Iran should reform and stop pointing fingers at the GCC

Poor Iranian record on human rights surpasses that of military juntas.

By Mustafa Al Zarooni

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Published: Mon 18 Jan 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 19 Jan 2016, 10:27 AM

Will Iran come clean and join its neighbours in peaceful coexistence after years of sectarian conflicts that have raised tensions in the region? With sanctions now lifted against the country, it must make amends and end its covert reign of terror, settle disputes with its neighbours and improve the rights situation in the country.
Despite the hostile attitude of Tehran, the GCC, specifically the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, did its best to improve ties with the country. The late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz rubbed shoulders with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the then Iranian president while receiving the leaders of Muslim countries in the holy city of Makkah two years ago.
This gesture of the late monarch should have led to reconciliation, but some influential clerics in Iran moved to silence voices of reason by sending out a message of sectarian and communal hatred, and the Iranian masses responded with street protests.
Iran is at it again with the attack on the Saudi embassy earlier this month. I agree with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who through his column, 'Saudi Arabia's Reckless Extremism' in The New York Times (Jan 10), said his country is ready to engage in ''dialogue, promote stability and combat destabilizing extremism", while categorically rejecting the rest of the article which only serves to further divide the region.
Reacting to the column, UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on Twitter that anyone who reads the article would think that Zarif is the foreign minister of a Scandinavian country that champions freedoms. "He who builds a glass house should not throw stones on others,'' Shaikh Abdullah tweeted.
I am not defending freedoms in the GCC, but Iran has nothing to boast about. Tehran's atrocities have been documented by various international human rights organizations. The poor Iranian record on human rights surpasses that of military juntas and dictatorial governments. The latest incident is the arrest of the Iranian reform poetess Hila Siddiqui when she returned home from a journey abroad.
The view of the gallows on cranes and dozens of people lynched in public places in Iranian cities is shocking beyond belief. Those being hanged are human rights activists, free speech supporters and those fighting for a just society.
Sectarian strife begins and ends with Iran. Recently, Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammed Ali Al Jafaari spoke of the presence of 200,000 Iranian fighters in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Jafaari's statement casts light on the role the regime's military is playing in countries in the region. It raises eyebrows, and certainly reveals flagrant meddling in the affairs of the GCC and Arab countries.
After Iran's latest efforts in Yemen were foiled by GCC and Arab coalition forces, there is evidence that it is stoking sectarian tensions in Saudi Arabia. Nimr the cleric was funded and supported by Tehran, and his arrest and execution was because a red line was crossed by the regime. Saudi Arabia, a sovereign country, has every right to deal with anti-nationals the way it chooses to under its law.
With the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, the GCC and Arab countries will be closely watching Iran's actions on the ground. President Hassan Rohani had said after the nuclear deal last year that the region has nothing to fear from his country.
It may not be a nuclear power but Iran has tested ballistic missiles; it has indulged in arms proliferation and has military assets in the entire region by its own admission. The country is now open for business, its people can have a better life and investments will flow.
President Obama spoke directly about Iran's destabilising role in the region and offered reassurance to Arab allies in the Middle East. ''We remain steadfast in opposing Iran's destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners, and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen.''
Limited sanctions on the country will remain for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program, the president said.
''.We are going to remain vigilant about it. We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners,'' the president said. Vigilance is the key for Obama.
But we will go a step further and say a fair amount of distrust is good when dealing with Iran. We will borrow from former US president Ronald Reagan and call it a ''distrust and verify approach''.
malzarooni@khaleejtimes.com


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