On this day last week, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at the United Nations. He questioned the 9/11 attacks as “mysterious,” which led to al-Qaeda yesterday labeling Ahmadinejad’s claims “ridiculous.” While there is no love lost between the Shia Ahmadinejad and Sunni al-Qaeda, they are both competing for attention in Arab political space.
Today, Iran’s influence in Arab countries is stronger than it has been for decades. Egypt has closer business and political ties with Iran than it did under Mubarak, despite alleged Iranian spies being caught and dispatched back to Iran after the Egyptian revolution. Iraq’s government, ignoring American advice, is closer to Tehran and depends on Iranian influence over Iraq’s clerics. The murderous Syrian dictatorship is being held up, and democracy quelled, with Iranian support. The Saudi king has pleaded with Americans to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Jordan and Bahrain made similar requests to the United States.
Iran’s control of regional non-state actors includes an arsenal of strong and well-financed terrorist organizations: Shia and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Sunni and Gaza-based Hamas. Combined, both organizations can (and when necessary will) muster political support for Iran among Arabs through their control of private media networks. Hezbollah’s confrontational content on its television channel—al-Manar—for example, is popular across the Arab world.
So where is Iran headed? Ahmadinejad lectured the United Nations about “real freedom,” but the plight of the persecuted Green movement inside Iran remains uncertain. This coming Monday sees the public launch of CFR’s “Crisis Guide: Iran,” an interactive multimedia feature exploring the challenges posed by Iran to its neighbors and beyond. CFR draws on leading Iran analysts such as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi and Iranian-American scholar Vali Nasr to help us understand current trends within the Green movement and prospects for democracy in Iran. For an advanced preview, follow the link to the guide or click on the image above and use the password “cfr” for access.