reflections

Iran and the Continued Middle East Unrest

3 MINS READMar 1, 2011 | 04:40 GMT
Developments on Monday showed that the wave of popular unrest sweeping the Middle East was becoming an issue for many Arabian Peninsula countries, including Bahrain and Yemen.
  • Kuwait's state-owned news agency announced that the country's emir would address the nation Tuesday, following a parliamentary opposition bloc's calls for the ouster of the prime minister.
  • Protests continued in Oman for the third consecutive day despite the country's sultan announcing economic relief packages.
  • Qatar's premier said the country would soon hold legislative polls as part of its ongoing efforts toward political reform. Qatar is one of the world's largest exporters of liquefied natural gas.
  • The senior United Arab Emirates leadership discussed plans for the establishment of a fund to facilitate the entry of UAE citizens in the private-sector job market.
  • Saudi Arabia's monarch chaired his first Cabinet meeting following three months of medical treatment overseas; developments in the country and region were high on the agenda.
The unique domestic circumstances in each of these countries will shape how the unrest will unfold. The circumstances will be more of an issue for some than others. But it's clear that none of these states consider themselves immune to the regional contagion — despite their immense energy wealth. To date, Iran has been able to prevent the unrest in the Arab world from reviving its own dissident Green movement. Uncertainty regarding the future stability of these states has raised global concerns over the potential adverse impact on global oil supplies. Some 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil supplies come from this region. Thus, what happens in the Gulf Cooperation Council Arab states is far more significant than the outcome of the rising against the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya. Also important is that each of these countries house key U.S. military facilities. Steps toward political reform could have an impact on the foreign policy behavior of these states. A situation in which restrictions are imposed on American military activities is not improbable. Complicating this situation is the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which is facilitating the rise of an increasingly assertive Iran. Turmoil in the Arab states is something that the Islamic republic would like to be able to exploit, if not foment. Given that Tehran has its internal issues to sort out, it is not clear that Iran has the ability to encourage unrest in the Arab states. Tehran can certainly take advantage of the simmering unrest. Even before the unrest, the Arab states were vulnerable to Iranian power projection — now, with a strong potential for instability, the Arab states are even more vulnerable to Iranian designs. Of course, this assumes that Iran can keep its internal issues in check. To date, Iran has been able to prevent the unrest in the Arab world from reviving its own dissident Green movement. Should this trend of unrest persist, the United States would have another problem in the region as it begins its military withdrawal from Iraq.

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