On May 21, 2013, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) in collaboration with Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) held a joint seminar on “Iran, Poland and the Middle East.” IMESS’ resident and visiting research fellows, faculty members, as well as a number of Ph.D. and postgraduate students from different universities in Tehran attended the seminar. His Excellency Ambassador Juliusz Jacek Gojlo of Poland, His Excellency Ambassador Gyula Petho of Hungary, His Excellency Ambassador Hari Kamarainen of Finland and His Excellency Ambassador Anders Christian Hougard of Denmark also attended this academic meeting. From the IMESS’ side Professor Kayhan Barzegar
, Director of IMESS and Professor Hamid Ahmadi
, Deputy Director of IMESS, and from AMU’s side, Professor Tadeusz Wallas, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Journalism at AMU, and Professor Radoslaw Fiedler, faculty member of Political Science and Journalism at AMU, exchanged their views on the aforementioned subject.
Professor Wallas, was the first speaker at the meeting. His speech was on Poland’s foreign policy towards the Middle East and Iran. He briefly highlighted some crucial points about the historical, political and religious relations between Poland and Middle Eastern countries during past ages. He further maintained that Iran’s specific geopolitical conditions, common interests and threats are the main venue for both parties’ cooperation. He highlighted some periods such as the Safavids’ rein in Iran that Shah Abbas the First, allied with Poland against the Ottoman Empire. This cooperation on political and security issues spilled over into other areas such as economic cooperation. Professor Walles continued that Polish foreign policy towards the Middle East in the post-Soviet era can be divided into two different parts. During 1991-2003, which expanding relations with the Middle East was not a priority in Poland’s foreign policy. It was not until 2003 that Polish politicians came to acknowledge the benefits of having relations with the Middle East countries especially Iran. But so far this policy unfortunately, didn’t bear the expected fruits. The main reason for this failure is that Polish businessmen and traders are not familiar enough with the business opportunities in the Middle East.
Professor Kayhan Barzegar, was the next speaker. He raised three points about Iran and the Arab developments. First, the emerged “interconnectivity” between the dynamics of domestic politics and regional policies of the revolutionary states in the region. He maintained that in addition to the domestic aspects of the Arab Spring developments such as democratization, youth and women rights, seeking justice and economic developments, etc., concepts such as independence, nationalism and above all “regional cooperation” are also becoming significant shaping the foreign policy of the Arab countries in the region. Second, revitalizing the role of ideology in the aftermath of the Arab developments. Professor Barzegar maintained that the factor of ideology is such a peculiar and sophisticated element in formulating the Middle East’s politics. While, states avoid ideological games in their two sides’ relations, in a general sense i.e. the “resistance” concept, ideology is a source of power in regional issues and has deep roots in the region. He further mentioned that the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will ultimately influence the Egyptian foreign policy in the coming years. As a result, ideology will play a vital role in shaping the regional balance of power in the Middle East. He asserted that the role of ideology in inter-states’ relations should be managed while the general theme of ideology inevitably will be present in the region. Third, regarding Iran’s policy in Syria, he noted that Iran is trying to avoid extremist violent movements come to power in the country.
From his perspective, spreading extremism for three reasons will endanger Iran’s national security and interests: first, it will give justification for foreign presence in the region; second, experience shows that any Sunni extremism will turn into anti Shiism and anti-Iranian movements. And third, this situation will ruin any chance for political transformation in Syria because extremist trends, as was the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan, are monopolistic and ideological without any sense of accepting and working with a coalitional government. They want to hold the whole power and that means going to civil war in Syria. He further maintained that Iran’s solution for Syrian crisis is based on strengthening the role of regional players and following a mid-way solution that can be accepted by all involved domestic, regional and trans-regional actors.
Professor Radoslaw Fiedler of AMU was the third speaker. He started off by saying that the Arab Spring developments were very fast and really changed political situations in Egypt and Tunisia. In this respect, he maintained that Poland, on the basis of its previous experiences, offers a unique solution for peaceful transformation, i.e. dialogue between the opposition and ruling parties. He further mentioned the rising role of ideology in the Middle East and its consequences for the region, arguing that for a region like the Middle East with its all complexities, following pragmatic policy would be more useful. He also asserted that nowadays the role of the United States and other major powers are not so great. For instance, the EU is not a super state. Rather, it is a kind of organization with different member states and different interests and its policies are more related to the issues of political reforms and civil society and therefore can not do much in the Middle East. Consequently, it’s very necessary to see regional actors to be more active in dealing with sensitive issues in the region. Finally, he maintained that Poland’s aim is to expand relations with the region through establishing dialogue, a bridging the gap by higher education, students and researchers’ exchange program, and publishing joint research works.
Professor Hamid Ahmadi of Tehran University was the last speaker. The main theme in his presentation was precarious effects of the rising ethnic rivalries in the aftermath of the Arab developments. He mentioned that before the advent of the Arab Spring, the main debate in academic circles was “the globalization process and its effects.” One of the significant effects of the globalization process is “cultural particularism.” Nationalist or religious reactions to the globalization are a clear manifestation of cultural particularism.
From his perspective, in the post-Arab spring era, the cultural particularism is not basically a nearly cultural or religious phenomenon. We are witnessing the rise of Salafi movements and the revival of Shia and Sunni fundamentalism. He further argued that the basic point is that this is a strategic game at which two actors are playing; al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia. They are promoting factionalism in the Middle East in areas such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Each of them has special objectives for supporting the Salafi movements which are basically anti-Shiism. By mobilizing or recruiting the Sunni people and instigating anti-Shia sensations, al-Qaeda can revive and reinforce itself.
Referring to Saudi Arabia’s aims, Professor Ahmadi raised two main issues. First, due to lack of legitimacy, Saudi Arabia is going to hijack the Arab Spring by supporting Salafi movements in Egypt, Tunisia, etc., creating this image that the result of the Arab Spring is not democracy and economic prosperity. Rather, it is chaos, violence and more economic problems. The second goal for Saudi Arabia is to put more pressure and contain its traditional rivals namely Iran in terms of anti-Shia sensations. In the end, he mentioned that now al-Qaeda and the Salafi groups are targeting the Shia people but actually they are trying to express themselves because their basic and final goal is to target the Western world and values.
At the end of session, Professor Barzegar asked Polish Ambassador His Excellency Ambassador Juliusz Jacek to take a few minutes and share his views with the audience regarding the Iran-Poland’s cultural and political relations. The final part of the session was Q & A, in which the audience exchanged their views with the speakers and brought up some questions as well as commenting on some issues.