, celebrated the rising status of Syria, Iran, and Turkey:

"Egypt, so long the backbone of the Arab world, was out of the picture as soon as it signed the notorious Camp David Accords. Saudi Arabia is still restricted both by the structure of its regime and by demographic and geographical factors, and as such is limited [in its ability] to play a dominant role in the region. [This country's] oil reserves grant it a [solely] temporary prominence, while its crisis with Yemen has exposed its fragile military situation. As for Iraq, it's oil reserves, geographical location, human capital and [former] military power might have enabled it to pick up the [leading] role after Egypt's departure [from the scene]. However, the plan endorsed by the occupying powers after the invasion of Iraq was to nip in the bud any opportunity for development in this country. [This was achieved in various ways] – from the destruction of [Iraq's] infrastructures and the pillaging of its museums, to the dismantling of its army and assassination of its scientists and professors...

"This situation has turned Syria into a hub for [managing] the Arab affairs, and into a meeting point of mutual interests, [such as the mutual interests] that are shared by Turkey and Iran despite their political differences.

"Turkey, a country of 72 million souls, is a bridgehead between Asia and Europe, a secular Muslim country, and a democracy that has been an ally of the West for over 60 years. It is an active member of NATO, has received occasional support from the International Monetary Fund, and it carries out joint military maneuvers with Israel. Its economic structure is [capitalist], like that of Western countries, [but] the customs and heritage of its people are closer to [those of] the East. Its geographical location is auspicious, mutual political ties [with numerous countries]; it has historical relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus in [Central] Asia, with the Balkans and Greece in Europe... and with Iraq and the Kurdish region, some of which lies within the borders of Syria.

"The [Ottoman] Empire, [which endured] for 500 years, ended its days as the 'Sick Man of Europe.' After World War II, [Turkey] under the generals' rule became a pillar of [support for] the U.S. and the West, but it experienced one disappointment after the other because... it never made any progress in its national affairs. It found itself serving as a base for the West without deriving any benefit [from this situation]. In fact, it only incurred losses, because it neglected [its ties] with Asia and in particular with the Middle East.

"[This disappointment lies at the heart] of the policy of Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister and the designer of its new regional and international strategy. The change in Turkey's [policy] is not merely tactical. It paves the way for the return of the 'Sultan' [i.e., Turkey] to the region, now that Syria – after the destruction of Iraq – has provided it with a wide open gateway back [into the Middle East]. [By means of this strategy], Turkey has sabotaged the strategic plan that some Arab countries have concocted, with the aid of the West, to boycott Iran on a sectarian basis and to shift the attention from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in the region.

"Iran is a country of 80 million souls, with the third largest reserves of gas and oil in the world. It lies [at the junction] between Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Asia, Iraq, and the Kurdish [region], controls one of the world's strategic oil [shipping] routes, and has become the 'most disturbing inciter'... in the eyes of the West. By endorsing the resistance movements in the region, [Iran's] Islamic Revolution [regime] has cured the Arab world of its defeatist mentality. It has restored the vigor of the Arab nations, and exposed [the shame] of the regimes that are addicted to a life of plenty.

"The West, instead of negotiating with Iran, wants to struggle with it for influence [in the region]. But it is a well-known fact that Iran is not eager for confrontation, contrary to what some people think. The principles of its revolution do not in any way contravene the notion of negotiation. Iran wants [the world] to recognize its weight and influence without a confrontation. This is the crux [of the struggle between] the two sides over the nuclear issue, and the [reason why] it is so important for Iran to be firm in its confrontation with the West and insist on being an equal partner in the negotiations.

"It is naïve to think that [because] Turkey is Sunni and Iran is Shi'ite [they are not likely to cooperate]. These two countries share 500 kilometers of border, and the scope of their mutual trade has increased by a magnitude of 12 over the last decade, reaching a level of about $12 billion in 2009. [Turkey and Iran] are gradually preparing to lay down the foundations for an Asiatic front that will reach up to the borders of Russia and China, and which may change the face of the region. Their common playing field is Syria, of which Lebanon is an annex. In this new order, there is no room for neutrality... Will the rest of the Arab world wake up and join the Iranian-Turkish alliance, as Syria is doing, and endorse the two options, namely resistance and negotiations...? Will Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the [primary] powers of the [Arab] nation, comply with the will of their peoples, and adapt to the changes [and start to take the initiative]... instead of [merely] responding [to developments] and continuing to doubt the advantage of the Iranian-Turkish alliance?..."

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